To build strength, focus on how often you train, not how long

To build strength, focus on how often you train, not how long

BBy now, you’ve probably heard that short workouts throughout the day (aka “exercise snacks”) can potentially be just as good as longer ones. But new research suggests that short bursts of strength training five days a week can be significantly better to build strength than doing a longer workout once a week.

Why could this be?

Rachel Straub, PhD, exercise physiologist and co-author of Bodybuilding without injury: Over 350 step-by-step images, including what not to do!explains that improvements in strength resulting from resistance training come from both increased neuromuscular adaptations and increases in muscle size (hypertrophy).

“During the first phase of strength training (approximately the first month), strength improvements result primarily from neural motor improvements, as hypertrophy does not become a dominant contributor until the third to fifth week,” says Dr. Straub. Given that this study only lasted four weeks, it is likely that the observed gains were primarily due to neural adaptations.

These adaptations allow your brain to recruit more muscle fibers in a coordinated and efficient manner, resulting in more forceful muscle contraction. “More frequent sessions provide more frequent neural stimulation, with adequate rest,” says Dr. Straub. And when the brain receives a stimulus more often, changes occur more easily.

Doing short strength-training workouts every day rather than one or two long workouts a week has other benefits as well. “If you only train once a week, fatigue limits your performance and there is a long delay in the training stimulus,” says Dr. Straub. “However, if you train daily, you can change your focus (like lower body one day versus upper body one day), so that fatigue becomes less of a limiting factor.”

So what should your weekly routine look like?

With that in mind, if you’re aiming for regular strength training, skip the full-body workouts and focus on one particular body part each day to give your muscles adequate rest. (Generally speaking, you should take 48-72 hours between workouts that target the same muscle groups.)

“The American College of Sports Medicine advises split-body workouts for advanced strength training, which is defined as four to five days per week,” notes Dr. Straub. “Full body workouts are more appropriate if you train less frequently (two to three days a week).”

For upper body, Dr. Straub suggests training biceps, triceps, back, chest, shoulders. On lower body days, she suggests focusing on your hamstrings, quads, and glutes. “The core could be incorporated on both days, or either day,” she adds.

When determining what loads you should use and how many reps you should do for each exercise, Dr. Straub says you should consider your primary goal. For example, performing very few reps at maximum eccentric strength is ideal for increasing muscle strength and size. But if your goal is to increase muscular endurance, focus on using light loads with high reps (over 15) and very little rest. Either way, she says, “if the last one to three reps of a set aren’t hard, the load is too light.”

Here is an example of how you might structure a week of mini strength training workouts:

Monday: 10 minute workout for core, back and arms

Tuesday: 15 Minute Lower Body HIIT

Wednesday: 12 Minute Bodyweight Core Workout

Thursday: Rest

Friday: Upper body and core workout

Saturday: 14 minute lower body strength workout

Sunday: Rest

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