Strength Training – how little can we get away with? – Update

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A while back I wrote about some research that showed that increases in strength could be gained with as little as 5 sets per week (here). New research in 2020 has come out that shows that this number could be as low as 2 sets per week!

Doing push ups.Sometimes strength training can be hard to fit into our busy lifestyles and if we are just starting out on a new fitness regime it can be hard to make massive changes to our current schedules. The fact that you only need to do so little exercise to make progress is great news for people who are time pressured or even starting on their fitness journey. Its much easier to fit in one round of push ups twice a week than it is to spend hours working out every other day.

It’s even encouraging for high level athletes where they may be juggling many fitness elements such as power, endurance and strength. If these athletes are able to make strength gains with lower training volumes, its means they will be able to conduct other types of training without having to sacrifice strength (cautionary note – high level athletes will probably have to do a bit more that 2 or 3 sets per week)

This post will be a short update looking at this new study. The study was completed by Patroklos Androulakis‑Korakakis1, James P. Fisher and James Steele in 2020 –see link.

 

The key points of this study were;

For trained men, the minimum efective training dose required to increase 1 repetition maximum (1RM) strength in the squat (SQ) and bench-press (BP) appears
to be a single set of 6–12 repetitions performed with high intensity of efort at a training frequency of 2–3 times per week.
The minimum efective training dose can produce suboptimal, yet signifcant increases in SQ and BP 1RM strength.
It is currently less clear as to whether the minimum effective training dose can lead to similar strength improvements in deadlift (DL) 1RM strength or in trained women and highly trained strength athletes.

reps and sets

Study design

One of the points that makes this study stand out is that it is a review of 6 other studies. These studies were chosen with strict criteria, these included;

  1.  Resistance training interventions lasting a minimum of 6-weeks (although most studies included had longer interventions)
  2. A maximum of 1 working set per exercise per training session
  3. Study population consisting of healthy men with at least 1 year (2 of the studies used people who has been training for 3 or more years and another study used people who had been training for 2 or more years)
  4. A one rep max test used to assess improvements

It is often unusual to have these types of studies done on trained individuals due to recruitments issues, so the fact that this review only looked at studies that involved intermediate standard weight lifters makes this study stand out. The reason why this is so important is that novice lifters will make strength gains where people who have been training longer won’t. This means that a study in novice lifters will show positive outcomes that would not work for people that have been training more than 6 months or so.

study sets

What about doing more than 3 sets per week?

Of the 6 studies, the longest one (Kramer et al, 1997) of 14 weeks showed that doing more than one set, twice a week showed greater strength improvements. This was also shown in the studies by Rhea et al, (2002), and Marshal et al, (2011). The other studies did not find that higher training volumes led to greater strength increase. This could be due to such factors such the length of the study not being long enough to show the changes or other factors such as the number of reps done on a set. For example, Schoenfeld et al, (2019) used the 8-12 rep range which is better suited for muscle building rather than pure strength. In fact in his study, he did find that higher volume led to greater increase in muscle size. The other two studies, (Ostrowski et al (1997) and Baker et al, (2013) also used this higher rep range. To overcome this issue of different results a Meta Analysis was done. This is when all the results of the studies are pooled into one big study. When this was done it was found there was an increase in strength if you do more training volume.

What does this mean in realilty

Although this study shows that we can gain strength with very short training sessions done twice or three times a week, it does not mean we can be lazy. All the studies required the subjects to work at around 80% of their maximum and each set that they did had to be done until they could not do another rep. In order to work this hard you will still have to warm up properly, which will take some time.

What this study is not saying is that you can wake up in the morning, do a bunch of sits ups a couple of times week and make some strength gains. The design in Schoenfeld et al, (2019) took about 13 mins (which trained squats and deadlifts), done three times a week.

What this study is saying is that your sessions don’t have to be super long training bouts. You can have strength gains in as little as 15 mins done 2 or three times a week. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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