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August 5, 2023

man doing dumbbell push ups in gym

How long should you spend in the gym to build muscle?

The answer will surprise you.

The short answer is:

You should spend 45 minutes to 2 hours in the gym to build muscle.

How long you spend depends on how long it takes you to finish your workout.

However:

There's a specific number of sets you need to complete to grow muscle.

Good news is: This article reveals exactly how many sets you need to reach your fitness goals.

So - how long should I spend In the gym to build muscle?

sand hour glass representing how much time spend in gym to build muscle

In the early days of my fitness journey, I'd spend ages in the gym.

From 1 hour 15 minute workouts to the 2 hour plus leg day workouts I often skipped.

I thought I needed to spend all this time strength training in order to grow muscle effectively.

I was wrong.

It doesn't matter how many hours you spend at the gym if you wanna build muscle.

For weight loss - the answer's different:

An hour to 90 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (walking) is perfect if you wanna lose weight.

For building muscle - the amount of sets you dedicate to each muscle is what matters.

It's about working smarter - not longer.

The time each gym session takes comes down to:

  • how fast you recover from each set
  • how fast you want your muscle gain
  • how long your rest periods are

Depending on your goals and available time - you can build muscle without being in the gym for more than an hour.

How many sets do I need to build muscle?

man in gym performing bicep curls - big biceps and muscle growth

You need 10 sets of exercise per muscle group, per week to build muscle mass.

You can do up to 20 sets per week to increase your muscle gain - but 10 is the minimum.

A study conducted by Brad Schoenfeld and colleagues in 2019 found that individuals performing 5 sets per exercise per muscle group per week experienced muscle growth. However, those performing 10 sets experienced roughly twice as much growth.

The research also suggested the muscle-building benefits potentially increasing up to 20 sets per week.

The best part is:

Using compound lifts helps you reduce your workout time because they hit multiple muscles at once.

For example:

You wanna create a workout plan that hits your chest with at least 10 sets per week.

Your strength training sets across the week can look like this:

  • 3 sets of dumbbell flyes [chest focused]
  • 3 sets of bench press [chest focused but works triceps]
  • 3 sets of dumbbell pullovers [tricep focused but works chest]
  • 3 sets of dips [can focus on chest or triceps depending on angle - I focus on triceps but it works chest too]

This gives you 12 sets of hitting chest while also getting 6 sets of hitting triceps.

Add progressive overload and you're guaranteed to grow your chest muscle.

How many sets do I need to maintain muscle?

You need 5 sets per muscle, per week to maintain muscle mass.

Maintaining muscle is far easier than building muscle.

A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research revealed that participants who performed just 3 sets per muscle group per week were able to maintain their muscle mass.

A study, published in the Physiological reports vol. 3,8 (2015), found that performing 6-9 sets per muscle group per week was enough to maintain muscle mass.

Doing 5 sets should be more than enough - go for 6+ sets if you wanna be safe.

How long should I spend doing cardio to lose weight?

blonde woman on treadmill doing cardiovascular exercise in gym

You should spend 30 minutes to 90 minutes doing cardiovascular exercise for effective weight loss.

60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (walking on an incline treadmill while watching your favourite show or playing xbox) burns around 500 calories and is easy to recover from.

Add that to the calorie deficit you create from your diet and your weight loss journey becomes much faster.

How often should you go to the gym to see results?

You need to go to the gym often enough to perform 10 sets per muscle group to see results.

How you split up your sets depends on a few factors:

  • What are your fitness goals?
  • How much time do you have?
  • How many days can you workout?
  • How many days do you wanna workout?

You can technically perform 10 sets per muscle group in 1 day per week.

But this is unrealistic for anyone equal to, or below, an average fitness level.

It's unrealistic for pretty much anyone except elite athletes who can spend all day training.

men tired in gym session

Most beginners and average gym-goers should aim to train at least 3 times a week.

This allows you to spread your sets out enough so you can work your muscles hard without getting fatigued too quickly.

However:

If you can't get to the gym 3 times a week - that's okay.

The important part is - consistency.

You don't need to be perfect - you need to be consistent.

Train as many times a week as you can stay consistent with.

Have at least 1 rest day so you can recover from your workouts.

I prefer at least 2 rest days but that's up to you and your recovery ability.

Is 2 hours at the gym too much?

man resting in between sets at the gym

It depends on what you're doing in the gym for 2 hours.

If you spend an hour warming up on the treadmill then you spend an hour strength training - 2 hours isn't too much.

If you're spending 2 hours plus on leg day like I used to - you're probably spending too much time in the gym.

Especially if you're a beginner.

If you're spending 2 hours in the gym - ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you need to be doing this many sets?
  • Are your rest periods longer than they need to be?
  • Are you spending too much time on your phone between sets?
  • Is there any way to make your strength training session shorter?

Is 1 hour in the gym enough?

Yes - 1 hour in the gym is enough if you have a good workout plan.

Remember - it's not about how long you spend at the gym - it's what you do in the gym that matters!

If you're hitting all your muscle groups with enough sets weekly - you're golden.

How long do you usually take at the gym?

As I said before - I used to spend 1 hour 15 minutes to 2 hours 30mins in the gym.

These days I spend 45mins to 1 hour 30 mins per workout.

I'm currently building a new workout plan that allows me to spend less time per workout and shorten my training times to under 1 hour 15 minutes.

Conclusion

man performing lateral raises topless in the gym

When it comes to working out, the amount of time you spend in the gym isn't as important as how many sets you perform per muscle group per week.

  • 5 sets per week maintains muscle.
  • 10 sets per week builds muscle.

However long it takes you to complete those sets is how long you should be in the gym.

Need a workout plan that hits your muscle groups with at least 10 sets per week?

Click here to download the same workout plans I use for free.

Want more No-BS fitness advice?

My Getting Lean Ebook reveals how to work smarter and get your dream body faster with less suffering.

Go here for more info:

https://jaycartere.com/gettinglean

FAQ

Q1: Is spending two hours in the gym too much?

A1: It depends on your personal fitness level and goals. However, if you're spending hours on end in the gym, it might be time to re-evaluate your routine. Consider asking yourself questions like: Are my rest periods too long? Am I doing too many sets? Could my strength training session be shorter?

Q2: Can an hour at the gym be enough?

A2: Yes. It's not about how long you spend at the gym - it's about the intensity of your workout. If you have a solid workout plan and hit all your muscle groups with enough sets weekly, then an hour is enough to build muscle.

Q3: How many sets should I do per week to build muscle?

A3: To maintain muscle, aim for 5 sets per week. To build muscle, aim for more than 10 sets per week.

Q5: What is more important: Duration of the workout or the number of sets performed?

A5: The number of sets you complete for your muscle groups in a week is more important than the duration of your workout. It's about quality over quantity.

References:

  1. 'Postexercise Hypotension Is Volume-Dependent in Hypertensives: Autonomic and Forearm Blood Responses', Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Available at: <https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2019/01000/Resistance_Training_Volume_Enhances_Muscle.28.aspx/> (Accessed: September 7, 2023).
  2. 'The effect of training volume and intensity on improvements in muscular strength and size in resistance-trained men', Physiological reports, Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4562558/> (Accessed: September 7, 2023).
  3. 'Postexercise Hypotension Is Volume-Dependent in Hypertensives: Autonomic and Forearm Blood Responses', Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Available at: <https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2019/01000/Resistance_Training_Volume_Enhances_Muscle.28.aspx/> (Accessed: September 7, 2023).
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