It’s a cruel fact of life that, unless you were born rich, if you want anything in this world, you basically have to suffer for it. This is especially true if that thing is being absolutely shredded, which, even for the mega-wealthy, still takes effort and time.
That’s why trying to maintain a healthy physique while doing the absolute bare minimum is the holy grail sweet spot that many of us strive for. Thankfully, scientists at Edith Cowan University in Perth may finally have an answer for us as to exactly how little we need to invest to still see results and it’s much, much less than you would think.
Just three seconds of exercise per day might well be enough to build muscle, according to them. That’s right, in less time than it takes to read this sentence you could be getting buff.
At least, this is what Professor Ken Nosaka from ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences, working in collaboration with researchers from Niigata University of Health and Welfare (NUHW) in Japan, has found out.
Back in February, they published results of their study in which three groups of participants either lowered, raised, or held a dumbbell for three seconds per day over four weeks. Surprisingly, all groups saw increases in muscle using the weight for this short time alone. However, the group who lowered the dumbbell for three seconds saw the most benefit, gaining 11.5% muscle strength after just sixty seconds of exercise across a whole month.
At the time, Nosaka explained that he wanted to explore this process further to find the most effective way of exercising overall.
“We haven’t investigated other muscles yet, but if we find the three-second rule also applies to other muscles then you might be able to do a whole-body exercise in less than 30 seconds,” he said at the time.
So, for his latest project, he had two groups of people perform 30 contractions of a dumbbell per week. One group did six contractions a day for five days a week, while the other crammed all 30 into a single day, once a week. A third group did just six contractions one day per week.
After four weeks, the latter group showed no improvement while the group doing 30 contractions in a single day did not show any increase in muscle strength, although their muscle thickness increased by 5.8%.
The six contractions five times a day group however saw significant increases in muscle strength — more than 10% — with an increase in muscle thickness similar to the 30 contractions in one sitting group. This group essentially saw the same benefits as those doing the three second lowering of the dumbbell in the previous study.
Nosaka believes that these results suggest very minimal amounts of exercise can have a real effect on strength and muscle mass if done regularly.
“People think they have to do a lengthy session of resistance training in the gym, but that’s not the case,” he said.
“Just lowering a heavy dumbbell slowly once or six times a day is enough.”
It doesn’t even have to be done at your absolute maximum either. Nosaka explained that while the study required participants to exert maximum effort, early findings from current, ongoing research indicate that similar results could be achieved without needing to push as hard as possible.
Scientists aren’t really sure why the body seems to respond better to resistance exercises that involve muscle lengthening in smaller doses rather than it does to bigger loads less frequently. Nosaka believes that it may relate to how often the brain is asked to make a muscle perform in a particular manner.
With the latest government figures indicating that less than half of us manage to do 30 minutes of exercise five days a week — the lowest recommended threshold of physical activity — knowing that a little bit of effort each day can make all the difference is certainly comforting.