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

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

A study found that people experience greater gains in muscle strength if they spread out their workouts over the week instead of cramming them into one day.

Two groups performed exactly the same number of bicep curls using the heaviest dumbbells they could, one for five days and the other for one day.

Those who exercised more often with weights increased their muscle strength by about 10 percent over four weeks.

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

Lead researcher Professor Ken Nosaka, director of exercise and sport at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Australia, said: “People think they have to do long resistance exercises in the gym, but that’s not the case.

“All you need is to slowly lower a heavy barbell once or six times a day.”

A study found that people experience greater gains in muscle strength if they spread out their workouts over the week instead of cramming them into one day.  Two groups did exactly the same number of exercises, one for five days and the other for one day

A study found that people experience greater gains in muscle strength if they spread out their workouts over the week instead of cramming them into one day. Two groups did exactly the same number of exercises, one for five days and the other for one day

The researchers recruited 36 student volunteers in their twenties from Niigata University in Japan.

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

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

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

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One group did six contractions a day for five days a week, another did 30 repetitions once a week, while a 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 repetitions 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 recommended to exercise daily.

The NHS says Britons should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week.

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

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

Moderate-intensity activities include brisk walking, water aerobics, cycling, dancing, doubles tennis, pushing a lawnmower, hiking, and rollerblading.

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

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

But those who increased their activity saw a 10 percent increase in muscle strength and a 4.4 percent increase in muscle mass.

There has long been debate about the best way to train for those working to get stronger versus those trying to get bigger.

Scientists don’t yet know why small amounts of resistance exercise are more effective than doing it less often.

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It may be related to how often the brain is asked to make the muscle perform the exercise, they said.

Improvements in muscle strength early in resistance training were associated with better coordination during repetitive movements over time.

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

Professor Nosaka said that while the participants used as much weight as they could in the study, separate research suggests that people could be similarly strong without pushing themselves as hard.

He added: “We only used the biceps curl exercise in this study, but we believe this will be the case for other muscles as well, at least to some extent.

“Muscle strength is important for our health. This could help prevent loss of muscle mass and strength with age.

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

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

The researchers called for a greater focus on daily activities.

Professor Nosaka said: “If you go to the gym once a week, it is not as effective as if you exercise every day at home.

“This research, along with our previous study, suggests that it is important to accumulate a small amount of exercise per week rather than just spending hours exercising once a week.

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

However, the team stressed the importance of rest days – as this is when muscle changes occur.

Professor Nosaka said: “If someone was able to somehow train 24 hours a day, there would actually be no improvement.

“Muscles need rest to improve their strength and muscle mass, but muscles seem to like being stimulated more often.”

And if someone has been unable to exercise for several days or weeks, for example due to illness, there is “no point” in trying to “make up” for it with extra sessions.

Scientists from Nishi Kyushu University in Japan also collaborated on the study.

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