Every few months there’s a new workout trend. High-Intensity Interval Training, resistance training, plyometrics, aerobics, low impact, and the list goes on. Should you be doing 45 minutes of cardio? Should you really kill yourself for two hours a day hitting weights? And how often should you even be working out throughout the week in order to get results? What about those dreaded two-a-days for the people who are really serious about it? No matter what, there’s always a new reason that one type of getting exercise seems to be the hot ticket when it comes to getting fitness results.
According to a recent study, working smarter is more effective than working harder…and longer. Researchers at Lehman College tested 34 men over an 8-week period to see how they’re all affected by different weight training programs. There were three different groups within the study: a low-volume group performing a single set of each exercise over a total of 13 minutes, a moderate-volume group doing three sets of each exercise for a total of 40 minutes, and a high-volume group completing five sets of exercise with a minute and a half of rest between each set, totaling an hour and 10 minutes per workout session.
Participants worked out three times over the eight week period, never working out on back-to-back days. They all did basic exercises like bench press, leg presses, and five other exercises to complete the same routines, lifting to failure through eight to 12 reps each set.
You might be surprised by what they learned.
“Marked increases in strength and endurance can be attained by resistance-trained individuals with just three, 13-minute weekly sessions over an 8-week period,” researchers wrote, “and these gains are similar to that achieved with a substantially greater time commitment. Alternatively, muscle hypertrophy follows a dose-response relationship, with increasingly greater gains achieved with higher training volumes.”
While the high-volume group technically did achieve the most increase in muscle size, determining that the gains are similar to that of the low volume, shorter workout group is a major positive for anybody who dreads going to the gym and sees it as more of a chore than anything else. 13 minutes and three to four times a week is manageable for just about anybody, and you don’t need to kill yourself in the gym for two hours a day, five or even seven days a week to get results. Again, it’s about working smarter and not harder. It’s also worth noting that this study focused solely on weight training, leaving the common go-to treadmill sessions and elliptical out of the equation. Even for women who might be afraid to touch free weights and weight machines, focusing solely on cardio (often for fear of getting “too bulky”) can be a waste of time and even counterproductive. The same rule applies for both men and women: adding lean muscle is the best way to burn fat and stay (or get) trim.