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More/Shorter Workouts or Fewer/Longer Workouts?

What are the main factors someone should consider when deciding whether to use 3 longer (90 minute) workouts per week versus 6 shorter (45 minute) workouts assuming that scheduling is not a problem, and the programs are otherwise the same?

Primarily I am wondering if some people tend to particularly benefit from having days totally off from training, while others get into more trouble when their training goes longer than an hour? Are days OFF ever a good thing if you are going to make up the volume the next day? You seem to prefer to train athletes with 3 total body workouts a week. Would splitting those 3 workouts into 6 smaller ones produce any marginal benefit?

Thanks

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It was my understanding that the Best Damn Workouts were predicated on the idea that, for intermediate/advanced lifters at least, the MPS window is far shorter than previously thought, i.e. 12-16 hours. The evidence-based crew seem to pedal this notion a lot these days.

That’s important, but I’m concerned mostly with how people respond with stress hormones during and 12-24 hours after training. Do some people benefit from 24 hours out of the gym but handle longer workouts better?

That’s a good topic, but not exactly the right question.

I should be: “Is it better to have fewer workouts with a higher training stress or more sessions with a lower training stress?”

Because duration is not one of the factors that affect training stress. Volume can be correlated with workout duration and it can play a role, an important one in overall training stress, but it is not the only one either.

As I mentioned in my last article, there are 6 variables that influence the training stress of the session. While volume and intensiveness (how hard you push each set) are the two main variable impacting training stress, the psychological load, neurological demands, density and competitive aspect of training, can also play a role.

In in that regard it would be possible to have a long session, with plenty of volume, with a lower training stress than a short session.

Take these two examples:

WORKOUT A (90+ MINUTES)
20-25 total work sets
Mostly isolation exercises
Not trained close to failure (stopping 2 reps short)
A good proportion of machine exercises
Fairly long rest intervals
Every exercise done by itself
Using higher reps/low weight
Being chill and relaxed when training

WORKOUT B (45 min or less)
8-12 work sets
Going to failure and sometimes beyond (rest/pause, drop sets, etc.)
Mostly multi-joint movements
All free-weights
Going heavy (3-5 and 6-8 ranges)
Alternating exercises (A1/A2 for example or a circuit)
Shorter rest intervals
Training with a partner and trying to beat him

Workout B will have a much much higher training stress than workout A. While workout A has a higher volume, workout B has a higher intensiveness, psychological stress, neurological demands, density and competitiveness.

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So I am considering volume and intensity matched training, specifically 2-3 total body workouts versus 2-3 upper body and 2-3 lower body or other split where I simply take a total body workout and split it over 2 days instead of doing it all in one day and taking the second day off. I notice that Sheiko as well as early HIT proponents like Arthur Jones, or early Mentzer training tended to program only every other day training with complete off days.

Sheiko for example, prefers to press or squat twice in the same workout split up by another exercise, rather than training on back to back days. Jones preferred 3 total body workouts a week versus 6 “half” workouts

I’ve used both. I find EOD workouts to be better when the overall stress of the workout is higher and/or the person has a more stressful life.

You look at Sheiko workouts, they are heavy (but not with a maximal RPE), use mostly big compound movements and focus on improving performance (they are, after all, powerlifting programs).

Jones’ programs are the polar opposite in that they used mostly machines, for higher reps. HOWEVER they were like a 12 on 10 on the RPE scale! When you trained with Jones you often had to be carried from machine to machine and lots of people puked… and these are not exaggeration. Failure was often just the beginning of the set. And his “sets” were often super or triple sets (a traditional example was a triple set of leg extension + leg press + squat machine…all to failure and beyond). That type of work caries a HUGE training stress even with a low volume.

In both cases, the body and nervous system can be shot the next day. In Sheiko’s case, likely less. But since they are performance programs, the key was avoiding any decrease in performance.

Now, most people who underwent Jones’ HIT programs didn’t train anywhere near how hard Jones pushed his guys, even if they were well intentioned. So they likely could have trained more often.

Now, with athletes I use something close to an EOD structure. We train Monday/Wednesday\Friday and have a minor session on Saturday (isolation/machine/hypertrophy work). Because I want full recovery from each session to optimize daily performance.

If muscle growth was the only goal, 5-6 weekly sessions could work. In fact this might be better for competitive bodybuilders.

NOW, if you have a stressful lifestyle and find yourself to have recovery issues, training every day, even with a low volume of work, might not be recommendable.

Because even if the volume is low, if you really push yourself you will still have a strong cortisol/adrenaline response, not as big as an equal intensity session with more volume, but still. If your daily stress level is high, you will already produce a lot of cortisol/adrenaline and the amount you get from the session might put you over the edge. In that case, the daily workout and high daily stress would basically give you no days to give your body a break.

I’ve worked with plenty of clients who trained 5-6 days a week. But they all had very little life stress.

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I was just reading some extracts from the Nautilus Training Principles, where it highlights Jones’ great belief in the negative portion of a rep as the key stimulant of muscle growth. Jones built his ‘Omni’ machines to generate greater eccentric loading to maximize this facet. Considering the muscle damage from heavy eccentric training, it is simply not practical to train frequently. In addition, as you point out, by HIT standards, Jones was quite a high volume guy, e.g. using 3 different exercises for legs in the higher rep ranges.

I personally don’t know where I sit on this. I trained many years ago on HIT and it didn’t do much for me. And I recall neurally taxing workouts where I could literally nap on the floor immediately after a session which lasted about 15 minutes (not even long enough to get a sweat going). No wonder I didn’t progress.

I don’t really doubt the data from the Colorado Experiment, apart from the body composition stats. I suspect Viator’s glycogen storage skewed this somewhat but, this aside, and the fact he may or may not have taken drugs, the results are staggering. People also forget that Jones himself was the other guinea pig in this study and made some impressive gains, despite his age, etc.

Nautilus bulletin 1 was spot on and great info. Bulletin 2 was too much out there.

A Swedish company (forgot the name) makes similar machines that amplifies the eccentric, been wanting to find them for some time. But you are right, it would cause more muscle damage which would lengthen the recovery period.

And as you pointed out, the original HIT work by Jones was not low volume in the sense that the overall daily workload was pretty high (of course it was a whole body approach) and the total weekly volume per body part was in the 12-18 sets range (2 work sets for 2-3 exercises per muscle, 3x a week).