An Australian study found that a little exercise each day can be better for building stronger muscles than a few longer sessions a week.
The study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, suggests that frequency, not volume, produces the best training results.
“People think they need to do a long resistance workout at the gym, but that’s not the case,” Ken Nosaka, professor of exercise and sport science at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, who was involved in the study, said in a press release.
“Slowly lowering a heavy dumbbell one to six times a day is enough.”
The study, conducted in collaboration with Niigata University and Nishi Kyushu University in Japan, looked at changes in muscle strength and thickness — the latter used as an indicator of muscle size — in three groups of participants over a four-week period.
Participants performed an eccentric bicep contraction on a machine that measures muscle strength. The exercise is similar to lowering a heavy barbell in a bicep curl, the researchers said.
Two groups performed 30 contractions per week, one performing six contractions per day for five days and the other performing all 30 in one day once per week. A third group performed six contractions on one day a week.
After four weeks, the researchers said, the group that performed six contractions five days a week saw a “significant” increase in muscle strength of more than 10 percent, as well as an increase in muscle thickness.
The group that performed 30 contractions in a single day showed no increase in muscle strength, but the researchers say muscle thickness increased by 5.8 percent, which was similar to the first group.
In contrast, the third group, which performed six contractions once a week, showed no changes in muscle strength or thickness.
“We only used the bicep curl exercise in this study, but we think this would be the case for other muscles, at least to some extent,” Nosaka said.
He said the results could be due to how often the brain is asked to perform a muscle in a specific way.
At the same time, he emphasized the importance of rest in an exercise program.
“Muscles need rest to improve their strength and muscle size, but muscles seem to like being stimulated more often,” Nosaka said.
He concluded by saying that going to the gym once a week isn’t as effective as doing a little exercise at home every day.
“We need to know that every muscle contraction counts, and how regularly you perform it counts,” Nosaka said.
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