T Nation

Workout Duration Question


Workout duration question:

Somewhere on T-Nation (I think) I read that you shouldn't work out for more than 1 - 1.5 hours at a time (because of some cortisol effect?). Is that correct? Does anyone know where can I find the article(s)? I've searched, and found hundreds of citations, but not leading to a workout duration limit.

My workouts run 3-4 hours counting a half hour break for dump and refill -
otherwise I'm at it quite heavily all the time, using CW's set rep bible
for fat loss. For some bps, tho' I'm using his hypertrophy protocol.
When I'm done I feel so good that I'm almost reluctant to stop. ("Did I
hit that bp hard enough?"). I take Spike - what a great, subtle lift! -
and Power Drive before starting and sip Surge starting about an hour after
my first lift.

I'm 66 and have been working up to this since I retired, with considerable fat loss and some lean muscle mass gain.

Should I back off to shorter durations anyway, because the cortisol effect
will limit further progress?


OK you arent working out you are playing. My god 3-4 hours should not just have your cortisol raised at this point if working out with any intensity you should have puked mulitple times and your cortisol level should be high enoigh to kill you.

Now Im not one who thinks you MUST be out in 45-60 many of mine can go up to 1.5 hours this when I am doing a lot of loading unloading changing movemnts longer rest periods. etc. But i think if i takes you 3-4 ours and you still are reluctant to leave then you are NOT hitting it hard enough.

More is not always better. You need to up the intensity in terms of probably both Load and how much you exert yourself. You should go in there give it ALL you have and get the hell out. You shuld not fell like you are beat to hell everytime you leave but not that you have a TON left in he tank. You should be nearing of god forbid even hitting momentary failure on occasion.

I think you need to set an hour limit on your self. No lunch break in there. Get in the gym and put enough load on that bar and give it EVERYTHING you have for that 1 hour, Knowing you wont be in there for another 2 hours.

Don hold back give it EVERYTHING. Doing this will in he long run be better than half assing it so you have the energy to well have a LONG half assed w/o. Never really putting your all in at any time.

Just my 2 cc take it for what it is,


jesus Phill has been busy lately ... give the man a break already

ok, here's the basic deal. if you are lifting with any intensity at all, no way in hell can you last longer than about an hour. that being said, some like to limit sessions to 45 minutes, others to 75, etc. there will be some individual differences. i place an absolute top ceiling at 2 hours ... beyond that is counterproductive.

here is another way i look at it. i have found through 15 years of experience that i can exercise HARD for about an hour per day AVERAGE, which breaks out to 6 or 7 hours per week. beyond that is counterproductive. this may come from 6 x 1 hour sessions or 3 x 2 hour sessions. etc. gotta have a day off.

also keep in mind the 80/20 rule ... know that 80% of your results are coming from 20% of your efforts ... then ask why you are spending 4 hours in the gym.

get back to simplicity man!!!

hope that helps,


what do you mean by that?


Thanks all, for the advice and comments.

Does anybody know where I can find that cortisol and workout duration article/thread? You mention the cortisol going through the roof, but where did you find out about it?

BTW It feels like I'm working hard and sweating. Sometimes I do hit failure by accident. And I do sometimes have deep soreness for a couple of days. And I have lost a lot of weight (65#) and put on a few pounds of lean mass, according to my Tanitha scale. I do know my 1RM (not much by you-all's standards) for ~1/2 of my lifts (not enough plates at home, yet, on some). Guessing on the rest.

I can't do some of the big lifts (deep squats, e.g.), due to arthritis and bad 66 year-old knees, so I do lots of bp-focused stuff.

Should I not use CW's bible under these circumstances? Does it require near-puking?

Maybe I don't know what a workout is supposed to feel like, because the only time I feel like you-all's description is if I don't get enough sleep before working out. Or maybe my chemistry is ????. Can Spike be this powerful?


FORGET about cortisol ... in the grand scheme of things, it is nowhere to be found!



I think I first read about the whole cortisol thing in one of Charles Poliquin's books. I also think William Kraemer has mentioned it in some of his journal articles. I tried a quick search to find any relevant studies, but the only good one I found that looked at the effect of exercise duration was an endurance training study. Here is the abstract.

Influence of exercise duration on post-exercise steroid hormone responses in trained males.

Tremblay MS, Copeland JL, Van Helder W.

Statistics Canada Tunney's Pasture, Main Building Room 2200, Section S, Ottawa, ON, K1A0T6, Canada. mark.tremblay@statcan.ca

The purpose of this study was to systematically evaluate the effect of endurance exercise duration on hormone concentrations in male subjects while controlling for exercise intensity and training status. Eight endurance-trained males (19-49 years) completed a resting control session and three treadmill runs of 40, 80, and 120 min at 55% of VO2max .

Blood samples were drawn before the session and then 1, 2, 3 and 4 h after the start of the run. Plasma was analyzed for luteinizing hormone (LH), dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS), cortisol, and free and total testosterone. LH was significantly greater at rest compared to the running sessions. Both free and total testosterone generally increased in the first hour of the 80 and 120 min runs and then showed a trend for a steady decline for the next 3 h of recovery.

Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate increased in a dose-response manner with the greatest increases observed during the 120-min run, followed by the 80-min run. Cortisol only increased in response to the 120-min run and showed a decline across time in all other sessions. The ratios of anabolic hormones (testosterone and DHEAS) to cortisol were greater during the resting session and the 40-min run compared to the longer runs.

The results indicate that exercise duration has independent effects on the hormonal response to endurance exercise. At a low intensity, longer duration runs are necessary to stimulate increased levels of testosterone, DHEAS and cortisol and beyond 80 min of running there is a shift to a more catabolic hormonal environment.


Thanks, Bastard
If it isn't cortisol, then what is it that limits the value of longer workouts? Fatigue, if you're goming really hard, as you suggest? Or something else?


55% VO2max hardly compares to the way we should be weight training ... apples and oranges here.

ok. nonetheless. the point is this: we aren't NOT training for 4 hours because cortisol levels get too elevated. we aren't even NOT training for 2 hours far that reason. if you are training with any intensity at all, you will run out of gas FIRST.

so, forget about cortisol and lift some weights!

also, do not shy away from squatting ... you may not be performing them correctly, and other exercises may be even worse. hell, my knees hurt when i squat ... INCORRECTLY. if you can simply do bodyweight squats, that's a great place to start!



Thanks, SKman for the objective info. Too bad they didn't run tests on weight lifters of one sort or another.
I wonder where all the concern about cortisol came from.
I'm not hung up on cortisol, but now I wonder what limits the value of longer workouts. Guess I'll have to dig deeper.


Are you enjoying yourself lifting?
Are you getting satisfactory results?
Does lifting hurt your life in another way?

If you say yes to the first two and no to the third question, then we are discussing minutia. It doesn't matter what a study says, it only matters that you answer yes to the above first two and no to the last questions.

To hell with theories that say your results shouldn't be happening. Results matter more.



1) Hell yes
2) So far - good fat loss and some lean muscle mass gain. Thanks to JB et al.
3) Nah - I'm retired
Mastermind, we've got minutia! Thanks for the input.
I'll keep going until it doesn't work for me anymore. I was just trying to find out if there was some fundamental reason that I shouldn't.
I sure wish the science were more definitive about this.
Thanks to all again.


mastermind is on to something that i just can not grasp: listening to the client!

me: "look, i said pullups are good, so do pullups"
client: "i don't like pullups"
me: "you fAWking pussy! do pullups!"
client: "but i don't have any arms"
me: "DO PULL ... oh, umm ... nevermind"

new angle ...

WHY do you workout?

to get results?

WHAT results do you want?

fat loss and muscle gain

HOW do you measure progress?

duration in the gym ... eghhhh
pain suffered while working out ... eghhhh
DOMS, or soreness ... eghhhh
performance increases ... ding ding ding ding ding

i'm too dumb and too lazy to explain it. but i know this ... a certain book will make everything better for you ... do yourself a favor and buy Charles Staley's latest book, "Muscle Logic." read it twenty times. report back to us in 3 months.

(i'm dead serious)



To agree with and add to Bastard, Charles is the man! Dan John and he are like oasis' of simple wisdom.

Don't get me wrong, I get way to involved with the minutia all the time. Then I'll remember the point and usually say to myself "Ummm... hmmmm... me not so smart." LOL

I wouldn't workout as long as you, but who cares what I'd do? You're 1 in probably 500 to even workout at your time in life, and to get results like yours is great.



Agreed. I just wanted to post it because it was the only study I found that specifically looked at duration of exercise. There were others that looked at type of exercise or exercise intensity. Again mostly done on endurance athletes. I agree that cortisol is not something to obsess over and that there are better reasons to keep workouts short.


What are they?


I just PM'd a few of them to you to look at.


Bastard, Mastermind, SKman -thanks for the reference to the book. I just ordered it


I am really unsure as to whether ANY "rules" in strength training should be taken absolutely. ANY "rules" to be followed depends on the trainee and the situation he or she is in. There are quite a few trainees, who for some reason, can handle A LOT of volume and never seem to overtrain. Look at the workouts of Chuck Vogelpohl, Brian Siders, and Gene Rychlak. Rychlak trains for 2.5 hours. Siders workouts would fry most ordinary people, no matter how experienced they were. I also know some men, sometimes 50 or older in age, who exercise for two hours and are still HUGE! If you are making gains, then I say continue what you are doing or simply lower your volume on days where you feel flat or tired.


This is a good post. It is wise to look at this thing from as many angles as possible.

Still, I like the less is more approach. At the very least, start with less and use trial and error to figure it out. Maybe 4 hours is best for you? I doubt it though.

Also, way to go on that book! In an hour you can read all you need to ... and it will change the way you think about training. Even for really experienced guys it is refreshing. I know you will enjoy it. Let us know what you think!