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How Long Should Your Workout Last? The Research Will Surprise You

If you’ve ever studied Occam’s Razor (or any of the theory’s modern derivatives, like Tim Ferris’ protocol workout of the same name from The Four Hour Body), you already know the premise of the theory: more work does not mean more results. Put more simply (no pun intended), when it comes to achieving peak efficiency, less is often more.

In fact, way less is often more, according to the data. You see, most people constantly waste energy by needlessly focusing on aspects of a problem that will not yield the solution. Occam’s Razor posits that just 20 percent of action typically yields about 80 percent of the real results we experience in our lives. That means that the remaining 80 percent of our “action” is really just spinning our wheels, procrastinating, or going through motions that do not really help as much as the core 20 percent.

One of the best ways to see the theory in action (again, no pun intended) is to study the effects of weight training on the body. Although the entire health and wellness community agrees that physical exertion is key to building strength and burning fat, nobody can agree to the parameters. As a result, all sorts of different people end up following all sorts of different fitness advice in their lives — which is totally fine.

But what if there were an easier way? What if there were a universal truth that could be applied to fitness?

Workout length is less important than workout intensity

Earlier this year, a team at Australia’s Edith Cowan University published research that detailed the physical benefits of regular bicep curls undertaken for just three seconds a day. The positive effects of these very short workouts surprisingly led to much-improved muscle mass. Now, the team is back with another study that expands on the idea that small bouts of exercise can still be very worth our while.

The study split up participants into three groups over 30 days. Group A did just six bicep curl reps once per week; group B did 30 bicep curls once per week; and group C did 6 curls 5 days per week.

Which group showed the best improvement in both strength and muscle thickness? Group C, which did a minimal amount of working out, but did it consistently. They saw similar increases in muscle thickness (5.8%) as the 30-rep group, but also saw more significant gains in muscle strength — more than 10% increases!

“People think they have to do a lengthy session of resistance training in the gym, but that’s not the case,” said study author Professor Ken Nosaka. “Just lowering a heavy dumbbell slowly once or six times a day is enough.”

Researchers also said the two staggered rest days were important in order to encourage healing, and therefore, growth.

“If you’re just going to the gym once a week, it’s not as effective as doing a bit of exercise every day at home,” said Nosaka. “This research, together with our previous study, suggests the importance of accumulating a small amount of exercise a week, [rather] than just spending hours exercising once a week. We need to know that every muscle contraction counts in a shorter workout length, and it’s how regularly you perform them that counts.”

What do you think?

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