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The 30-Second Trick That Packs on Muscle, According to an Exercise Expert

Get intensely fit in less time with an expert's 30-10-30 technique.
FACT CHECKED BY Olivia Tarantino
woman biceps curl bar

If you want to get into the best shape of your life, the best way to do it is through metabolic conditioning. Also known as "Metcon," metabolic conditioning builds muscle, strength, and cardiovascular endurance all in the same workout, so it's a powerfully efficient way to get strong and lean fast.

Metabolic training is also known by two related terms you've no doubt heard – High-Intensity Training (HIT) and High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Back in 1975, exercise scientist Ellington Darden, PhD, coined the term High-Intensity Training during a seminar he gave at Duke University. It was here that he stressed that the cardiovascular component of a strength training workout is the key to faster muscle growth and recovery. "Metabolic conditioning is achieved by not taking extra time between exercises—no more than 30 seconds," says Darden, the former research director of Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries and author of more than a dozen books on fitness and weight loss. Related: 20 Warning Signs you Need to Exercise More, Say Doctors.

In recent years, Darden has been researching a training technique that creates what he calls "deeper inroad of muscle-fiber stimulation," enhancing the muscular growth process. He details his theory in a new book Extreme HIT 30-10-30: Metabolic Challenges for Building Muscle, which features his son Tyler, 18, who added 17 pounds of muscle and lost 2.4 pounds of fat in just 14 workouts over 35 days using Darden's 30-10-30 muscle-building technique. You can get a taste of how it works and how it feels even by trying just one simple exercise. Keep reading for instructions and then avoid these 6 Exercise Mistakes That Prevent Weight Loss, According to Experts.

The King of Muscle Growth

king of muscle growth
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You know that the act of lifting a weight and lowering it once is called a repetition or "rep." The lifting phase is called the "positive" and the lowering part is the "negative." "Emphasizing the negative produces a much faster rate of muscular growth," says Darden.

Done correctly, you will have to do only one round of the exercise. It will take less than two minutes. At that rate, with a 30-second rest in between exercises, you can finish a six-exercise workout in about 13 minutes.

As detailed next, you will start with a simple barbell biceps curl. Use a weight lighter than you would normally use to curl. Reality check: This technique is tough. That's the whole point. You may need to experiment with different weights to find the right amount that leaves your muscles fatigued but not exhausted to the point where you sacrifice good lifting form.

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The First 30-Second Negative

woman biceps curl bar
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Lift the barbell to the top position of a biceps curl, next to your shoulders. That's the contracted muscle position. Now, squeeze your biceps and begin slowly lowering the weight. "Keep the movement smooth while focusing on slowly un-contracting the muscle," says Darden. Glancing at a wall clock or your phone's stopwatch function, take 30 seconds to completely lower the weight until your arms are straight. The last 20 seconds of that 30-second movement is the most important, he says.

10 Regular Reps

10 regular reps
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As soon as you've finished the 30-second negative, curl the weight to your shoulders, taking one second up (positive) and two seconds down (negative). Focus on creating a smooth movement, 1 second up, 2 seconds down, for 10 reps total.

The Second 30-Second Negative

the second 30 second
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Now your biceps should be pretty fatigued and pumped full of blood. With the bar across your chest at your shoulders, begin the second 30-second negative. Squeeze your biceps as you lower the bar to your thighs taking the full 30 seconds. You're done with that exercise! Rest for 30 seconds, then move on to the next exercise.

A Full Workout

full workout
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Darden recommends one round of six exercises done on three non-consecutive days each week, say, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. A six-exercise workout might include:

  1. Leg Extension Machine
  2. Leg Press Machine
  3. Bench Press with Barbell
  4. Bent-Over Row with Barbell
  5. Overhead Press with Barbell
  6. Biceps Curl with Barbell

Rest 30 seconds between exercises for the first week. Trim between-exercise rest time by 5 seconds during each subsequent week, so 25, 20, and 15 over the next three weeks, while keeping the weight amounts the same. To avoid overtaxing your muscles, Darden recommends eliminating the second 30-second negative from each exercise during every middle-of-the-week workout session. You'll find more tips and how to progress after the fourth week in Darden's book. And for additional fitness advice, read 20 Warning Signs You Need to Exercise More, Say Doctors.