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Let's say my workout for a given day includes 3 sets of squats, 3 sets of bench press and 3 sets of rows. Usually, one would do this in a 45 minute workout. Alternatively, I could spread out the exercises and sets over the duration of a full day.

Would one approach be more effective than another? Is work work? Or is there an intensity component?

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The two approaches are different. There is an intensity component. The state of your body qua warming up is different. Recovery between sets is different. Each can be effective, but usually one should do work in a workout rather than on its own. See "greasing the groove".

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