‘How long should a strength training session last?’ Is there an ideal strength training duration?

Whilst there is certainly not a ‘one size fits all answer’, there are guidelines and considerations to help you to determine the training duration depending on your training goal, whether it is to gain strength, develop power, improve strength endurance or maximize muscle mass.

This article and video discusses

How long should the strength training session be?

There’s a simple answer, ‘As long as it has to be, and as short as it needs to be’.

As I outlined in the introduction, there is no one size fits all approach and the duration of your strength training workout depends on your training goal and desired outcome.

The training goal dictates the training methods and training modes you choose and leads to different durations strength training sessions.

Another influential factor, especially for athletes when determining the duration of a strength training workout, is to consider where you are in the season. Training durations can differ greatly, whether you are in the competitive season or in the preparatory period.

Before I get started.

It is very difficult to determine the session duration by providing a simple number of minutes, in my opinion, it makes more sense to look at a work to rest ratio required for the different strength training workouts, which then helps you to determine the training duration.

The work to rest ratio refers to the amount of work you do in relation to the rest. An applied example could be your set lasts 20 seconds and you rest for 60 seconds, the work to rest ratio of 1:3 (for every second work, you rest 3 seconds).

Check out the article How Long Should Your Workout Last? from Relentless Gains, where they provide an applied example, how to determine the training duration.

How long should the strength training session be to build muscle mass?

If you want to build muscle mass, the work to rest ratio is between 1:1.5 to 1:3.

Depending, whether you want to work on functional hypertrophy (also called myofibrillar hypertrophy) or non-functional hypertrophy (sarcoplasmic hypertrophy), the work differs.

For functional hypertrophy, the work period should be between 20 – 40 seconds and for non-functional hypertrophy, the work should be between 40 – 60 seconds.

In simple words, if your set lasts 60 seconds, you should rest 90 seconds to 3 minutes (1:1.5 to 1:3).

Let’s say your sets last 60 seconds and you rest 120 seconds, that makes it 3 minutes.

If you do 3 sets, that makes it 9 minutes.

And you do 4 different exercises, that makes it 36 minutes.

For a more detailed outline, why 3 sets, why 4 exercises, please check the outline for different strength training workouts from the article on strength training and weight loss.

Table of Strength Training Methods for Weight Loss Table of Strength Training Methods for Fat Loss

Strength Training Methods for Weight Loss Strength Training Methods for Fat Loss

How long should the strength training session last for power development?

For strength and power development, the work to rest ratio is a bit higher.

The work might be 10 seconds, but because the activities are so strenuous on the nervous system, you need to give the nervous system, as well as the energy system enough rest to recover and to replenish energy.

The prescribed rest between sets for power training is between 3 – 5 minutes.

So, what does that mean for the work rest ratio?

If we use the example from above and the set lasts 10 seconds and we rest for 3 minutes (180 seconds), the work to rest ratio is 1: 18.

For more details, please check out the article 3 Steps to Develop your own Power Training Method

How long should the strength training session last to improve strength endurance?

If your goal is strength endurance and you desire to endure efforts for longer, in most cases you will choose to do some kind of circuit training. These strength endurance circuits are designed to do either work for a given time or work until you have achieved a certain number of repetitions and then rest for a prescribed period of time.

Popular strength training circuits are 30 seconds work followed by 30 seconds rest, 40 seconds work followed by 20 seconds rest or 20 seconds work followed by 10 seconds rest.

The work rest ratio is 1:1 like the example of 30 seconds work and 30 seconds rest or can be 2:1  like in the example 20 seconds work followed by 10 seconds rest.

Check out an example of Mountain Biker Anneke Beerten doing a circuit training to improve strength endurance.

Usually, these strength training workouts can be finished quickly due to the high density of work.

How long should the strength training session last for power endurance?

The structure of a Power Endurance workout has a lot of similarities with a strength endurance workout.

