How Hard and Long to Work-Out

In general, people either like to work out or they don’t. I spend a lot of my time as a personal trainer either motivating clients to work out or holding back other clients from exercising too much. When you don’t like to work out it’s hard to understand how some people love to exercise and only feel they are training properly, if they consistently spend many hours per week doing long and hard workouts.

When I was in my twenties, I loved to train long and hard. I would train hard every day. Spending 60 minutes just training my chest and back was normal for me followed by a five mile hard run.  I felt that the only way I could look how I wanted to look and be in top physical shape was to go all out on every  workout every day. Recovering from a workout was not on my mind. Looking back now I think I was chronically sore for 10 years.

Unfortunately I see a lot of people still making the same over training mistakes I made over 20 years ago. I see people all the time take a 75 minute hard spinning class and then train 60 minutes with a personal trainer doing resistance work. If you like to train long and hard you have to start thinking about why you are doing it. Is it helping you achieve your health and fitness goals or do you think it’s the only way to stay lean and be in shape? If you’re an athletic you can read my article, Why Athletes Have to Over Train, but for everyone else going all out every workout is asking for trouble.

Here are some rules for How Hard and Long to Work-Out:

  • Control your weight with your diet, not long hard workouts. Eighty percent of how lean you are depends on your diet.
  • The older you are the more recovery time you need between workouts.
  • If you’re training very hard it has to be short and infrequent. If you’re  40 or older, one hard 20 minute interval workout per week is enough.
  • If you like to train long to release stress, try long easy workouts like walking or easy biking for 60 minutes. You will still get some aerobic benefit and you will not be overtaxing your body.
  • Keep your strength workouts short. Full body workouts with warm-up and cool-down should be no longer than 45 minutes.
  • One hard work set per exercise is all it takes to create a response and strengthen any muscle group.
  • Vary how long, hard and often you workout. If you do a hard interval workout one day, follow it by an easy workout the next day. If you did a hard resistance workout and are sore the next day, take a day off and rest.
  • If any movement or exercise hurts, don’t do it. Instead, modify it to a point where it does not hurt.
  • Whenever you’re exercising you should  always be building yourself up not breaking yourself down.

When you like to work out, I know how easy it is to think that more is better or the harder the better. You can easily get mentally addicted to long hard workouts and wind up breaking your body down thinking that you’re doing everything right. If you’re training long and hard all the time, take a step back and see if it really makes sense for your health and fitness goals.

How long and hard do you workout? Let me know if you think you are over training?

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Best – Mike Cola

Helping  People Build Healthy Bodies


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About Mike Cola

Mike Cola has well over 50,000 hours of hands-on personal training experience. He started his own personal training studio in1989, Mike Cola Fitness, which is located in New York. Connect with Mike @ Google+

13 Responses to “How Hard and Long to Work-Out”

  1. Your blog is great and much better than most of the other fitness sites out there. Thanks!

    I’m over forty and have a question: are you saying, for instance, that I would get the same results doing one hard set of tri extensions as I would doing the typical 3 sets (12, 10, 8)?

  2. It depends on your goals. For most people doing one hard work set is just as effective for increasing strength as doing the typical three sets. As long as you are warmed up, then go for one hard set. Sometimes a warm-up might involve an easy set before doing a hard work set. If you are in your 40s like me, I like to do a light set to get my mind and muscle ready for my one hard work set.

    One reason someone might want to do multiple sets or higher volume training is for maximum muscle size. When you do set after set of an exercise you might not necessarily get any stronger than doing one hard set but your body will compensate by storing more carbohydrates and water in the muscle and increasing the volume of the muscle cell. Doing high volume training can help you carbohydrate load a muscle if you eat enough carbohydrates.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. Casey Roberts July 7, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    I exercise to control my type 2 diabetes. I have been experiencing elevated blood sugar for 48 hours after interval resistance training (8 x 3 sets each, twice weekly). This is apparently from stress hormones. I have read that the stress hormones are released almost immediately (or even in anticipation) when lifting weights, so cutting back would not seem to be the solution. Since light aerobic exercise lowers stress, would it make sense to do a longer (say, 30 minute) moderate intensity cool down?

