How Long Should a Weightlifting Session Last
7 min read
November 13, 2022
Olympic Weightlifting is a game of skill development - time on the bar is key. But how long should a weightlifting session last for? What does a basic workout routine look like? and how much is too much in one training session?
How long should a weightlifting session last?
Olympic Weightlifting is a game of skill development - time on the bar is key.
Today, we're asking 'how long should a weightlifting session last'?
We're going to discuss the ideal workout duration, and
- How long should a strength training session last?
- What a basic workout should look like.
- How much is too much exercise in one training session?
So let's get into it, and outline the best approach to training for big weights in the Snatch and Clean and Jerk.
The Summary: How long should a weightlifting session last?
A weightlifter's typical workout length is around 1.5 - 2.5 hours. When you have more training sessions per week, you can use shorter workouts to achieve the same results.
You need to make sure you've got enough time for the most important things in your session. We usually set out our priorities according to what coach says is most important right now, but it's usually:
- Classic lifts: (moderately) heavy weights in the snatch, clean, and jerk
- Strength training: squats, pulls, presses, and rows
- Hypertrophy: building muscle with 'bodybuilding' exercises for smaller muscle groups
- Power and core: the final touches to a good workout (you don't always have to lift weights to get better).
These are built around the demands of each exercise. They reflect not only priorities, but when the body is most ready for what. The one exception is power exercise - like box jumps - which we perform at the end for long-term power development.
They're just not that hard to do, and studies suggest you can build power under fatigue really well, anyway. So do them.
Different Measures of Fatigue
One of the things that we struggle with - when trying to determine the ideal length of a training session for weightlifting - is that different types of fatigue happen. When we are just lifting weights, it's a loss of total force production.
Muscle soreness sets in, you lose power from the legs (e.g.) as you train, and you can use a "normal" system to decide when it's recovery time. It's a bit harder when you look at the Olympic lifts, where speed, power, and technique may be your limiting factor.
You're using multiple muscle groups to produce power, and coordinating them all is key to proper form and technique. Sometimes, you're only just producing enough power to get the bar overhead. Other times, the simple mental fatigue can ruin your technique and leave you with sloppy footwork in the jerk.
There's more to weightlifting recovery and training than muscle soreness and muscle growth. We're doing complicated compound exercises, and the human body can only do so much, even with long rest periods - a famous part of any weightlifting training.
This is why it's so important to have a coach, training partner, or - at the very least - a decent self-monitoring process. You have to know when to stop because you're getting sloppy or when you're ruining the training split between classic lifts, strength, accessories, and more.
That also includes doing too much snatch and ignoring other exercises. Stop hiding from your weaknesses - that's where most of the training volume should go.
Weight Training Recovery and Limitations
Weightlifting training is a pain in the ass: you can't just keep training and improving. Because the snatch and clean and jerk are weight training exercises, you're going to run into muscle soreness, exhaustion, and complete loss of mental focus.
This means time spent in the gym needs to be set out properly. You have to plan gym time and recovery time to keep yourself free from injuries.
Remember: your gym time depends on the quality of your recovery, and muscle growth isn't the only thing you're working on. With weightlifting, your gym time is split between snatch and clean and jerk, strength training (like squats and pulls), and accessories - from presses to pull ups.
More Than A Strength Training Session: Weightlifting vs Lifting Weights
Weightlifting is the sport, and it's not just lifting weights. Each Olympic lifting session comes with its own demands:
- Freshness in the key muscle groups
- Coordination and mental focus to work on proper form
- Enough rest for the required amount of power output (especially if you plan on hitting heavy weights)
It's primarily your sport specific exercises that limit your training for weightlifting. You'll run out of steam quickly as power drops off, and fatigue starts stealing your crisp, high-speed lifting.
Too much higher intensity training will zap the key muscle group (either the legs or hips) for an exercise. Equally, you're going to need to find time and energy in your training session for the different lifts - it's hard to lift heavy weights in the snatch, clean, jerk, squat, and pull.
A typical workout has to prioritise something, but not everything. You'll typically focus on something specific - building muscle, strength training, classic lifts, or accessories - and this focus shifts over the course of a training program.
Weightlifting Training Session Length: FAQs
Everyone wants to know everything about weightlifting: what's the optimal training experience? How do I balance making progress and building muscle? Should I fully recover between training sessions?
We're going to answer these and more - so you can spend your time in the gym responsibly, balance your rest periods, and keep intensity high without exploding your knees (hopefully). Let's get weird with it...
How Can I Build Muscle While Progressing Weightlifting?
You can build muscle while improving your classic lifts with proper programming - specifically:
- Establish training blocks for muscle growth, strength, power, and competitive lifts
- Find time at the end of workouts to build muscle and use higher rep ranges
- If you can, add one session per week dedicated to building muscle and strengthening weaknesses
These are the simplest ways to build muscle without sabotaging your strength training or Olympic lifts. Weightlifting and lifting weights simply need to find balance; you prioritise high-speed exercises, and build muscle at the end of a workout, when you're not worried about fatigue.
Should I Fully Recover Between Workouts?
Most people do not need to fully recover between workouts. As a beginner, you're never working at an intensity high enough to cause serious session to session problems - and you shouldn't be pushing your maximums all the time.
