Sometimes some of the most important factors within fitness are overlooked, and one of these that is often ignored is time. This encompasses a whole range of areas that affect your workouts which I will explain briefly in this blog. We all focus on sets, reps and exercise choice, and while these are very important, time can have a huge impact on the effects of your workouts.
Overall Length of a Workout
As a Personal Trainer, I train a lot of people who are beginners to fitness, and a common question is 'how long should my workouts last?'. My Personal Training sessions are 1 hour long, however that doesn't necessarily mean that everyone should workout for exactly 1 hour. As with most questions in this industry, it all depends on your goal.
There is no such thing as a perfect amount of time that our workouts should take. There are so many factors that can affect the overall workout length, from the exact workout split used, training needs and goals, to factors that we aren’t in control of, such as a busy gym and therefore time wasted waiting for equipment. Many people believe that the longer they workout for, the better their results will be, but that is simply not true. If someone was following a body part split program, for instance, and was completing an 'Arm Day' workout, this would be a far shorter workout than a full body or upper/lower split workout, purely because there is just one muscle group to train, which therefore takes less time. Another example of how a workout length may differ is based on goals. Even within goal categories such as performance and weight loss, the answer can differ. Someone training for a marathon may complete sessions in excess of 2-3 hours, whereas a high intensity Crossfit workout may total under 30 minutes. The experience of the person can also come into play; a shorter workout may be better for a beginner due to a smaller time commitment, which will increase adherence to a program.
In summary, if your workout is designed for your personal needs and goals and you follow the program, your workouts will take exactly as long as they should.
Although there isn't a huge amount to explain regarding this topic, that doesn't lessen it's importance. When focused on a goal, it can be easy to feel that you must work out every day, and completely forget that one of the most important parts of exercising effectively is giving your body time to recover. Any program you receive from a Personal Trainer should have at least 1 programmed rest day each week, although this is a bare minimum and not recommended for beginners to exercise. When you perform excessive amounts of exercise without proper rest and recovery you may experience overtraining, which can reduce performance, leave you fatigued, decrease your immunity and leave you very prone to injury.
The general rule (not applicable to everyone) is that a minimum of 48 hours is required for a muscle group to recover following any resistance training, although this is often increased for the less experienced.
Rest Times Between Sets
You may notice a pattern developing here, because once again this point is determined by your individual training goals. Whilst this will obviously vary from person to person and between exercises, there are some more specific guidelines to help you work out how long you should rest for before beginning another set:
Strength - 3-5 minutes
Hypertrophy - 60-90 seconds
Endurance - 30-60 seconds
It is important to note that these are only guidelines, and rest times should be altered based on performance during the previous set. If you take your set to near failure, you will need a longer rest period, and also an increased rest as you get towards the end of your sets or as the weight increases.
Although you should listen to your body, it's a good idea to time your rest periods between sets as the majority of people will rest for much longer than they think they are when un-timed, and can end up taking several unnecessary minutes between sets. You might be surprised how much the intensity of your workout can increase by simply timing your rests and adhering to these guidelines.
Time Under Tension/Tempo
Time under tension (TUT) is simply the amount of time that a muscle is under load during the exercise, including contraction during both the concentric and eccentric phases. This can be manipulated to greatly change up the intensity of an exercise or a whole workout by applying strict tempos whilst keeping the rep range the same.
You may see a collection of numbers on your training program separated by dashes, and this normally relates to the tempo in seconds required for each rep. For example, you may see 3-3-0 against your programmed back squat. This translates to 3 seconds eccentric, 3 second pause at the bottom and a 0 second concentric movement. 0 seconds is of course impossible to achieve, but it implies that a powerful and fast concentric movement should be performed.
Tempo training is, in my opinion, a great tool, and is greatly underused!