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Three seconds a day is all it takes to build muscle strength

In a new study from Edith Cowan University (ECU), researchers have found that muscle strength can be improved in as little as three seconds a day by lifting weights. 

In collaboration with researchers from Niigata University of Health and Welfare (NUHW) in Japan, the researchers focused their study on 39 healthy students over the course of four weeks. 

The participants performed one muscle contraction at maximum effort for three seconds per day, five days a week. The students were assigned one of three exercises (isometric, concentric or eccentric bicep curls) in which the muscle has different duties while being activated.

Concentric contraction is achieved by lifting the weight in a bicep curl, eccentric contraction is activated by lowering the weight, and holding the weight parallel to the ground produces an isometric contraction. 

Before and after the study period, the experts measured the muscles’ maximum voluntary contraction strength. The same measurements were obtained from an additional 13 students who performed no exercise.

Professor Ken Nosaka, who led the research, said the results show that people don’t have to spend vast amounts of time exercising to improve their muscle strength. 

“The study results suggest that a very small amount of exercise stimulus – even 60 seconds in four weeks – can increase muscle strength,” said Professor Nosaka. 

“Many people think you have to spend a lot of time exercising, but it’s not the case. Short, good quality exercise can still be good for your body and every muscle contraction counts.” 

The study revealed that all three lifting methods improved muscle strength, with the biggest gains found among students who performed eccentric contractions. Overall, the eccentric group’s 

muscle strength improved by 11.5 percent after a collective effort of just 60 seconds. Students in this group saw significant improvements across all three measurements: concentric strength increased by 12.8 percent, isometric by 10.2 percent, and eccentric strength increased by 12.2 percent. 

“Although the mechanisms underpinning eccentric contraction’s potent effects are not clear yet, the fact only a three-second maximal eccentric contraction a day improves muscle strength in a relatively short period is important for health and fitness,” said Professor Nosaka. 

The concentric lifting group improved slightly in isometric strength but not elsewhere. The isometric group saw an increase in eccentric strength of 7.2 percent, while the volunteers who did not lift weights showed no improvement. 

Professor Nosaka said the findings were exciting for promoting physical fitness and health, such as prevention of sarcopenia – a decrease in muscle mass and strength with aging. 

“We haven’t investigated other muscles yet, but if we find the three-second rule also applies to other muscles then you might be able to do a whole-body exercise in less than 30 seconds,” said Professor Nosaka. “Also, performing only one maximal contraction per day means you don’t get sore afterwards.” 

The study is published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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