The answer to that question is, of course, it depends. If your goal is to build muscle and you are not already lifting weights 3-4 times per week, then 20 minutes may not be enough time for you. On the other hand, if you are looking to get in a quick workout on days when you don’t have much time or need something less intense after an injury or illness than what would normally be recommended for building muscle mass then 20 minutes might just about do the trick!
Keeping active is crucial for staying healthy, and considering 41 per cent of Britons aged 40-60 fail to walk for even ten minutes a month, according to a 2017 study, you might be inclined to up your activity levels.
But it’s hard to know just how much exercise you should be doing to reach your fitness goals, be that weight loss or bulking up.
Whilst there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, there are principles and guidelines that you can follow and apply to your training to ensure you have a balanced, effective, safe and enjoyable workout regime.
In an ideal world you’d have at least four weeks to make a really big change to how you look without a shirt, but any effort you put in should pay some handsome rewards.
Following the workouts couldn’t be easier: do them in order, sticking to the exercise order, sets, reps and rest.
For maximum results leave a day between sessions to let your muscles recover, and add in a high-intensity interval session (if you feel energised) to fire up your body’s fat-burning potential.
How Many Days A Week Should You Train?
Unless you’re a fitness enthusiast, you probably want to spend as little time in the gym as possible to achieve your health and fitness goals. But Mans says training only once or twice a week won’t give you more than a low level of fitness.
“You should train at least three times a week if you want to achieve your health and fitness goals in a reasonable amount of time, and stay fit and healthy,” Mans explains.
Training four or five times a week is ideal, but most people find that unachievable due to time constraints, so Mans says it’s best to aim for three: “This exposes your body to a large enough training stimulus throughout the week, which enables the body to adapt, get stronger, leaner and fitter.”
Rely On Compound Movements
Compound movements like squats, deadlifts, and pull ups all require high amounts of muscle mass to be working in unison.
Additionally, compound movements also allow us to typically add higher amounts of metabolic stress to the body (loads) which has been shown to increase muscle hypertrophy and growth.
Don’t Skip On Rest Periods
While you are on a time crunch, you need to realize that allowing yourself to rest and recover between sets has been shown to increase your ability to move weight, perform higher quality repetitions, and maximize growth.
Keeping the rest period too short will diminish your ability to move moderate to heavy loads for adequate rep ranges, maintain proper positioning, and could derail your ability to place stress on the muscles.
Make sure the muscle is fatiguing out, rather than your cardiovascular systems or other body parts. If you find that your huffing and puffing in leg presses and give out, rather than your quads screaming at you, then you need to rest longer.
Focus On Quality, Not Quantity
While volume is an important factor in muscle growth, it’s important to remember that more is not always better. First and foremost, your goal should be to produce as much muscle soreness and fatigue, in as little sets as possible (while adhering to rep ranges).
You can do this by controlling the loads, during them in the full range of motion, and putting your best effort into every set.
Many people make the mistake of doing too much, with every set and rep being suboptimal, lacking focus and intensity. Focus on doing things correctly instead of doing a bunch of suboptimal reps.
In general, if you cannot feel a muscle working and fatiguing out after 2-3 sets, there is a good chance you are not controlling the weight, doing the full range of motion, or not training with a load that is challenging enough (assuming you are training within the 5-25 rep range). For best results, perform reps of 8-15.
Evolution of the Bodybuilding Method
Another, and perhaps primary, reason for the extreme size and muscularity we see in the biggest bodybuilders nowadays is the evolution of the bodybuilding method itself. Bodybuilding training methods in the past have never been created by scientists or medical experts. They have evolved out of trial and effort experiences of the bodybuilders themselves.
For thousands of years, it’s been understood that we develop strength using progressive resistance training. The Greek myth of Milo of Croton describes how a young boy picked up a calf every day for years as the calf slowly grew into a full-size bull and this effort over time allowed him to develop incredible strength.
Eventually, lifting heavy weights developed into the sport of weightlifting, with some variation of this kind of competition being found in most of the cultures around the world.
Early bodybuilders in the 20th century still trained pretty much like weightlifters, working the whole body in one session three times a week. But then they learned how better to shape and sculpt all the muscles of the body — isolation in addition to compound exercises, cycling their training, split-system training and dieting away body fat for maximum muscularity and definition.
By the 1970s and 1980s, this approach to training and dieting resulted in much more complete and sculpted physiques than in the past. But not as big as we see today. Arnold at his best was only about 235 pounds, and most of the champions of that period were much smaller. But that would not last. We’ve already talked about how genetically bigger bodybuilders began to be attracted to competition.
But something more happened as well. Training methods themselves became much more effective and efficient in ways that current scientific knowledge about muscle building totally endorses.
A major reason bodybuilders weren’t bigger in the 1970s is that they vastly overtrained. It was common to work out six days a week, twice a day, with one of the workouts being a lot more strenuous than the other.
But you don’t grow when you train. You stimulate growth and then the actual gains take place while you rest and recuperate. If you get back into the gym before your body has had a chance to respond to the stimulation, you prevent the growth from happening.
Unlike the past, many bodybuilders nowadays have learned that high volumes of training, longer and more frequent workouts do not result in bigger, harder muscles – instead the volume approach is more likely to limit your progress.
A good way to make your workouts very intense but shorter is not to do too many exercises in one session. As an example, the basic and most effective exercise for biceps is some kind of curl. But doing dumbbell curls, plus barbell curls, plus cable curls, plus preacher curls, plus machine curls, plus concentration curls is a good way to block growth in a muscle group that is relatively small and has such a simple function.
All these curls involve working the biceps almost in the same way. You develop a lot of muscular endurance like this, but not size. A few sets of curls, plus working the biceps when you do rowing exercises, is all you need.
(Note: there are some individuals with such “genius genetics” they can do almost everything “wrong” and still make gains. If you are one of those people, you probably already know it. But even those with the best genetics make more progress if they use the most effective and efficient training methods.)
Symptoms And Warning Signs Of Overtraining
It may be hard to know when you’re overtraining. “It’s natural and expected to feel fatigued after challenging training sessions,” Dr. Goolsby says. “But feeling like you aren’t recovering between sessions or experiencing overall fatigue and difficulty pushing yourself during workouts can be indicators of overtraining.”
Training-related Signs Of Overtraining
- Unusual muscle soreness after a workout, which persists with continued training
- Inability to train or compete at a previously manageable level
- “Heavy” leg muscles, even at lower exercise intensities
- Delays in recovery from training
- Performance plateaus or declines
- Thoughts of skipping or cutting short training sessions
Lifestyle-related Signs Of Overtraining
- Prolonged general fatigue
- Increase in tension, depression, anger or confusion
- Inability to relax
- Poor-quality sleep
- Lack of energy, decreased motivation, moodiness
- Not feeling joy from things that were once enjoyable
Health-related Signs Of Overtraining
- Increased occurrences of illness
- Increased blood pressure and at-rest heartrate
- Irregular menstrual cycles; missing periods
- Weight loss; appetite loss
- Constipation; diarrhea
If any of these signs feel familiar, it may be time to make some changes. “It is best to identify these symptoms early on and adjust training to accommodate,” Dr. Goolsby says. “If the symptoms become more severe and prolonged, the recovery takes much longer.”
How To Recover From Overtraining
If you’re experiencing symptoms of overtraining, talk with your coach, athletic trainer or doctor. These sports medicine professionals can work with you to establish personalized guidelines for your recovery.
“It is also important for coaches to identify issues their athletes may be having with strenuous training and have an open dialogue about whether training needs to be adjusted, in addition to ensuring good sleep, nutrition and mental health,” Dr. Goolsby says.
Typically, recovery from overtraining includes:
Rest is crucial for recovery from overtraining. You may need to temporarily stop or cut back on your training — even if it means forgoing an upcoming competition.
Examine your eating habits. Have you been depriving your body of the calories, protein, vitamins and minerals it needs for high-quality, high-intensity training? Work with a nutritionist for an eating plan that can provide your body with the energy and nutrients it needs for healing.
It can be emotionally challenging to take time off from training. Mental health professionals can help with recovery from overtraining by offering space for you to discuss your feelings. “Getting support and validation for how challenging it can be to take a break can help normalize the experience and help the athlete feel less overwhelmed or discouraged by the break,” Dr. Roche says.
“Additionally, mental skills training and other psychology skills can be taught and used during the break. Mindfulness, visualization and other techniques have been shown to be effective in helping athletes prepare and return to sport after injury.”
Your doctor and coach should help you determine when you’re ready to begin training again. Signs that you’re likely ready to resume full training are renewed interest and an ability to train hard with normal responses.
Start low and go slow. Your training volume may be reduced by at least 50 to 60 percent. Increase how much you train by about 10 percent each week.
Even though easing back into training slowly may be difficult, you should apply the same discipline you developed for training to complying with the recommendations of your sports medicine team. “The recovery will be different for every athlete,”
Dr. Goolsby says, “It’s important to be aware of symptoms with progression back to activity. Trying to get back into full training too quickly would lead to a prolonged recovery.” The more closely you follow professionals’ guidelines, the sooner you’ll be back in the gym, at the track or on the field.
How To Avoid Overtraining
Regardless of whether you’re noticing some of the symptoms of overtraining or simply hoping to stay safe as you level up your workouts, the best fix for overtraining is to avoid doing it in the first place.
Here are tips to help keep your routine safe and realistic.
Listen to your body. Work closely with your coach or doctor and let them know how you’re feeling.
Visualize your workouts. “Using imagery and visualization can provide the rehearsal you want from training, without overloading your body and risking injury,” Dr. Roche says.
Keep a training log. Record your feelings of well-being as well as how much you’re exercising. “As you increase your training load, noting how you feel each day in a training log can help you recognize the signs of overtraining so you can reduce that load and prevent overtraining,” Dr. Roche says.
Balance training with time for recovery. Adequate rest is not a sign of weakness. You need at least one complete day of rest every week.
If you’re training for a specific activity, alternate hard and easy days. Incorporate cross-training and other forms of active rest into your training. As you increase the amount and intensity of your training, work up gradually.
Acknowledge when you’re overdoing it — and talk to someone about it. If you find yourself becoming obsessed with training, exercising despite injury or pain, or feeling guilty if you go a day without vigorous exercise, talk with someone about your feelings. You want to have a healthy relationship with exercise.
Make sure you’re getting enough calories and nutrients. Your calorie intake should cover what your body needs for training and muscle repair. Work with a nutritionist to evaluate your food habits and make sure you’re getting enough of what you need.
Drink lots of water. Dehydration contributes to muscle fatigue. Ensure adequate fluids with the goal of having light-colored urine. Be cautious with fluids that add to dehydration such as caffeinated and alcoholic beverages.
Do what you can to reduce your stress. Everyone deals with stress differently. When your stress levels exceed your ability to cope, your body will begin to break down. Look for opportunities to rearrange your priorities to reduce the effects of your stressors.
Consider getting help from a mental health professional to work through issues related to your training, job, family, social life, body image, finances, travel, time or anything else that impacts your mental well-being.
Building muscle doesn’t need to take hours and hours a day, however it is important to realize that there is a certain level of commitment that is necessary if you are looking to maximize results.
While your efforts in the gym are certainly vital to your success, meal planning and recovery are just as important. With the outlined workout program AND proper nutrition, sleep, and recovery, you can maximize muscle hyeri tgt and strength and progress as needed on a monthly basis.