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What Is The Shortest Exercise That Grows Muscle?

Just three seconds a day of this exercise could help build strength.


Maddy Chapman


Maddy Chapman

Copy Editor and Staff Writer

Maddy is a Copy Editor and Staff Writer at IFLScience, with a degree in biochemistry from the University of York.

Copy Editor and Staff Writer

Bicep extension

We love a whirlwind workout.

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Sick of lengthy gym sessions but still desperate for gains? We have just the study for you, as researchers demonstrate a simple exercise that could get results in just three seconds a day.

When performed three days a week, the surprisingly efficient move was found to significantly improve both concentric (when the muscle shortens) and eccentric (when the muscle lengthens) strength. That’s just nine seconds a week, or 36 seconds a month, of activity – surely one of the shortest workouts that can grow muscle.


We know you're probably dying to know what this mystery move could be, so we’ll put you out of your misery: it’s maximum-effort eccentric biceps contraction. Essentially, lowering a heavy dumbbell from a bent arm to a straight arm.

Previous research, also from Edith Cowan University, has shown that this exercise can improve muscle strength when performed five days a week for four weeks, but now it seems just thrice might be sufficient to see some benefit.

“Our previous work has shown regular, shorter exercise is more beneficial than a one or two big training sessions in a week," study lead Professor Ken Nosaka said in a statement.

"Now, we have a clearer idea of where the tipping point is where you start to see meaningful benefits from such a minimal exercise. These new results suggest at least three days a week are required, at least for the single three-second eccentric contraction training."


Nosaka and colleagues recruited 26 healthy young adults and had half perform three-second eccentric biceps contractions two days a week, while the other half did the same but for three days. After four weeks, the team compared their biceps strength.

There was no significant change in the two-day group, but those that did the move on three days saw a 2.5 percent increase in concentric strength and a 3.9 percent increase in eccentric strength – a small but significant improvement.

These results look less impressive when compared with the previous, five-days-a-week study – which saw greater than 10 percent increases in muscle strength – suggesting that an extra couple of days of workouts could yield better results, even if the exercise itself only takes seconds.  

The secret of these super-short workouts may be the extensive rest periods between them, the authors suggest. Exercising for just three seconds means that the recovery time is 28,800 times more than the exercise time.


"Muscle adaptations occur when we are resting, so muscles need rest to improve their strength and their muscle mass," Nosaka explained.

Further research will be needed to find out if the team’s findings apply to other types and volumes of exercise, but, for eccentric biceps contractions at least, it seems even the most rapid workout may help us grow muscle.

"It is important to note that even a very small amount of exercise can make a difference to our body, if it is performed regularly," Nosaka added.

The study is published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology.


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