As I have outlined in the article 3 Steps to Develop your own Power Training Method that Power is effectively trained with short durations due to the high involvement of the Phosphagen System / ATP-CP energy system.

Consequently, the duration of a set is lower than during a strength endurance workout, for example, 6 – 10 seconds and followed by (just) enough rest to move to the next station. Therefore work to rest ratios have to be a bit higher, 10 seconds of work followed by 20 seconds of rest equals a 1 : 2 work-rest ratio.

Similarly, the exercise selection will be adjusted to choose exercises with either a dynamic effort, ballistic effort or plyometric effort. For more information on the different efforts, have a look at the articles

How long should the strength training session last to develop maximum strength?

Maximum strength training or power training requires a high neural effort as well as a strong contribution of the Phosphagen System / ATP-CP energy system.

The duration of the set or work is short, followed by a long rest to allow the nervous system to recover and the energy system to replenish.

The duration of a set can be anywhere between 5 – 20 seconds followed by a complete rest of 3 minutes, 4 minutes or 5 minutes. The longer the duration of the set, the longer the rest period between the sets.

Therefore the work to rest ratio is 1 : 20 or higher, for example

  • 5 seconds work followed by 180 seconds rest (equals 1 : 36)
  • 10 seconds work followed by 240 seconds rest (equals 1 : 24)
  • 15 seconds work followed by 300 seconds rest (equals 1 : 20)

Please find some applied example in the article The Holy Grail of Strength Training – Sets and Reps

How long should the strength training session last if your goal is maintaining strength?

If you are an athlete, where you are in your season strongly determines how long a strength training session should be.

In the off-season, you most likely want to build strength, power, and size and the duration of a strength training workout might be 1.5 hours to 2 hours in total.

If you are in the in-season or preparation phase for competition the emphasis of the strength training shifts from building (strength, power or size) to maintaining (strength, power or size). Then the duration of a session is lower and the strength training workout might last 60 minutes to 75 minutes in total.

How does the work to rest ratio influence how long a strength training session should be?

The higher the work to rest ratio the lower the density of work, which explains the work to rest ratio is directly related to the length of a strength training session.

For example, a strength endurance session might last 30 minutes or 40 minutes in total, because the density of work is high.

A maximum strength training might last 2 hours because the density is low and has to be low.

Please check out the image below, that compares the different training variables for the different types of strength training sessions borrowed from the article 6 Facts what Strength Training does to you the aim of this image in the related article is to show the influence of the different types of strength training on muscular hypertrophy.

However, you can see the total training volume, training density and exertion for the different strength training workouts.

strength training methods and hypertrophy different strength training methods and muscular hypertrophy

The image compares different strength training methods and muscular hypertrophy

A quick word to work to rest ratios, the numbers and ratios I have presented are guidelines and not written in stone. It is much more important to understand the concept and principle.

The last word on what science says to how long a strength training session should last.

Science states that the longer a session last, the larger the change in the hormonal environment.

What does that mean?

Studies have shown, if a strength training sessions last longer than 45 – 60 minutes, you can see a decrease in testosterone and growth-hormone and an increase in cortisol.

In simple words, testosterone and growth hormone positively support the adaptations to strength training, whilst cortisol is a stress hormone, that is counter-productive to your envisioned gains.

This has led to the conclusion that strength training workouts should not exceed 45 – 60 minutes.

However, that is not always possible. As I have outlined above, sometimes training durations need to be longer than 45 minutes or 60 minutes. In these cases, it’s a balancing act from what we know as practitioners and what science states.

Concluding How Long The Strength Training Sessions Should Last

The length of a strength training session depends on various factors and can’t be answered with a ‘one size fits all answer’.

The length of the strength training session is dependent on your training goal, whether you want to gain strength, become more powerful, build muscle mass or what to endure longer.

Another important factor is the emphasis, whether you are in the off-season and the strength training has a high priority or whether you are in the in-season or preparing for competition, where the emphasis on the strength training session is lower and the sport-specific training becomes more important.