Can you really get stronger training just once per week?

Can you really get stronger training just once per week? New research reckons you can

A study on minimal dose strength training showed that lifting for just 20 minutes a week resulted in strength improvements lasting up to seven years

A RECENT EXTENSIVE multi-year study involving nearly 15,000 participants has found that an extreme, ‘minimalist’ approach to strength training could yield promising results.

The approach, which consisted of just one 20-minute workout session per week, has proven to be highly effective. However, its effectiveness decreased over time (in this case, years). Researchers note that these diminishing returns in strength may apply to all long-term strength training programs lacking sufficient variation, regardless of whether they involve one day in the gym or more.

The study

The study, published via SportRxiv, analysed data from Dutch personal training company Fit20 who specialise in short 20-minute workouts that are repeated just once per week. The results were taken from 14,690 clients who trained for almost seven years.

Participant’s typical weekly workout involved six machine based exercises, performing movements designed to target their entire body, which included chest presses, leg presses and pulldowns. Each movement was performed for just one set to muscular failure, at an extremely slow tempo, with reps lasting up to 20 seconds each. Load was adjusted incrementally for each movement to ensure that failure was reached at around 4-6 reps – even as participant’s strength increased – and rest was kept extremely brief at around 20 seconds.

The results

The most interesting outcome of the study was the strength improvements participants saw over time. Analysing results for the leg press, chest press, and pulldown exercises, the data consistently showed rapid gains within the first year, followed by more gradual improvements. Strength gains in the chest press typically reached about 30% after one year and approximately 50% after seven years. Similar patterns were observed across the other exercises, albeit to varying degrees. For instance, over the seven year period, leg press strength increased by almost 70%.

What do the results mean?

For the majority of us, the study underscores that a ‘minimal effective dose’ approach to resistance training can be effective for gaining strength and muscle.

While not as effective as more frequent, higher-volume training, building strength and muscle mass remains crucial for counteracting ageing and reducing mortality risks. Research indicates that higher strength levels are linked to a 14% lower risk of death. Consistently gaining strength over time is a significant win for long-term health, even if it doesn’t make you a champion bodybuilder or powerlifter.

It’s also pertinent to add that while the diminishing returns on strength gains may sound like a dramatic drop-off, it’s worth pointing out that even consistent trainees will sometimes fail to make much more progress than this over a similar timeline, even if they’re training for three to four days per week. Ask yourself, how much strength have you gained on the leg press over the last seven years? It might be more than 70%, but if you’re training for even three hours a week, that’s 900% more than the participants in this study. Have you gained that much more strength?

The important take away from this study is that even if you can only manage a 20-minute workout, it’s always worth it. The science says so.

This article originally appeared on Men’s Health UK.

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