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How long should I train for?

Sean Lerwill EZ bar bicep curl with FatGripz (Credit: snhfoto)

If you’ve been following my ramblings over the last 6months on social media, you may be aware that from May – Sept I decided to stop using a gym; choosing instead to exercise at home/in the park with my bodyweight, rollout wheels, a TRX, a kettlebell, a couple of powerbags and a set of 10kg dumbbells. I really enjoyed getting back to simple training and incorporating rest/pause sets and slow, slow tempo to ensure I still progressed, got to failure and gave myself some cheeky DOMS at times.

Instead of rejoining a gym, I’ve instead signed up to MoveGB. A company that has deals with gyms and classes all over the country so I can use multiple locations instead of just one. You get seven uses a week and these can be a yoga class, spin class, a gym use, a swim, a massage (this is chargeable but heavily discounted) or a martial arts session. I believe there are also discounted PT rates as well. One gym I have been using is in North London: Park View Health Club, Palmers Green. If you get the chance, give it a visit. I can’t recommend it enough, the kit and equipment is great and the layout and decor is superb. If I was going to design a gym, it wouldn’t be far off what they’ve done here. Anyway, the point is, I’ve used that gym maybe 6 or 7 times at different times of day and apart from one visit saw two lads in their late teens training there together.

Nothing wrong with that of course, however, it seemed to me that they were spending HOURS at the gym. They were there morning and afternoon when I visited and often were already there when I arrived and still there when I was leaving. You may have an image in your mind of two lads with huge delts in stringer vests, probably taking some PEDs and training for 5 hours at a time each day as Arnie used to. On the contrary. These guys looked liked average teenagers. They certainly didn’t look like their many, many hours in the gym each day were making the sort of progress that Ray has in his 3 month bulk or 3 month cut programme training around 60mins each session.

I’m not chastising these lads. When I was at Uni I would sometimes spend a couple of hours in the gym. I was paying for it, it wasn’t cheap (by my standards as a student – but looking back was a bargain for central London) so I was going to get my monies worth and I was training for the Marines so wanted to make progress. However I now know that a simple little phrase is often very true when it comes to gym time: “Less is More”. This is especially true if you are trying to gain some muscle. The body sparks change in the gym by taking the muscles to failure using a variety of protocols and training systems, but the growth happens outside the gym when you have fed the body and are allowing it to rest. Keep training and the body can’t use Calories ingested to build; it uses them to fuel the extra exercise you are asking of it.

Hence my writing this blog. These lads are making a classic mistake, one many new gym users, especially males, make when wanting to get bigger. The sad side of this, is that most then go one of two ways:

  1. Give up, claiming they don’t have the genes to grow.
  2. Take steroids, claiming they tried it natural but it’s not possible for them.

At the moment, I am enjoying the gym again. I am playing with a split whereby I use a multitude of different exercises to hit a muscle group, aiming to incorporate machines, barbells, dumbbells and cables. I only do 3 sets per exercise and I try to make the last set a rest/pause or dropset. With my changing gyms, I sometimes have to change the exercises used, but the general idea is the same. Oh, and I’m sometimes only on the gym floor for 40minutes. Sometimes this is up to 60mins for chest or back as I tag triceps and biceps onto those days as well. However, core/CV days, shoulder days and leg days have all been as short as 40-45mins at times. My rests are 60seconds for compounds (or waiting for Kate to lift if training with her) and for isolations I have cut that to 45seconds for some sessions.

My point, is that hours and hours of training does not lead to a superb physique in the short term. Yes, hours and hours over YEARS does, but that still means each session is no longer than an hour, 70-75minutes maximum. Any longer and studies have shown that growth hormone and testosterone tend to drop off anyway, so unless you are artificially aiding yourself with these, stick to the hour, get in, get out. Have a shake with protein AND carbs to refuel and rest to allow recovery and GROWTH to occur. Don’t look at pro athletes for guidance as unless you can do what Amir Khan does and have a nap after your first training session and afford to ingest 6000kcals each day, you are going to create an energy deficiency and breakdown muscle rather than build it. The simple truth is, that like anything worth having, a great physique takes TIME to build. I started training with weights at 13. I didn’t start sports modelling until I was in my late twenties. A natural physique takes years. But then you’ve really earned it and can wear it with pride.

Sean Lerwill - Author

Sean is an former-Royal Marines Commando Officer & Physical Training Instructor. He has been published as a writer five times, has a BSc in Molecular Genetics and a Post Graduate Certificate in Education. He is also a MaxiNutrition ambassador.

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