Some fitness questions are: what’s the best balance between workout frequency and workout length? Do I need to exercise a little every day or have a long session once a week? Researchers at Edith Cowan University, together with Niigata University and Nishi Kyushu University, believe they have an answer.
While both approaches provide a similar level of muscle thickness, when it comes to building muscle strength, it seems that a little every day is the winner. As reported in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 36 participants were divided into three groups of twelve. Two groups had the goal of doing 30 bicep curls per week. The exercise is scientifically seen as an "eccentric contraction", as the muscle is lengthening.
One group did six curls five days a week. The second did all 30 on one day. The third one, acting as a control, did just six curls over the course of a week. After four weeks of this regimen, the first group had increased their muscle strength by 10 percent, while the second and third groups showed no increase at all. When it comes to muscle thickness, the two 30 curls groups both grew with little difference.
“People think they have to do a lengthy session of resistance training in the gym, but that’s not the case,” co-author ECU Exercise and Sports Science Professor Ken Nosaka said in a statement. “Just lowering a heavy dumbbell slowly once or six times a day is enough.”
While short bursts of exercise are enough to stay fit, muscle strength requires frequency according to this work. The study doesn’t explain why the body might respond better to smaller but more frequent doses of eccentric contractions, but the team stresses that rest needs to be always included in any training regimen.
“In this study, the 6x5 group had two days off per week. Muscle adaptions occur when we are resting; if someone was able to somehow train 24 hours a day, there would actually be no improvement at all,” Professor Nosaka explained. “Muscles need rest to improve their strength and their muscle mass, but muscles appear to like to be stimulated more frequently.”
The findings have implications for people trying to “catch up” with missed sessions due to illnesses, holidays, or just life. Cramming in a huge session might do little to counteract time off.