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Some common fitness questions are: what is the best balance between workout length and frequency? Do people need to exercise a little daily or have longer weekly sessions? Scientists from Edith Cowan University, Nishi Kyushu University, and Niigata University think they have an answer.
Both of these methods result in a similar level of thickness in muscle, and it looked like a little every day was the best for building muscle strength.
As published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 36 volunteers were put into three groups of 12. Two of these groups aimed to complete 30 bicep curls a week. This exercise is considered an “eccentric contraction” because the muscle is lengthening.
One of the groups completed six curls five days a week. The second group did all 30 curls in one day. The third group, the control group, did just six curls over a week.
After doing a month of this routine, the first group increased their muscle strength by an average of 10%, and the second and third groups did not show any increase. The two groups that did 30 curls grew with minimal muscle thickness differences.
In a statement, Ken Nosaka, the ECU Exercise and Sports Science Professor said, “People believe they must do a longer session of resistance training, but that isn’t the case. Lifting a heavy dumbbell slowly one to six times a day is enough.”
While doing quick bursts of exercise are adequate to stay in shape, muscle strength involves frequency, according to the study. This work does not explain why the body may react better to smaller but more regular doses of contractions, but the research team stresses that rest has to be included in any training routine.
“In the study, the 6×5 group members were allowed two days off per week. This is due to muscle adaptions occurring when we rest; if people were somehow able to train 24 hours a day, there wouldn’t be any improvement,” explained professor Nosaka. “Muscles require rest to help improve muscle mass and strength, although muscles like to be stimulated more often.”
These results have consequences for those trying to “catch up” because of missed sessions due to holidays, illnesses, or life. For example, trying to cram in many sessions may do little to counteract the time off.