T Nation

Science and Long Workouts


#1

Hello iron brothers, new to the forum seeking to learn more about the fantastic sport of bodybuilding.
I've been training for 6years now, won a regional contest as well.

My question is about the workout duration, some says up to 45mins and its best for hypertrophy some says exceeding 1hr cortisol hormones comes into play this being catabolic, well we all know old school bodybuilders like Arnold himself, serge nubret and frank Zane trained up to 2 to 5 hours still their bodies looks FABULOUS. I want to know the science behind this (if there is any link available) about workouts duration and the effects it has on our body. Thank you very much.


#2

Recently, I’ve been training for 1hr - 1hr30mins. This has been new to me – predominantly due to a new training partner. It has been working well. Over the past few months, I’ve gotten stronger and built muscle. Perhaps this is because the level of volume is new to me, and thus forcing adaptations. Perhaps I would have progressed faster if the sessions were shorter.

Can’t really know.


#3

I think the amount of time spent in the gym matters a lot less than what you do in the gym (within reason, of course).


#4

Can’t speak to the great ones, I have to agree with what others have said on that topic - Arnold, Serge and Zane would have looked amazing almost regardless of what type of training they were doing. Genetics, baby.

Having said that, I believe how you train is largely individual. Over the years I have learned that I respond better to a higher volume of training, assuming I am still meeting recovery requirements. I’ve limited my total time in the gym to 1-1.5 hours for years, or at least tried to.

Again, I am speaking personally, but whenever I ended up spending more than that amount of time in the gym it was because I was chatting or just bumming around. If I was actually trying to get some work done, I hit a point where I would have to start lowering weights considerably to keep moving anything. At that point, I feel it’s basically pointless to continue (at least for my goals).

There is also some research/thinking which says beyond a certain point you have expended the majority of your muscle glycogen, and are rapidly approaching a completely fuel-depleted status. I suppose having quite a few servings of Plazma mixed and ready could stave that off to some extent, but to what end? And that is also assuming you have an unlimited supplement budget - stuff’s amazing, but it ain’t cheap.

As far as the ‘science’ of training, there are some things which should be taken as hard and fast rules, others which should be taken as guidelines, and others which don’t hold up in a real world training environment. And most of that has to be figured out by trial and error, by the individual.


#5

^ This is awesome, thanks.
I would just point out that, apparently, a ‘well nourished adult’ can store roughly 2000 calories worth of muscle glycogen. Not sure how likely it is for a session to burn over 2000 calories…


#6

I instantly assume that 2 hours to work out means you are not moving fast enough. Get in, kill it, GTFO.


#7

This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.


#8

I don’t think this is true if you’re doing the bulk of your ‘difficulty’ work in 1hr or less, and then spend an extra 15-20 on less difficult, ‘vanity/accessory’ work.

I mean, adding some ab work after a full back session can easily take total time to 1h20mins.
I said earlier that my sessions have been totaling 1hr to 1hr30 recently – I should have clarified that the ‘hard stuff’ is generally still done in the first 50-60mins… No ways am I squatting for 1.5hrs… Not a chance.


#9

[quote]mutantcolors wrote:
I instantly assume that 2 hours to work out means you are not moving fast enough. Get in, kill it, GTFO.[/quote]

I think that would be a poor assumption. I’ve trained with many a high level power or Olympic lifters who have long training sessions. Even something like the Texas method can really push past the 90 minute mark on volume days when you start approaching your limit.


#10

This guy aint doing anything close to what you mentioned.


#11

[quote]MuzzT wrote:
Hello iron brothers, new to the forum seeking to learn more about the fantastic sport of bodybuilding.
I’ve been training for 6years now, won a regional contest as well.

My question is about the workout duration, some says up to 45mins and its best for hypertrophy some says exceeding 1hr cortisol hormones comes into play this being catabolic, well we all know old school bodybuilders like Arnold himself, serge nubret and frank Zane trained up to 2 to 5 hours still their bodies looks FABULOUS. I want to know the science behind this (if there is any link available) about workouts duration and the effects it has on our body. Thank you very much.[/quote]

You mention some all-time greats but remember: they were experimenting. And I’m not aware of any 5-hour workouts they did, at least not on regular basis. I suspect if they did it all over again, they’d be smart enough to be more concise.

Here’s the deal.

If your goal is bodybuilding oriented, it shouldn’t take longer than 45-90 minutes. Any longer, that tells me you’re not efficient and/or lack focus. The only exception might be in a very crowded gym situation. If pressed for time and you know what you’re doing, you can even have an effective workout in 30-45 minutes.

If your goal is more towards pure strength and power, your workouts can - but doesn’t have to - be longer because your rest periods will be 3-5 minutes or more between working sets.

If your goal is a hybrid, again 60-90 minutes tops should be your guideline.

You can read studies to your heart’s content. And you should stay up to date on the latest research. But what you need at this current stage in your development is to follow what works for guys stronger and more muscular than you. Once you’re advanced, you can free form and do whatever you please.


#12

A lot of good points have been made in here. One thing that doesn’t get brought up in threads like these is adaptation.

You go in the gym, put in a 2+ hour workout and your body adapts over time. You make some gains, but then what? You have to find a way to get in more work. Get to a point where are moving real weight just adding weight to all you exercises in a 2+ hour workout is going to get very very difficult. Another option is to add exercises, now you are in the gym 2++ hours. So on and so on.