Advanced lifters simply won't fully recover until it's time for competition. Most elite weightlifters spend most of their year under some sort of residual fatigue. The idea is that you're getting to 95% recovery at most - 100% freshness is for competition day alone!
That said, you do still need to monitor the quality of rest periods (rest day in particular), and ensure you're getting as much recovery time as possible. Time spent stretching, rolling, in the sauna, or taking low intensity exercise all add up.
You don't need to be fully recovered between workouts, but you should still be as recovered as possible. In weightlifting, this is key to prevent shoulder injuries, exploding knees, hip pain, and simple performance.
How Long Should I Spend In The Gym for Strength Training?
You should spend 5-10 hours per week in the gym as a beginner, 8-12 as an intermediate, and 12+ as an advanced athlete.
Typically, you're going to spend more hours per week in training as you build training experience. Advanced athletes will spend 15-20 hours per week lifting weights, sometimes split between Olympic lifts in one session, and another strength training session.
Compound exercises in low reps schemes will take up most of this time. Smaller portions of time should be dedicated to upper body resistance training - especially in "prehab" exercises to prevent knee, hip, back, and shoulder injury.
We like to look at it like this: a strength training session, with proper rehab focus, is a way of maintaining overall health. A weightlifting session, by contrast, typically demands more and is a "breakdown" influence. If you keep them in balance, you'll be able to keep improving and stay healthy.
How Can I Get More Value From The Exact Same Workout And Time Spent?
One of the most important things to remember is that time spent in the gym is not the same as progress. The quality of your performance, especially in compound exercises, will depend on multiple factors:
- Discipline in the exercises - how are you moving? How much attention are you paying?
- Rest time (rest between sets) as away of keeping output high, or improving conditioning
- Exercise choice - bench press isn't going to make you better at snatching, so it should have less time in your program
- Weaknesses - the more you focus on them, the more you get from your time
- Compound movements vs Isolation exercise - if you can work multiple muscle groups, you probably should. It saves time and is how the human body evolved to move.
- Other factors - mobility work, power exercise, and other non-weight lifting movements
You can put in more or less quality in the same amount of time. 45minutes could be more valuable than 2 hours, if your longer workouts simply don't address your personal weaknesses. Don't mistake workout time for workout quality, or contribution to your competitive performance.
Cardio workouts? For Weightlifting?
Yes - you can use cardio for weightlifting. It's a way of improving your recovery and repairing muscle damage after training. Low intensity exercise - active recovery - is a way of flushing blood through the muscles and boosting the quality of your rest periods.
Cardio for weightlifters is not aimed at progression in the traditional sense. You're not training for a marathon - you're "spinning your legs out".
Ideally, you're going to use things like brisk walking, swimming, and light cycling as a way to improve body composition, refresh muscles, and support cardiorespiratory health. You know, overall health - the thing that's most important to everyday life? It's easy to forget.
The goal is usually getting the minimum amount of total volume or mileage, focusing on a relaxed pace for anywhere between 20 and 60 minutes. You want to get these into your life 1 to 3 times per week, aiding muscles without causing more muscle damage.
How Long Should A Strength Training Session Be?
A strength training session should typically be 1.5 - 2 hours long. Longer workouts are possible but also produce more muscle damage, as well as muscle soreness, and can limit your performance in subsequent training sessions.
The body relies on resources like food and sleep to power the muscles, and every 60 minutes you add uses up a huge amount of carbs and protein you're not replacing. This is why elite athletes typically perform more sessions per day, after a certain point.
You're going to notice a serious drop off in performance for every hour in the gym, and you may be better off just increasing training frequency. Be sure to measure your output, and keep an eye on your performance throughout a session.
If you find yourself flagging, consider cutting it down and being more impactful in the time you're there.
What's The Ideal Training Frequency for Weightlifting?
The ideal frequency for weightlifting is something like this:
- Beginners - 3 sessions per week
- Intermediates - 4-5 sessions per week
- Advanced- as many as you can tolerate (typically 5 to start with, and 2/day as a pro)
The idea is to train as often as is PRODUCTIVE. When you stop getting better or you start feeling like sessions drop off, it's time to either reduce the intensity of training or reduce your number of sessions.
Remember that more sessions doesn't produce more results by itself. It's the application of smart training and deliberate strength training.
For most people we've seen, more rest is likely to be more productive than more sessions. If you want to lift like a pro, you should prioritise all the non-training stuff first - you're going to see a significant uptick in performance.
Conclusion: How Long Should A Weightlifting Session Last?
Ultimately, you shouldn't be in the gym for more than 3 hours. 2-3 is okay, but that extra 60 minutes often results in a loss of performance, extra muscle soreness, and lower performance quality over the coming days.
Rest is the priority for most beginner and intermediate athletes. You're not there to beat your body into submission - you're meant to be well within recoverable volume levels.
Take your time, progress at a pace that keeps your body in one piece, and you can't force muscle growth. It's a long and patient process, so settle in for the long haul. Find balance in life and make sure your weightlifting training is proportional to your needs, as well as giving you a solid foundation of everyday life logistics, time, and happiness.
It sounds fluffy, but Olympic Weightlifting is a long-term sport and you need to be good at enduring the demands, not just blasting yourself with intensity right now...
If you need some help structuring your weightlifting sessions, or working the minimum productive training volume into your schedule. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org we'll be happy to help.