It may sound counterintuitive, but if getting stronger is your end game at the gym, you don’t need to be there any longer than it takes you to listen to a few of your favorite songs.
To prove this point, a team of researchers put 34 fit men on one of three fitness routines. One group did just one set of a specific exercise for a total of 13 minutes. Another did three sets for a total of 40 minutes. And a final group spent 70 minutes doing five sets per exercise.
The results, recently published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, make us want to drop our weights in shame. (Cue treadmill coming to a complete halt and us falling off.)
Although everyone performed the same seven exercises, like leg and chest presses, using weights heavy enough to exhaust their muscles after eight to 12 reps three times a week for eight weeks, the first group did just one set of each move while the second repeated the routine three times per session, and the third completed the entire workout five times during each gym visit.
At the end of eight weeks, researchers found little difference in strength gains. In fact, those who spent just 13 minutes in the gym gained as much strength as those who did five times the amount of lifting. However, those who did more than just one set of each exercise packed on some size. The more reps it seems, the larger the muscles.
It’s safe to say that lots of people, especially men, go to the gym to build muscle mass. And if that’s your goal, do more sets. But if you just want to work on your fitness and get stronger, you don’t have to kill yourself with lots of reps. A single set and 13 minutes in the gym will support your athletic goals.
But as the study’s lead author, Brad Schoenfeld, tellsThe New York Times, even if you’re not looking to bulk up, you’ll need to strain the muscles “to limp exhaustion.” And yes, that means exactly what you think it means. After you’re done with your set, you should feel like you can’t possibly do anymore.
Schoenfeld says more research is needed to come to a complete conclusion regarding the study’s findings, but says “it looks like 13 minutes in the gym can lead to significant improvements” in strength.
So there you go. Now you have zero excuse not to go to the gym. “I don’t have time” is no longer an excuse.