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I'm a 20-year-old male, and it's been a while since I've done anything physical, so I'm trying to build some muscle. However, I'm a full time student and I work 20 hours a week, which doesn't leave me with much time to hit the gym.

Now, this coming term I have lots of short breaks between my classes, around 30-45 minutes each. I could potentially take about 20-30 minutes of every break to hit the gym. My question is: Are multiple shorter workouts every day more or less effective than one long workout? What are the practical implications of doing this? I realize 20-30 minutes isn't a lot of time, but I'd be doing this around 3 times a day.

I apologize if this question is too vague; I can specify anything as needed.

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Is one long session even an option for you? Or is this question more about how you should use 20-30 minutes? –  user3085 Mar 26 '12 at 15:43
    
@Sancho: I could make time for a long session if it would definitely be more effective, but I would rather use these breaks that I have, so I'm asking if it's worth it. –  musicfreak Mar 26 '12 at 20:13

2 Answers 2

In any case, splitting up workouts will be a less effective use of your time, if only due to needing to warm up three times instead of only once.

If you want to do strength training, 20-30 minutes per session will likely not be enough time for long-term development (but probably okay in the short term). For example, to do a set of heavy squats, you will do a general warm-up for 2-5 minutes (stationary bike), then wait for the squat rack to be free, then do a set of 5 reps with the empty bar, a few sets of 1-5 reps with increasing weight as you approach your target weight for the day, then 3 sets of 5 reps each at a heavy weight, requiring 3-7 minutes rest between each set to properly recover for the next set.

Since you're a novice, I'm sure you'll be able to make some initial strength gains in 20-30 minute blocks (since you won't need as many warm-up sets, and rests between sets will be short), but you won't be able to continue that progress for very long. As you gain ability to lift heavier weights, your body will need proper warm-up sets and longer rests between sets, and trying to make that fit into 20-30 minutes just won't work. Maybe your classes will have ended by the time you progress to this stage, though.

If you want to do cario, you can easily make a lot out of 20-30 minutes.

  • Warm up for about 5 minutes, and then do hard interval sessions, 3 minutes at about 80% of your fastest speed, and then take 3 minutes at a recovery pace (but still jogging), and repeat.
  • Just straight jog for 30 minutes.
  • Run 5k.

You can also use 20-30 minutes to do stretching or foam rolling to assist in your muscle recovery and help prevent injuries.

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Thanks! Maybe I will spend the time on cardio during the breaks then, and do weight lifting on the weekend or something. –  musicfreak Mar 26 '12 at 20:18

I think a lot depends on what your goals are. You can easily do some interval training or some weight training in those short breaks - if you don't mind sweating or being tired during class. Building muscle could mean: bulking or strength gain......but if you can get a good 20 minutes 3 times a day you could focus on the big three exercises: squats, dead lifts and bench pressing. I would recommend: setting your goals (including nutrition), building up slowly to ensure your body is ready and trying various combinations to see how you progress.

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No, I don't mind being sweaty/tired for class, most of my classes this term are in lecture halls. And I'm referring specifically to strength gain, not necessarily bulking. So would you recommend I set one day for each type of exercise? Or change it up with each session? Thanks! –  musicfreak Mar 26 '12 at 20:20

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