  4. Hard weight lifting can raise stress hormones. I think cutting back might help. Reduce the intensity and duration of your resistance workout and see if it helps. A moderate cool-down or aerobic session like walking is a good idea to help control your diabetes.

    Check with your doctor. 48 hours is a long time for your blood sugar to be high after a workout.

    Thanks for the comment and let me know what your doctor recommends.

    Best – Mike

  5. “If you’re 40 or older, one hard 20 minute interval workout per week is enough.”

    Pardon me, but I’m 49 and that would be a good warm up, but give me a break… we aren’t automatically frail after 40!!!

  6. I don’t think you are frail in your 40′s. I’m in my 40′s and I’m not frail.

    In my opinion if you are training for general fitness and you’re 40 or older all you need is one hard relatively short interval workout to create a good aerobic responce along with the rest of your weekly overall conditioning program. When your working out really hard it can take a week or two for creatine kinase levels to return to normal even if your not sore. Creatine kinase levels show how much muscle damage is in the blood. If levels are always high from too much hard exercise it is stressfull on the body. Plus the orthopedic stress and wear patterns of long hard workouts takes its toll on the body over time.

    I understand how you feel. I used to think that 20 minutes of hard work was just a warm up. But over time ( I’ve been training myself and clients for over 30 years) I realized you reach a point of deminishing returns quickly with exercise. The goal should be maximum results in minimal time. If your addicted to exercise like me and want to train for long perods of time, keep it easy and go for it every now and then.

    Thanks for the comment.

    Best – Mike

  7. Barbara Saunders July 12, 2010 at 11:29 am

    I love this post. A couple of years ago, I enrolled in a spin camp designed by an athletic coach to mimic sports training more than the typical spinning classes. I found that at 40 I could go as hard as a I could at age 30, but I had to rest much longer in between. Interestingly, I got similar results; my body responded pretty much as it had 10 years before with less time spent exercising.

  8. Thanks for the comment Barbara.

    Best – Mike

  9. I also have type 2 diabetes and Dr. Bernstein, author of one of the best books on controlling diabetes, says that weight lifting is the best exercise because it forces the body to use glucose for energy, thereby lowering your blood sugar. It has worked like a charm for me. My blood sugar goes up for 2-3 hours but then drops down to a much healthier level. I was able to quit insulin by lifting weights and now take no meds. I like to lift 6 days/wk and think I need to in order to keep my blood sugar down. I use Joyce Vedral tapes. I’m age 64. I started with 1,2 3 lbs 6 months ago & now am up to 5, 8, 10 lbs. I’m thinking maybe I have to lift lighter more days although Joyce says to keep raising weights.

  10. Hi Suzy,

    I’m glad you’re able to control your diabetes with weight lifting. I will have to read Dr. Bernstein book.

    Thanks for the comment.

    Best – Mike

  11. It’s “Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution” by Dr. Richard Bernstein, who has been a lifelong type 1 diabetic himself. His book explains why diabetics have to stick to a high protein, low carb diet and how weightlifting is the best exercise to lower blood sugar – there might be an initial spike right after lifting but then it goes down and stays down for 24 hrs. I went from an A1c of 8.5 (very bad) to 6.6 (normal reading) in 4.5 months. I haven’t lost lbs. but have dropped 2 dress sizes.

  12. Mike,

    Thank you for taking the time to teach and give back. What if you are over 40 and obese? I’ve been working out for about 3 years, lost a good amount of weight, but still need to lose more. Is it okay to hard, or should I follow your advice? I’ve slowly lost the weight over a period of time, but I need to lose more. In my case, is diet more important, going hard, or both?

  13. Hi William,

    Yes…diet is more important that working out very hard for weight loss. Sounds like to are doing a good job. Keep it up and don’t over train.

    Best – Mike