Even if you cherish your gym time, there's something to be said for workout efficiency. So how long should a strength training session be? It depends on your lifting history, current fitness level, goals and how many days per week you train.
For example, if you're new to strength training, short and sweet workouts might be all you need. Meanwhile, intermediate and advanced lifters may need to spend more time in the gym to keep progressing, says Alex Shaw, CPT, a certified personal trainer and adjunct professor at the University of North Texas.
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"Because the human body adapts quickly to something new, the minimum amount of time you need to actively strength train for your workout to be effective very much depends on your experience level," he says.
That said, something will always be more than nothing, no matter your fitness level or experience, says Lauren Powell, CSCS, a certified sports and conditioning specialist with the Future app.
Looking for more detailed recommendations? Get out your workout calendar. Here, experts break down exactly how long a weightlifting workout should be based on how often you strength train per week.
If You Train One Day Per Week
If you do one strength-training session per week, try to set aside 60 to 90 minutes for it, says certified personal trainer Nicole Thompson, CPT. That amount of time will help you to hit everything you need.
For example, while experts and organizations, including the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), recommend working all of your body's major muscle groups at least twice per week, a June 2021 review in Sports Medicine shows that you can reap muscle-building perks from a single weekly strength workout. The key, researchers say, is to get pack the minimum weekly requirements into one longer strength session.
In the review, experts suggest working each major muscle group for 2 to 4 sets — 2 to 3 times per week. That equals 4 to 12 sets focusing on your legs, 4 to 12 for your back, etc. (Tip: Shoot for 4 sets per muscle group. Doing 12 per group will make your workout a marathon session and probably involve a lot of fatigue and improper form, especially for beginners.)
To get everything in during one time-efficient session, prioritize exercises like squat variations, dumbbell deadlifts and push-ups that work multiple muscles at once. They'll help you check several muscle-group boxes per set.
If You Train Two or Three Days Per Week
Those who lift two or three times per week can cut their sessions down to 45 to 60 minutes, Thompson says. This should give you plenty of time to hammer a few different muscle groups during each session.
For example, day one could include upper-body moves such as chest presses, lat pulldowns, overhead presses and planks, she says. Day two could include lower-body exercises like lunges, squats, glute bridges, deadlifts and calf raises.
Or, if you work out three days per week, you could divide your upper-body workouts into pushing (pressing weight away from your body) and pulling (pulling weight toward your body) movements, Powell says.
With this exercise frequency, focusing on compound movements, which work multiple muscle groups at once, is the most time-efficient way to go. The ACSM recommends doing 8 to 10 compound exercises per workout. For each exercise, consider 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps a good starting place.
You can also save some time in the gym by doing exercises that work non-competing muscle groups back to back, aka a superset, Shaw says. For example, perform a set of squats immediately followed by a set of rows.
If You Train Four or Five Days Per Week
How long should a weightlifting workout last when you're lifting really frequently? More days in the gym equals more flexibility in the length and structure of your workouts. While the specifics vary depending on your goal, 20 to 60 minutes is a good range to shoot for, according to Thompson.
Try divvying up your days according to muscle group (for example, chest and triceps one day, back and biceps another day). Because you're spending so many days in the gym, you can structure your workouts so each major muscle group gets 48 hours of recovery time before you work them again, she says.
Keep in mind: Devoting 20 minutes to your strength workouts is enough for most new and intermediate lifters vying for overall health. However, advanced lifters and those training for strength sports like powerlifting should expect many of their workouts to edge toward (or even over) the 60-minute mark. The more experienced you are, the more time and/or intensity your body can handle and the more it takes to continue making progress, Shaw says.
Powerlifters, for instance, have to dedicate several minutes to rest in between sets because a longer rest allows the nervous system to fully recover, Shaw says. That means heavy lifting workouts can take well over an hour, even if total work-time is short.
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So, How Long Should You Lift Weights?
There's no set length for how long a workout should be. How long you lift weights per session will depend on your fitness level, goal and how many days you're training per week.
If you're strength training only one day per week, aim for a 60- to 90-minute session; those who train two or three days a week should try for 45- to 60-minute sessions; and 20- to 60-minute sessions for people who train four or five days a week. In general, expect your strength workouts to span 20 to 90 minutes.
Can't manage a 20-minute workout? No worries. Every workout counts — no matter if it takes 10 minutes or 60 minutes.
"If you're short on time, think quality over quantity and make the most of what you have," Powell says. Keep the intensity high and your exercise form locked down.
How Long Strength Training Session Should Be
Strength Days per Week
Workout Time (min)
Additional reporting by Henry Halse, CSCS
- Journal of the American Heart Association: "Moderate‐to‐Vigorous Physical Activity and All‐Cause Mortality: Do Bouts Matter?"
- American College of Sports Medicine: "Physical Activity Guidelines"
- American College of Sports Medicine: "Progression Models in Resistance Training for Healthy Adults"
- American College of Sports Medicine: "ACSM Guidelines for Strength Training"