Doctors and scientists are quick to point out that working out, even just for brief periods of time, can be very helpful for your health. But in a new study, a team of researchers really took that to the extreme: they wanted to see whether even just a few seconds of working out a day can make a difference. It did.
The team from the Edith Cowan University in Australia and the Niigata University of Health and Welfare in Japan recruited a group of healthy university students. They split them into two: 39 students performed a bicep curl at maximum effort for 3 seconds a day, 5 days a week, over 4 weeks. Meanwhile, 13 other students did not exercise over the same period.
The workout group performed three different bicep curl variations: isometric (with the weight parallel to the ground), concentric (raising the weight), and eccentric (lowering the weight). They worked out with a special resistance machine. Overall, over the course of the four weeks, they worked out for just 60 seconds -- but the results were visible.
The researchers measured the maximum voluntary contraction (MVC), a common measure of muscle strength before and after the regimen. Surprisingly, the students in the workout group exhibited a notable change, while for the control group, there was no difference.
The workout group exhibited improvements for all types of bicep variations (12.8% for concentric strength, 10.2% for isometric strength, and 12.2% for eccentric strength). Overall, the muscle strength improved by 11.5%. However, when they looked at other measures of strength, the results were less impressive.
The study authors note that the 3-second eccentric MVC of the elbow flexors performed increased isometric, concentric, and eccentric MVC torque by more than 10%. "It was concluded that the daily 3-second eccentric MVC over 20 days produced more potent effects than isometric or concentric MVC on neuromuscular adaptations," the researchers write in the study.
The muscle thickness did not increase significantly, the researchers write, which was in line with what they were expecting. In addition, the study's sample size was small, which is an important limitation. Nevertheless, the results are important and are an indication that even short (very short) workout training sessions can make a difference.
The results are expected to be particularly significant for beginners, people who have never really worked out or haven't worked out for a while. It could also help fight muscle degradation in old age. Furthermore, researchers say the same effect could be observed in other muscle groups, though there is a need for further studies to confirm this.
The study was published in the journal Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports.