Hit It and Quit It

No, this didn’t turn into a sex or relationship advice column, but it is a good piece of advice. For training. And stuff (uh, NSFW for language?).

When you walk out of the gym, do you know how much time has passed? Or do you feel like you’re surfacing from underwater, breathing heavily, and gasping, “What happened, I blacked out?” Knowing how much time is relevant, because you most likely need to decrease that amount of time. I spent about half an hour looking for references on this topic, but I don’t have access to scholarly sources and my textbooks were vague, but Dr. Pascuale’s “Amino Acids and Proteins for the Athlete” provided the following:

Androgens such as testosterone (and trophic hormones such as LH) increase with intense exercise as long as it is not exhausting. Thus, short intense training sessions will give the best results and maximize lean body mass and strength. When exercise duration is too long, the level of testosterone decreases. Thus repetitive and prolonged heavy exercise results in overtraining and in decreased protein synthesis and increased muscle catabolism (pg 340-341).

He continues on how short, intense workouts also benefit growth hormone as well. This, of course, wasn’t the first time I had seen this information, but lately I’ve been experimenting with shorter duration workouts. All of you who have had a two or three hour training session know that towards the end you’re drained and devoid of any life force; the Others have taken you. In contrast, when you get your work down very quickly, you may feel invigorated or feeling that you could have done more. That’s a good feeling! Feeling that you did too little is better than feeling that you did too much, and it results in better progress.

Physiological reasoning for a short duration training session include maximizing the efficacy of anabolic hormones (like testosterone and growth hormone), maximizing the potential for protein synthesis, and fitting in the standard “insulin”, or anabolic, window that is created by having protein and fast digesting carbs pre-workout. Not to mention there’s the psychological benefit from not being drained as well as having completed the session in a timely manner. The physiological and psychological implications could improve or at least limit the negative effects on a trainee’s emotional state. If you have kids, dogs, or work to take care of once you get home, you’ll be in a better frame of mind. Enjoying dinner and watching Bert Macklin is preferable to lying on the floor and wishing you were dead. Trust me, I know.

Good strength programs will include two, maybe three primary lifts with one or two assistance exercises. The average number of lifts or exercises included in a session is three or four; there’s no reason that such a workout can’t be completed in an hour.

Guys using traditional Texas Method templates will be the first to pipe up and say, “But five sets of five takes almost an hour.” You’re right; they do. That’s part of the reason that five sets squats aren’t used in anything I program (and strength increases are much better without that volume — read more here). A good guideline is to try and complete each exercise, including warm-ups, in 15 minutes. More demanding lifts like the squat or deadlift can increase to 20 minutes. This sets a parameter of timeliness in the training session.

I always tell my trainees that they should complete the first three warm-ups of any exercise back-to-back-to-back. For squat or deadlift, that would be hitting 135, 225, and 315 in sequence (bench could be 135, 185, 225 while press could be 135, 155, and 175). Remember to titrate repetitions down as the weight increases to avoid undue fatigue for the work sets. The first three warm-ups should happen within five minutes (and often quicker). Subsequent warm-ups can be off-set by a minute or so can of rest, and then three to five minutes of rest could be used between work sets.

Rest periods will obviously be dependent on the training intensity. If a trainee is working with a tough 3×5 with sets across, they may need five to seven minutes of rest. Most of you will have crept out of a linear progression and can account for this with ascending sets or intelligent programming (a topic for another day) that contains the rest periods. Keep in mind that the rest periods will probably increase between subsequent work sets; resting before the third set will take a bit longer than the amount of rest between the last warm-up and the first set.

In order to keep an eye on your rest periods and total session time, I like to wear watch. Just start the time it once you start warming up with a bar (my time excludes dynamic warm-up and mobility work). When you’re resting, just look at the current time and add three minutes to that. At the three minute mark, gauge how you’re feeling and decide if you can complete the set or if you need more time. If you routinely need more time, it could indicate that you’re using large amounts of weight (which is fine given the context of your program), but it could also indicate a lack of conditioning on your part. When I did 200m sprints last week, my heart rate dropped from 183 to 123 in less than two minutes (I’ll get some numbers on a lifting session; forget to wear the monitor Monday). That capability would indicate that I should have good recovery between sets. This doesn’t mean you need to do sprints, but that GPP work is standard in many powerlifting or strength programs, and you shouldn’t be an exception (unless prepping for a meet).

