Really Short Weightlifting Workouts Work

Weightlifting makes me happy. Spending hours at the gym does not. So I’m excited about new research showing that a gym session doesn’t have to be much longer than a shower to make muscles stronger and offer health benefits. How does 13 minutes sound? Seriously.

In one new study, 34 healthy men who already lifted but weren’t meatheads trained three days a week doing a prescribed batch of squats, bench press and other resistance exercises to failure (meaning they were barely able to do the last rep in a set). The men were divided into three groups:

  • One group did five sets of each exercise (overkill by any reasonable human standard, I say), with 90-seconds of rest between sets and a total of 70 minutes working out.
  • Another group did three sets (that’s more like it!), spending 40 minutes total.
  • The final group did just one set of each exercise and spent a whopping 13 minutes getting buff.

You read that right. One set, 13 minutes.

After eight weeks, the scientists retested the maximum weight each guy could bench and squat once. And they retested how many reps they could muster lifting half their max weight.

Strength and endurance increased for all three groups, “with no significant between-group differences,” the researchers wrote in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. “Marked increases in strength and endurance can be attained by resistance-trained individuals with just three 13-minute weekly sessions over an 8-week period, and these gains are similar to that achieved with a substantially greater time commitment.”

One set, done to failure, is as good as three or five. Well, almost.

If your goal is to look big rather than be strong, tap into your inner gym rat and keep pumping. The groups that did three or five sets gained more muscle mass than the dudes who slinked out after one set, even though they all had similar strength gains.

Heart Health Benefits

If your goal is to be healthier, you’re in luck. Weightlifting has been shown to be good for a range of things, from basic physical movement and back pain to diabetes. But heart health?

Separate research recently exposed possible heart-health benefits of weightlifting, even brief sessions. Scientists examined health data on 12,591 people, mostly middle-age, who are part of a long-term study. They compared those who lifted a little with those who didn’t, then looked at their health outcomes over time. The conclusion: Lifting just once a week for less than an hour — with or without any aerobic activity — may reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke by 40 to 70 percent.

“People may think they need to spend a lot of time lifting weights, but just two sets of bench presses that take less than 5 minutes could be effective,” said Duck-chul Lee, associate professor of kinesiology and co-author of the study, which was detailed in October in the same journal.

Living Longer

Finally, age is no excuse for not hitting the gym.

A 2016 study published in the journal Preventive Medicine looked at 15 years of data on 30,000 people 65 and older. Those who did strength training at least twice a week had 46 percent lower odds of death by any cause than those who didn’t. Their odds of dying were 41 percent lower for heart-related issues and 19 percent lower for cancer.

I’m not 65 yet, but I figure 13 minutes of effort, now and then, might help me get there and beyond.

Happiness Survey

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to participate in the Happiness Survey to help me better understand who is happy (or unhappy) and why. It is totally anonymous.