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Lift weights five days a week to get stronger but just push hard once a week to get big muscles

When it comes to getting stronger, how often you exercise is more important than how hard you push yourself.

A study has found that people see greater gains in muscle strength if they spread their workouts over a week rather than cram them into one day.

Two groups did the exact same number of bicep curls with the heaviest dumbbells they could, one in five days and one in one day.

Those who trained with weights more often saw their muscle strength increase by about 10 percent in four weeks.

While the once-a-week group saw no strength gains, their muscle thickness increased by a third more.

Lead researcher Professor Ken Nosaka, director of exercise and sports science at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Australia, said: “People think they should do a long session of resistance training in the gym, but that’s not the case.

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

A study has found that people see greater gains in muscle strength if they spread their workouts over a week rather than cram them into one day.  Two groups did the exact same number of exercises, one over five days and one in one day

A study has found that people see greater gains in muscle strength if they spread their workouts over a week rather than cram them into one day. Two groups did the exact same number of exercises, one over five days and one in one day

Researchers recruited 36 student volunteers in their early 20s from Niigata University in Japan.

They were divided into three groups and instructed to perform “maximum voluntary eccentric biceps contractions” with their preferred arm.

The arm resistance exercise consisted of lowering the heaviest barbell they could into a biceps curl.

They did this while attached to a special chair that measures the strength in each muscle used for the exercise.

One group did six contractions a day five days a week, another group did 30 reps once a week, while the third group did six contractions once a week.

Changes in muscle strength and thickness were measured and compared four weeks later.

The findings are published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports.

Those who did 30 reps in one day saw no change in muscle strength, but their muscle thickness increased by 5.8 percent.

HOW MUCH EXERCISE SHOULD I DO?

Adults aged 19 to 64 are advised to exercise daily.

The NHS says Britons should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity per week.

The advice is the same for disabled adults, pregnant women and new mothers.

Exercising just once or twice a week can reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke.

Moderate activity includes brisk walking, water aerobics, biking, dancing, doubles tennis, pushing a lawnmower, walking, and rollerblading.

Vigorous exercise includes running, swimming, cycling fast or up hills, climbing stairs, as well as sports such as football, rugby, netball, and hockey.

Those who did six contractions once a week saw no change in their muscle size or thickness.

But those who staggered their activity saw their muscle strength increase by 10 percent and muscle size by 4.4 percent.

There has long been discussion about the best way to exercise for those who want to get stronger compared to those who are trying to gain bigger muscles.

Researchers don’t yet know why small doses of resistance exercises are more effective than less often.

It may have to do with how often the brain is asked to make a muscle perform an exercise, they said.

Improvements in muscle strength in the early phase of resistance training have been associated with better coordination in repeating movements over time.

Therefore, those who exercise less often may not perform the exercise as well, the team suggests.

Professor Nosaka said that while the participants used the heaviest weight they could in the study, separate research suggests that people can become equally strong without pushing themselves as hard.

He added: “We’ve only used the bicep curl exercise in this study, but we think that will be the case for other muscles as well, at least to some degree.

‘Muscle strength is important for our health. This can help prevent a decline in muscle mass and strength with age.

“A decrease in muscle mass is a cause of many chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, dementia, plus musculoskeletal problems, such as osteoporosis.”

Current national training guidelines in the UK, US and Australia dictate the number of minutes people should exercise per week. British and Americans are advised to do 150 minutes a week, while Australians should do 150 to 300 minutes.

The researchers argued for more focus on daily activities.

Professor Nosaka said: ‘If you only go to the gym once a week, it’s not as effective as doing a little exercise every day at home.

“This research, along with our previous study, suggests the importance of building up a small amount of physical activity per week, rather than just exercising for hours per week.

“We need to know that every muscle contraction counts, and what matters is how regularly you perform them.”

However, the team emphasized the importance of rest days – because then muscle changes occur.

Professor Nosaka said: ‘If someone could somehow train 24 hours a day, there really would be no improvement at all.

‘Muscles need rest to increase their strength and muscle mass, but muscles seem to want to be stimulated more often.’

And if someone has not been able to exercise for days or weeks, for example due to illness, there is ‘no point’ to ‘make up for it’ with extra sessions.

Researchers from Nishi Kyushu University in Japan also contributed to the study.

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