Another way to shorten the duration of a workout is to complete assistance exercise in a super-set fashion (e.g. pull-ups with GHR). Obviously you should avoid lifts or exercises that would be debilitating to each other, but most assistance work can be combined. The “rest between” sets will merely include you walking back and forth. This works well because it not only completes the rest of your assistance work in a timely manner, but it can provide a wee bit of a conditioning stress. If you haven’t done any GPP work, super setting some assistance will get your heart pumping and make you sweat a little. It’ll be good for you.

You can also complete “finisher” type work in the same way. I’ve also been experimenting with non-lifting finishers in my sessions. One example is super setting heavy farmer’s walks for a 25 meter round trip with side planks (a deceivingly effective exercise for lumbar spine health and rehab — more on this another time). Last week I completed three farmer’s walks and three sets of side planks (30 seconds on each side) in about five minutes. The total training session time (that included bench, squat, BB row, and RDLs) was about 1 hour and 5 minutes. Aesthetic focused exercises, like curls, work well as finishers and they benefit most from short rest periods anyway (i.e. higher rep schemes with short rest intervals favor hypertrophy).

One hour is a good guideline, but you can also work with 1:15 or 1:30. Your mindset going forward should be:
1:30+ — debilitating for recovery
1:15 to 1:30 — decent
1:00 to 1:15 — good
1:00 and under — great

This mentality works exceptionally well in light or medium sessions, especially when coming back from a layoff, injury, or illness. By having an up-tempo emphasis throughout the session, you’ll maximize your ‘anabolic window’, increase your metabolism, and get your shit done in a timely manner. For some of you, trimming the fat off your training session will actually help you. Deleting some unnecessary asssitance will help your body focus it’s recovery efforts into the fundamental lifts (see this article by Dr. Hartman)

Some programs may demand long sessions, and they can sometimes be helpful — some powerlifting meets will last 8 hours! But most of you are general strength trainees who are trying to be strong and look strong. The shorter duration emphasis will have a better effect on both getting stronger and growing musculature. So hit it and quit it; no need to hang around.

40 thoughts on “Hit It and Quit It

  1. “Most of you will have crept out of a linear progression and can account for this with ascending sets…” Are saying that switching from 3X5 across to (say) 5X5 ascending 12.5% each set (a la Bill Starr) is a good “advanced novice” rep scheme?

    That’s not what I was saying specifically, but that could fit within the umbrella of my statement. Again, I don’t like to talk in hard liners like “novice” and “intermediate” or break it down into “beginning novice” or “advanced novice”, but I do so occasionally because it’s a language that makes sense to you guys.

    But, yes, that’s one way. I no longer have the opinion that bashing away constantly in a linear progression with tons of resets is an efficient use of training time. One or two resets are warranted, but after that it’s time to use something better.


  2. great post. You still planning on that dynamic warm up post that you spoke of a long, long (long) time ago?

    I’ve been waiting on a good opportunity to film an accompanying video. At the latest I’ll be able to do it when I do the workshop in D.C.


  3. OK I was getting concerned until I saw the last paragraph. Right now my program has sessions that vary from 1:15 min to 2:10 min or so. It’s a Hepburn program where I am to achieve one additional rep at ~95% of my 1RM each time I go, and then I take off about 50 lbs and do pump sets. You do 4 sessions/week. Day 1 is deadlift, day 2 squat, day 3 squat, day 4 power clean. After those lifts you alternate either bench or press. And then the tird lift is either row, chins or curls. So like this:

    Squat ~95%1RM 4×1; then do ~70% for 2×3

    Next workout:
    Squat ~95%1RM 5×1; then do ~70% for 3×3

    All the way up to 10×1 for the power singles and 5×3 for the pump tripples. You do each lift twice a week, except for just one deadlift day and one power clean day per week. So the days when I do say 10×1 and then 4×3 take a long ass time, over two hours. It’s hard and I do feel drained but I have added 20 lbs to my workign squat and bench weights (probably 40 or 50 to my true 1RM). I take about 2 min between each single and 3 min or so between each tripple. Sometimes a little more as the sets go on but I do watch the clock. So that’s at least 45 min some days per exercise.

    Tl;DR So it seems like it’s working even though I typically lift for around two hours but perhaps I’m setting myself up for less longterm progress? My technique has improved a lot from the heavy singles I think. Sorry if that was confusing.

    This post is more of a general type of approach. You have a clearly defined program that has been working. However, you may get to a point where it slows down or you overreach a bit. In such a case, having generic, shorter duration training session for a couple weeks could serve as a deload or different type of stress.

    I know a lot of guys who take way too much time — much more than they ever need to. This would help them.


  4. As much as I am aware of all that i still spend 3 hours at the gym .. granted not all 3 hours are filled with sweat and pain but still i know i am doing way too many sets …. this was a good reminder to cut down a bit.
    I have a PL meet in 10 days I have been pushing hard for 6 weeks
    this is a perfect time to take it down a bit

  5. I often take too long, but have since been “dialing it in” recently with shorter periods and more focus. I get sidetracked too easily, and often people want to talk to me. I fixed this by yelling, “GO FUCK YOURSELF” at the top of ever rep.

    No longer do people bother me.

  6. I often time my rest peridos by reading half of a newspaper article between sets, that’s usually a perfect amount of time. I probably look like a mad man, squatting heavy then sitting down in the rack or on the hamstring machine and reading the paper while breathing heavy. It’s a part of my mental training–learning to remain focused and thoughtful regardless of physical condition.

  7. This combined with yesterday’s post is good stuff. The training efficiency gained from compound lifts makes shorter duration sessions possible. The past couple months doing a 2x/week schedule with a focus on getting out of the gym in an hour has been great.

  8. I’ve been getting my sessions in during my lunch hour, which leaves me about 30 minutes to actually train after changing and before showering. I spend 5 minutes doing a general dynamic warm-up, another 5-7 minutes doing warm-up sets, and then my work sets. I’ve been experimenting with an “every minute on the minute” set scheme that looks like this –

    EMOTM for 7 minutes-
    Week 1 – 70% x 3
    Week 2 – 80% x 2
    Week 3 – 90% x 1
    Week 4 – 75% x 3
    Week 5 – 85% x 2
    Week 6 – 95% x 1
    Week 7 – New 1RM

    I’m in Week 5 right now so I’m curious to see how my new 1RM’s shake up. I’m doing this for squats, front squats, and bench. I actually used Prilepins Chart to come up with the percentages. Obviously this kind of stuff would work best for someone who has exhausted linear progression. I’ve tinkered with supersetting some rows with my bench sets and push-ups with my front squats too.

  9. Great post, I’m definitely one of those guys that takes way too long to train. Going to try keeping a timer going from now on. Usually train at home or in a friends garage, both places I can have a computer set up with a big timer going so that should be helpful. Thanks Justin!

  10. Justin – you’ve mentioned ascending sets a few times (like with 3×3 for Press).

    What do you think about a reverse pyramid set, like Martin Berkhan uses? You warm up, hit your top set, then drop the weight 10% and add another rep, then the drop the weight again and add another rep. Eg.: Squat 250×5, 225×6, 200×7. What sort of trainee might benefit from this?

    I squatted 245 3×5 on a LP recently, but the heavy 3×5 sets across for squat just leave me with nothing in the tank, totally wiped out.

  11. Okay, I am a dummy because I thought the whole point of the TM was 5×5 volume days and 1×5 intensity days. I read through your e-book a few times (it was a few months back) and reread what I thought you might be referencing but the best I think I found was where you talk about stalling out on the intensity day and dropping a couple of sets on volume, then upping it back to 4×5. Can you dive into this topic a little bit more here? For me personally, I am still making decent progress with my intensity days on the 5×5 but if it makes sense I would love to just up the weight and drop the volume by two sets.

  12. Justin,

    i’m not in the business of disagreeing with Doctors (most of the time), nor saying I want to spend 24 hours in a gym…but don’t bodybuilders spend hours in the gym doing like 260 sets of tricep work? They have no problems with building lean mass. GRANTED it helps that they’ve got syringes hanging from their ass…but what i’m saying is wouldn’t bodybuilders and their size and the fact that they’ve been training the way they have for decades be a pretty strong case against this doctors theory?

    not that i really give a shit.

    check this out, today in class, dude pulled out a “PaleoKit” …which, if i can please say, vacuum-packed meat and nuts mailed in a cardboard box in a truck is hardly paleo.. but dude ripped the plastic package open with his teeth. …now that was fuckin paleo. He then proceeded to stick his face nearly in the bag and chomp on the meat wad. Real animal-like, it gave my dick tiger stripes, or a paleo boner if you will.

  13. nobodystopsdblob – the whole point of TM is to put enough work in on volume day to drive your intensity day. 5’s are good for awhile, other reps work at different times…the point is to remember that driving the intensity day in a positive direction is the main focus. Everything else should be done to support that. Justin has done a pretty good job of building some templates for people to follow on their TM journeys in his book(s). The second one goes into more detail.

  14. criedthefox – the “syringes hanging from their ass” piece is the key piece in your question. The doctor’s comments become a moot point if you are increasing your test levels with AAS.

  15. Anyone have a good source from which to find weightlifting shoes with a half inch heal? Most of the places listed back from the previous 70sbig posts on shoes are not available anymore. Maybe I’m just an idiot but I am struggling to find a shoe with heal that isn’t 3/4 inch.

  16. @Justin, whats the time frame for someone doing snatch, c&J and squat- is 15 ish minutes for each lift realistic as well? do you have any suggestions for tapering? I have a meet in two sundays and today I can do a light lift, on Friday I am gonna go heavy cuz I will be at a gym in california that I always max at and they have nice bars, so what do you suggest I do the last week before the comp. I was thinking only hit crisp medium weights early part of the week, then light crisp lifts on friday, rest sat, lift sunday. Also, anyone have any experience with keeping a pendlay bar in an open air area? I think I need to buy one cuz my york power bar is gonna break my wrist by not spinning, but I use it in an open air sunroom taht gets significant moisture and I dont want to ruin a nice bar. Maybe glenn could comment on this bad boy?

    Also DC 70’s biggers, how many of you are doing the workshop?

  17. Strongerthanyesteday, I snatch/CJ/Squat/Assistance exercise in all of my workouts. It takes me at tops an 1:30, and I can usually finish up my main lifts in 20 to 30 minutes. Time is dependent on Intensity and Volume. Squat usually takes me 15 to 20 minutes also depending on volume and intensity. I will superset my assistance work.

    Is this your first meet? If so, then I would recommend going heavy this week and next week. Try maxing out your lifts as much as possible and even max out your front squats. The Monday before the meet I would work up to your openers and hit a nice front squat close to or above your opening CJ. The next training sessions should be light and you should be leaving the gym in under 45 minutes.

  18. Thanks doogie, it is my first meet. I kind of follow my own training program (which I why I am going to 70’s big seminar to learn how to program) and it involves hitting maxes relatively frequently so having the heavy weight should not be a problem. You got any suggestions for a good program to do? As a point of reference, I did a program with percentage based stuff and I found that my technique got shitty as hell with light weights

  19. Justin,

    What do you think of doing 2-3 workouts a day consisting of only 1-2 exercises per session and 20-30 min per workout?

    Context would be for strength and hypertrophy. Meals timing would be post workout.

  20. Can anyone give me some advice on this:

    He was saying to cut down on rest between sets (3-5mins on squats), but I’m routinely needing up to 7 mins on my work sets of squats, and I think I’m nearing the end of progress on SS.

    Is it worth trying to throw in conditioning right now, or would that cause me to fail from too much training since I’m already struggling hard to keep progressing, or should I wait until I fail/rest/switch programs in order to throw in some conditioning work?

  21. strongerthanyesterday, the only thing I would suggest for programming is to follow a program that you believe in, and a program that you are getting results such as PRs. At the end of the day accomplishments are the most important indicator of a programs success. Good luck in your first meet.

  22. I feel really rushed trying to keep within 15-20 mins for work sets on the big lifts. Say it takes 5 mins for the first three warm up sets, as Justin says, and then another 5 mins for the next couple of warm up/acclimation sets, and then I take 5 mins between three sets of heavy work sets of squats/pulls, (no and then!) = ~20+ mins just of rest time, i.e. excluding the actual lift time (which admittedly isn’t much). Just an extra 5-10 mins makes the session seem significantly less rushed and just flows better. I like to push the pace through accessory stuff though.

    No biggie. Would be quicker if I had someone to help load the bar.

    Between sets I like to work on my posing routine and examine the seperation in my calves and check out the veins on my middle back and text my homies “sup” and take photos of my abz in the mirror and immediately post them on FB. You know, just the usual stuff.

  23. Hey any thoughts on the ‘decrease’ in anabolic hormones being simply due to the workout? Don’t we know very definitively that our anabolic hormones take a hit post workout, so therefore if you’re still lifting ‘later/ longer’ than you’re just experiencing the same hormone drop that your earlier/faster workout peers will experience?

    Louie Simons also is a big proponent of short duration training sessions

  24. I’m not the most knowledgeable guy out there, but this is one of the reasons that I personally prefer splitting up upper and lower work. Right now, I am running a bench press specialization program two times per week, so I do “push” upper exercises (with some shoulder/upper back health exercises at the end, like face pulls), and squats/rdls/back assistance work on the other day. I just started this about two weeks ago, but I just feel fresher overall, despite being in the gym 4 days instead of 3.

  25. Another great post, thanks!

    Im currently on TM which I started in september. Im still on 5×5/5RM but I realize that I, for several reasons, soon have to switch over to 3×5/3RM as recommended in your excellent TM – write up. The most important reason is of course to avoid plateus and preserve the weekly increase but the time factor is also important in this as it has become quite hard to finish a volume day in an hour or less.

    (Just to clarify, by 3×5 i refer to 3 sets of 5 reps)

    So my question is, how would you (Justin or anyone else that feels compelled to reply) suggest the transition from 5×5/5RM into 3×5/3RM? Should I start on my current 5×5/5RM weight and just go for 3 sets of 5 on VD and 1 set of three reps on ID and following week increase the weight for ID or would it be better to do a slight deload in order to get accustomed to the lower rep range?

    I’ve had decent progression on squat, deadlift and press but the bench press has been quite tricky. I partially blame that on myself for not reading your report thorough enough as I became a “volume warrior” a couple of months into the program. In other words, I increased the weights on both VD and ID.

    However, I also lack plates for microloading at my gym (smallest plates: 2,5 lbs). Im sure this question have been up before but is it possible to overcome this issue by programming?

  26. yo justin,

    there’s a thread over at the SS forum. Seems some people over there are close to having you committed and given a frontal lobotomy or something. People are freaked the fuck out thinking you’re taking crazy pills…like you’ve lost it or something. Some are genuinely concerned for your well being, others may be mapping a route to the gallows.

    they are up in arms over this quote,

    ” “Guys using traditional Texas Method templates will be the first to pipe up and say, “But five sets of five takes almost an hour.” You’re right; they do. That’s part of the reason that five sets squats aren’t used in anything I program (and strength increases are much better without that volume — read more here).”

    concerned that you said you don’t program 5×5 yet link to your book which (i dont have but according to them) 5×5 is the basis for the TM in your book.

    In all seriousness people do seem confused and rather than have balls and ask you on your website, they thought a better option would be to go to another website and discuss it with each other and speculate.

    Just giving you the heads up if you need to clarify.

    if you don’t, that’s cool too, fack’em.

  27. I was going to say essentially the same thing, but criedthefox beat me to it. Hmmmm…I thought Wolf was higher on the food chain than a fox? Guess I better bring my game up!

    Anyway, I’m part of that thread over on SS. As in any thread/board, there’s plenty of foolishness there, but several of us are fans of 70sBig and your TM E-Book and are just trying to figure out what’s going on, since in the sentence where you say you never program 5×5 squats, you say “see here” and link your TM E-book, which advocates 5×5 as the basic volume day template.

  28. “When exercise duration is too long, the level of testosterone decreases. Thus repetitive and prolonged heavy exercise results in overtraining and in decreased protein synthesis and increased muscle catabolism.”

    Maybe I’m missing something but when testosterone drops it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve pushed into overtraining, it just means that your testosterone levels have droped. Less testosterone surely means less protein synthesis and increased catabolism but the effect wouldn’t be that dramatic if the “drop” is an acute return to normal levels. If you’re legit overtraining and your resting test levels decrease chronicly that’s another story. But if it takes 1.5-2 hrs once or twice a week to get your lift on – especially if your primary focus is strength development – I think the tradeoff in temporary testosterone elevation is worth it. Maybe not?

  29. @criedthefox: This has nothing to do with people not having balls to ask Justin. Somebody opened the thread about this post, and people gave their opinions. Not everybody on SS forums posts at 70sbig.com.
    The question still remains: Justin himself suggests the standard 5×5 for the volume day of TM in his book, so this change of opinion on the length of a Strength program IS strange and a large departure from what he himself suggested.
    But nobody is gonna kill Justin for that.

  30. Justin were interesting read. This makes me think of the book “Four Hour Body” by Tim Ferriss in which he has some experiments/research that looks at the minimum effective dose (MED) in which what is the minimum amount of work/intensity to get the greatest result. Very interesting read if you get a chance.

    Anyway I’m like you I use my watch to time my rests, they typically vary from 2 minutes to 6 minutes depending on the lift.

    I read most of the book a year or so ago. A lot of Tim’s self experimentation is hard to generalize, but I enjoy his books a lot.


  31. Minus that “were,” I just realized how LD I sound in my first sentence of my last post.

    Yea he’s done/has some interesting research. I’ll have to check out some of his other works, I’ve only read the “Four Hour Body.”

  32. Pingback: » Q&A – 17

  33. I learned everything I know about intensity from Leon – “You got to get up in that ass Larry.. and when you step out, leave it wide open so they know you’ve been there.” I need to start leaving more snickers wrappers in the rack.

  34. Pingback: Workout Duration – Keep it Short and Intense - All Things Gym

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