New study says 3 seconds a day of weight training is enough to boost strength

Posted by Dayne Hudson in Muscle Building

Estimated reading time: 6mins

New study says 3 seconds a day of weight training is enough to boost strength

3 seconds for muscle strength?

This fresh study had 39 healthy university students perform one muscle contraction at maximum effort for three seconds per day, for five days a week over four weeks.

The participants performed either an isometric contraction (muscle length doesn't change, ie, just holding the weight by your side as if you're about to do a curl), concentric contraction (lifting the weight up), or eccentric contraction (lifting the weight down).

Specifically, their contraction was in the context of a bicep curl. All lifts were at maximum effort.

The researchers measured maximum contraction strength before and after the four-week period.

The control group, another 13 students, performed no exercise during the time and were too measured before and after.

So what did they find?

Muscle strength increased more than 10 per cent for the eccentric bicep curl after the four weeks, but less muscle strength was discovered for the other two exercise groups.

The eccentric bicep curl. The eccentric movement is always on the way down when a lift is being performed.
The eccentric bicep curl. The eccentric movement is always on the way down when a lift is being performed.

And obviously, the no-exercise group saw no increase.

Now, all three lifting methods (letting the weight hang, lifting it up, and lowering it down) all had some benefit for strength, but the eccentric (lowering it down) produced superior results.

Despite which group they were in, the researchers measured their eccentric, isometric and concentric strength at the end anyway.

The concentric lifting group improved a little bit (6.3 per cent) in their isometric strength but had no improvement elsewhere. The isometric group only saw an increase in eccentric strength (7.2 per cent).

But the eccentric group walked away boasting significant improvements in strength across all three measurements:

  1. Their concentric strength increased 12.8 per cent
  2. Their isometric strength increased 10.2 per cent
  3. Their eccentric strength increased 12.2 per cent

And the eccentric group saw an increase in muscle strength to the tune of 11.5 per cent.

And this was after just 60 seconds of effort at the end of the four weeks!

What I love about this study is how it can motivate people who think they can't get strong (or even lift weights in the first place) to get started.

Also, when people say they don't want to train or aren't motivated, I tell them to do one thing:

Go into the gym and do ONE rep. If you want to stop, then stop, turn around and go home.

But none of them do.

Because one rep turns into two, two into three, which turns into motivation and a finished workout.

But this study still has another two applications for the resistance-trained gym-goer, one of which is to remember to focus on the eccentric contraction. Because:

You produce greater muscle forces in the eccentric phase, up to 20-60 per cent more than during the concentric phase!

Also, other research has found that eccentric actions may have the greatest effect on skeletal muscle growth.

So it's critical we control our weight on the way down for maximal muscle growth, and this study is a good reminder of this!

But there's more...

Focusing on eccentric training can bring great muscle gains.
Focusing on eccentric training can bring great muscle gains.

Not many trained lifters know that whilst 3 seconds might improve strength in untrained subjects, they might only need 13 minutes a week to maintain their muscle gains!

A recent study examined 34 males who were frequently training with weights and found one set per muscle group (more sets for legs and back) per workout, was enough to maintain muscle mass.

The following is the regime the study authors had the subjects perform THREE times per week:

  • Seated Rows: 1 set of 8-12 reps
  • Military press: 1 set of 8-12 reps
  • Lat Pulldown: 1 set of 8-12 reps
  • Barbell Bench Press: 1 set of 8-12 reps
  • Back Squat: 1 set of 8-12 reps
  • Leg Press: 1 set of 8-12 reps
  • Leg extensions: 1 set of 8-12 reps

Note: All sets are performed to muscle failure (muscle failure means performing a certain amount of reps until you cannot do another).

Now, there are no triceps or hamstrings in here, so we should add some in...

So, if you're happy for your workout to be about 15-17 mins, take the below into the gym with you with this in mind:

  • Seated Rows: 1 set of 8-12 reps
  • Military press: 1 set of 8-12 reps
  • Lat Pulldown: 1 set of 8-12 reps
  • Barbell Bench Press: 1 set of 8-12 reps
  • Lying tricep extension: 1 set of 8-12 reps
  • Back Squat: 1 set of 8-12 reps
  • Leg Press: 1 set of 8-12 reps
  • Leg extensions: 1 set of 8-12 reps
  • Hamstring curl: 1 set of 8-12 reps

So if you’re a trained subject, the above workout three times per week is enough to maintain muscle mass…

That’s pretty incredible!

The bottom line on 3 seconds per day

Is that in untrained subjects 3 seconds per day of weight training and thus 60 seconds at the end of four weeks is enough to increase muscle strength. One would need to perform ONE rep only and focus on the eccentric contraction. All of us should focus on the eccentric contraction during our workouts and this study is a great reminder. Moreover, for trained subjects, 13-17 minute workouts three times per week is enough to maintain muscle mass. Sometimes less is more, but those aiming for optimal muscle growth should far supersede these aforementioned training approaches.

References:

  1. Sato S, Yoshida R, Murakoshi F, Sasaki Y, Yahata K, Nosaka K, Nakamura M. Effect of daily 3-s maximum voluntary isometric, concentric, or eccentric contraction on elbow flexor strength. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2022 Feb 1. doi: 10.1111/sms.14138. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35104387.
  2. Oranchuk DJ, Storey AG, Nelson AR, Cronin JB. Isometric training and long-term adaptations: Effects of muscle length, intensity, and intent: A systematic review. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2019 Apr;29(4):484-503. doi: 10.1111/sms.13375. Epub 2019 Jan 13. PMID: 30580468.
  3. Hollander DB, Kraemer RR, Kilpatrick MW, Ramadan ZG, Reeves GV, Francois M, Hebert EP, Tryniecki JL. Maximal eccentric and concentric strength discrepancies between young men and women for dynamic resistance exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2007 Feb;21(1):34-40. doi: 10.1519/R-18725.1. PMID: 17313264.
  4. Hather BM, Tesch PA, Buchanan P, and Dudley GA. Influence of eccentric actions on skeletal muscle adaptations to resistance training. Acta PhysiolScand 143: 177-185, 1991.
  5. Hortobagyi T, Devita P, Money J, and Barrier J. Effects of standard and eccentric overload strength training in young women. Med Sci Sports Exerc 33: 1206-1212, 2001.
  6. Hortobagyi T, Hill JP, Houmard JA, Fraser DD, Lambert NJ, and Israel RG. Adaptive responses to muscle lengthening and shortening in humans. J Appl Physiol (1985) 80: 765-772, 1996.
  7. Nickols-Richardson SM, Miller LE, Wootten DF, Ramp WK, and Herbert WG. Concentric and eccentric isokinetic resistance training similarly increases muscular strength, fat-free soft tissue mass, and specific bone mineral measurements in young women. Osteoporos Int 18: 789-796, 2007.
  8. Roig M, O’Brien K, Kirk G, Murray R, McKinnon P, Shadgan B, and Reid WD. The effects of eccentric versus concentric resistance training on muscle strength and mass in healthy adults: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 43: 556-568, 2009.
  9. Schoenfeld BJ, Contreras B, Krieger J, Grgic J, Delcastillo K, Belliard R, Alto A. Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019 Jan;51(1):94-103. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001764. PMID: 30153194; PMCID: PMC6303131.
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