You can see this in the workout programs of the old school guys. Reg Park, Steve Reeves. Look at the stage 3s in their programs. A massive amount of work.


#13

I don’t think anyone has an exact answer, but I also don’t think anybody will admit it.


#14

[quote]mbdix wrote:
A lot of good points have been made in here. One thing that doesn’t get brought up in threads like these is adaptation.

You go in the gym, put in a 2+ hour workout and your body adapts over time. You make some gains, but then what? You have to find a way to get in more work. Get to a point where are moving real weight just adding weight to all you exercises in a 2+ hour workout is going to get very very difficult. Another option is to add exercises, now you are in the gym 2++ hours. So on and so on.

You can see this in the workout programs of the old school guys. Reg Park, Steve Reeves. Look at the stage 3s in their programs. A massive amount of work.

[/quote]

I know what you’re getting at and the old school guys are some of my favorites. I mean, if Steve Reeves in his prime walked into a bar today, panties would drop left, right, and center.

Yet we can’t ignore the law of diminishing returns. If 1 hour stops working, do we bump it up to 2? If 2 stops working, 3? When does it end…?

I suppose an advanced - I’ll repeat that - an ADVANCED lifter can cycle in longer workouts. I’m not convinced this is sustainable year round. Even if there is some aberration who can do such a thing, he’d better be independently wealthy; plus, he wouldn’t have much of a life. Can you imagine trying to have an interesting conversation with him…?

So what other options do we have?

Some suggestions include:

Shorter rest periods

Supersets or giant sets

Drop sets - standard or mechanical

Rest-pause

Pre-exhaust

Refine technique

The first five are self-explanatory. The last, technique, is something too many people dismiss.

For example, last night I hit the gym to work biceps. Lately, I’ve experienced predictable strength gains but hypertrophy stalled and I’ve been racking my brain to find a solution.

When I arrived, I noticed the Wednesday night regulars, including a fellow I call the marathon man. Every single time I’ve seen him, he’s already in there grinding away when I start and grinding away when I leave. I estimate his sessions last 2.5 to 3 hours. He looks decent but nothing special.

Anyway, I warmed up and did my heavy compound work as I normally do.

Afterward, I experimented with a principle that’s working wonders for my triceps. Unfortunately, this did nothing for the bi’s. I could tell I was just burning calories.

Now I’m pissed off because, although I hit a modest pr in the heavy compound, I knew as far as hypertrophy was concerned I was in status quo mode.

So I tried a variation on the Gironda Curl. Again, I wasn’t feeling it.

I then tried the concentration curl, done with the arm not resting against the leg. It took a while, but I discovered a small adjustment that made all the difference.

The warm up and heavy work took roughly 35-40 minutes.

Experimenting with the principle that helps my triceps, but not the bis, took about 15 minutes.

Experimenting with the variation on the Gironda curl took about 10 minutes.

Experimenting with and then finding a good adjustment on the concentraion curl, then performing the exercise with the new-found adjustment took 15 minutes.

All told, it was a satisfying workout that lasted about 90-95 minutes. And remember the time I spent just experimenting.

Next week, this workout will take 50-55 minutes.

If I want to substitute the concentration curl with another secondary movement, it’ll take about the same time, unless I feel like experimenting. I doubt I will because I’ve got two other secondary movements which I’m dialed into. So I should be productive for the next five weeks or so.

As I left, I saw the marathon man, grinding away.


#15

[quote]Aero51 wrote:
I don’t think anyone has an exact answer, but I also don’t think anybody will admit it. [/quote]

I candidly admit I do not have an exact answer. ESPECIALLY when you factor in personal differences from trainee to trainee.

However, if you can’t blast yourself into 3 days of DOMS in under 60 minutes, you either work slow, you work weak, or both. Not that DOMS is the end-all of training feedback, but you understand what I mean.

EDIT: watch this whole thing. Learn about density of training from someone who knows a thing or two.


#16

[quote]mutantcolors wrote:

[quote]Aero51 wrote:
I don’t think anyone has an exact answer, but I also don’t think anybody will admit it. [/quote]

I candidly admit I do not have an exact answer. ESPECIALLY when you factor in personal differences from trainee to trainee.

However, if you can’t blast yourself into 3 days of DOMS in under 60 minutes, you either work slow, you work weak, or both. Not that DOMS is the end-all of training feedback, but you understand what I mean.

[/quote]

You’re forgetting that gyms can get crowded.

And older lifters or lifters coming from a layoff or injury may need longer time to get the motor running. I can easily see someone walking a treadmill for 15 min, mobility for 15, warm ups 15-20, working sets and then maybe even a cool down for 30-45.

60 minutes, for the typical individual, is a good guideline. But no way it’s written in stone - especially once you apply it to real-world scenarios.


#17

Keep the squat rack when you get it.

Go to a new gym.

You are in control.


#18

[quote]mutantcolors wrote:
Keep the squat rack when you get it.

Go to a new gym.

You are in control.[/quote]

What if there’s already someone using the rack and he won’t share?

What if logistics dictates a person has to go to a particular location?

What if other gyms in the same area have the same issues?

What if a home gym is not an option for some folks?

What about the older folks or those coming from an injury or layoff?


#19

Fucking excuses.


#20

workout density and intensity set aside, there is no real reason that would make training for 90 minutes+ bad.
There are a few articles on this site that explain how cortisol could be a problem. I believe this is where carbs/insulin matter.