Everyone agrees that exercise is important, but is it better to train a lot a few times a week or a little a day?
So should I train longer once a week or a little each day?
It’s a conundrum many health-conscious people face, and a new study from Edith Cowan University (ECU) has a solution. This recent study reveals that a bit of daily activity might just be the most beneficial approach, at least for muscle strength. Luckily, this also means you don’t have to put in a ton of effort every day.
In a four-week training study conducted in partnership with Niigata University and Nishi Kyushu University in Japan, three groups of participants each performed an arm resistance exercise while improvements in strength and thickness muscles were measured and compared.
The workout included “maximum voluntary eccentric bicep contractions” on a machine that measures the strength of your muscles throughout each muscle contraction that you would do in a gym. An eccentric contraction occurs when the muscle lengthens; in the case of a bicep curl, it would be similar to lowering a large barbell.
One group performed six contractions a day, five days a week (6 × 5 group), while the other did all 30 contractions one day, once a week (30 × 1 group). Both groups performed 30 contractions each week. Another group only had six contractions once a week.
After four weeks, the group doing 30 contractions a day showed no improvement in muscle strength, although muscle thickness (a sign of increased muscle size) increased by 5.8%. Muscle strength and thickness did not change in the group doing six contractions once a week. However, the 6×5 group saw gains in muscle thickness comparable to the 30×1 group and substantial increases in muscle strength of more than 10%.
Frequency, not volume
Importantly, the increase in muscle strength of the 6×5 group was similar to that of the group in a previous study that performed only one maximum eccentric contraction of three seconds per day for five days per week. for four weeks.
Ken Nosaka, professor of exercise and sports science at ECU, said these studies continue to suggest that very manageable amounts of exercise done on a regular basis can have a real effect on people’s strength.
“People think they have to do a long resistance workout in the gym, but that’s not the case,” he said. “Just slowly lower a heavy dumbbell once or six times a day.”
Professor Nosaka said that while the study required participants to exert maximum effort, early findings from current and ongoing research indicated that similar results could be achieved without having to push as hard as possible.
“We only used the biceps curl exercise in this study, but we think it would be the case for other muscles as well, at least to some extent,” he said.
“Muscular strength is important for our health. This could help prevent a decline in muscle mass and strength with aging. A decrease in muscle mass is at the root of many chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, dementia, as well as musculoskeletal problems such as osteoporosis.
It is not yet known precisely why the body responds better to resistance exercises with eccentric contractions in small doses rather than larger loads less frequently.
Professor Nosaka said it could be linked to how often the brain is told to operate a muscle in a particular way.
However, he stressed that it was also important to include rest in an exercise regimen.
“In this study, the 6×5 group had two days off per week,” he said.
“Muscular adaptations happen when we rest; if someone was able to train around the clock, there would actually be no improvement.
“Muscles need rest to improve strength and muscle mass, but muscles seem to like being stimulated more frequently.”
He also pointed out that if someone was unable to exercise for a period, there was no value in trying to “catch up” with a longer session later.
“If someone is sick and can’t exercise for a week, that’s fine, but it’s best to go back to a regular exercise routine when you feel better,” he said.
Current Australian government guidelines already state that adults should aim to be active every day and perform 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate physical activity per week.
Professor Nosaka said there needs to be more emphasis on the importance of making exercise a daily activity, rather than hitting a weekly minutes target.
“If you only go to the gym once a week, it’s not as effective as doing a bit of exercise every day at home,” he said.
“This research, along with our previous study, suggests the importance of accumulating a small amount of exercise per week and then spending hours exercising once a week.
“We need to know that every muscle contraction matters, and it’s how often you perform them that matters.”
Reference: “More effects from performing a small number of eccentric contractions per day than a larger number once a week” by Riku Yoshida, Shigeru Sato, Kazuki Kasahara, Yuta Murakami, Fu Murakoshi, Kodai Aizawa , Ryoma Koizumi, Kazunori Nosaka and Masatoshi Nakamura, July 31, 2022, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sport.
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