Exercise answer: Research shows it’s how often you do it, not how much

Image: Professor Ken Nosaka.
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Credit: Edith Cowan University

So… should I exercise a little every day or more once a week?

It’s a dilemma many health-conscious people face — and a new one Research Answering a question from Edith Cowan University (ECU).

This latest research suggests that daily activity may be the most beneficial approach for minimal muscle strengthening.

And happily, it also means you don’t have to put in a mountain of work every day.

In collaboration with Niigata University and Nishi Kyushu University in Japan, a four-week training study had three groups of participants perform arm resistance exercises and measure and compare changes in muscle strength and muscle thickness.

The exercise consists of a ‘Maximum Voluntary Eccentric Bicep Contraction’ machine that measures muscle strength with each muscle contraction you perform in the gym.

An eccentric contraction is when the muscle is lengthening; In this case, lowering a heavy dumbbell into a bicep curl.

Two groups performed 30 contractions per week, one group performed six contractions a day five days a week (6×5 group), while the other group performed all 30 contractions in one day once a week (30×1 group).

Another group did just six contractions one day a week.

After four weeks, the group that did 30 contractions a day showed no increase in muscle strength, although muscle thickness (an indicator of increased muscle size) increased by 5.8 percent.

No changes in muscle strength and muscle thickness were observed in the group that performed six contractions once a week.

However, the 6×5 group experienced a significant increase in muscle strength—more than 10 percent—as did the 30×1 group, which increased muscle thickness.

Frequency, not volume

Importantly, the increase in muscle strength of the 6×5 group was similar to that of the group in A Previous studies who performed only three-second maximal eccentric contractions five days a week for four weeks.

ECU exercise and sports science professor Ken Nosaka said these studies suggest that regular exercise can have a real effect on people’s strength.

“People think they have to do long sessions of resistance training at the gym, but that’s not the case,” he said.

“Slowly lowering heavy dumbbells once or six times a day is enough.”

Professor Nosaka said that while the study required participants to exert maximum effort, early findings from current, ongoing research showed that similar results could be achieved without exerting as much effort as possible.

“We only used the bicep curl exercise in this study, but we believe the same would be true for other muscles, to some extent,” he said.

“Muscle strength is important for our health. It can prevent the loss of muscle mass and strength that comes with aging.

“Muscle loss is the cause of many chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, dementia, as well as musculoskeletal problems such as osteoporosis.”

take rest

It is not yet known exactly why the body responds better to resistance exercises with eccentric contractions in small doses rather than heavy loads less frequently.

Professor Nosaka said it could be related to how often the brain tells the muscles to act in a certain way.

However, he emphasized that it is also important to include rest in an exercise regimen.

“In this study, the 6×5 group had two days off per week,” he said.

“Muscle adaptations occur when we rest; If one could train 24 hours a day, there would be no real improvement.

“Muscles need rest to improve their strength and their muscle mass, but muscles seem to like to be stimulated frequently.”

He also emphasized that if a person cannot exercise for a period of time, there is no point in trying to “make up” with a longer session later.

“If someone is sick and can’t exercise for a week, that’s fine, but it’s better to go back to regular exercise when you feel better,” he said.

Clarifying advice

Current Australian government guidelines already suggest that adults should aim to be active every day and do 2.5-5 hours of moderate physical activity per week.

Professor Nosaka said there needed to be more emphasis on making exercise a daily activity rather than hitting a weekly minute goal.

“If you only gGoing to the gym once a week is not as effective as doing some exercise at home every day,” he said.

“This research, along with our previous studies, suggests the importance of exercising a small amount of time per week, rather than spending hours exercising once a week.

“We need to know that every muscle contraction counts and how regularly you do it counts.”

published in ‘Bigger results from doing a small number of eccentric contractions every day than a large number once a week’. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports.

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