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New Study Reveals the Trick for Getting Fit in As Little Time As Possible

Don't have much time to lift? Researchers have a new, lightning-fast workout routine for you.
FACT CHECKED BY Alex Daniel

There are only 24 hours in a day, and there's only so much time you can devote to exercise in 2021. This is especially the case when it comes to weight lifting, which science has shown is one of the most crucial ways you can get fit, lose weight, ward off disease, and live a longer and more active life. After all, if you're busy—and assuming you haven't rehauled your basement into your own personal Equinox—finding your way to the nearest dumbbell rack or squat machine is way harder than popping out for a 20-minute jog at lunchtime.

Mercifully, a new study published in the journal Sports Medicine sought to "determine how strength training can be most effectively carried out in a time-efficient manner by critically evaluating research on acute training variables, advanced training techniques, and the need for warm-up and stretching." In other words, if you're short on time to lift—which is critical for building lean muscle mass, getting stronger, and melting fat—the researchers looked to find out how you can get in a great strength-training workout in the most time-efficient way imaginable. Curious to know what to do? Read on for what the scientists found. And for more on the benefits of weight lifting, see here for The One Exercise You Need to Do to Reshape Your Body, Says Science.

1

Go Easy on Warmups and Ditch the Stretching Entirely

woman-lifting-heavy-dumbbells-renegade-rows
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When it comes to reducing your time at the gym, the study says you can save time at the beginning and end of your training session.

"Stretching is not necessary for strength training," the study succinctly notes. And though warmups are important to practically all forms of exercise, including strength training, if you're on a time crunch, you can get by with minimal or limited warm-ups. "Limit warm-ups to a few repetitions with light loads before performing each exercise," the study notes. And for more life-changing exercise advice, see here for the Secret Exercise Tricks for Keeping Your Weight Down for Good.

2

Weight Train Just Once Per Week

Attractive sports people are working out with dumbbells in gym

While we—and every major health authority—would advise you to ideally weight train at least 2 to 3 days per week, this new study says that you can achieve make solid gains only one day per week. The key to this form of pared down training is to emphasize "primarily bilateral, multi-joint exercises." (Read on for more on what those are.)

"General guidelines recommend that people train 2–3 times per week; unfortunately, this recommendation may cause those who find it challenging to train several times a week to not train at all," notes the study. "However, emerging evidence indicates that it is possible to achieve similar training effects by training once a week compared to a higher frequency when total weekly volume is equated."

In fact, the review cites another study that found that higher frequency weight training of 3 days per week reported "only negligibly greater increases in strength gains." "When training volume was matched, i.e. total number of repetitions (sets × repetitions) or as total volume loading (sets × repetitions × loads), no significant effect of training frequency was observed for strength gains," says the study. "Thus, training a muscle 1 day per week appears to induce similar strength gains as training ≥ 3 times per week if the total training volume is the same."

In other words, when time is of the essence, you can get plenty done in one round per week.

3

Focus on Bilateral Multi-Joint Exercises

young fit woman doing squats with barbell, exercising back and legs muscles

There are two main forms of strength-training moves: single-joint moves (such as bicep curls) or multi-joint moves (such as squats). The latter are also known as compound exercises, and they target multiple muscle groups at once. If you're short on time, those are simply better.

"Multi-joint exercises activate several groups of muscles synchronously, which allows lifting of heavier weights," says the study. "ACSM guidelines state that the strength training programs should include both single- and multi-joint exercises, but recommend emphasizing multi-joint exercises as they are considered more effective in increasing overall strength and daily-life function… Strength improvements in multi-joint exercises appear to be higher and more rapid than in single-joint exercises. Thus, single-joint exercises could provide little added benefit from a strength standpoint."

4

For Further Time Saving

squat workout
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The study recommends you also try supersets (when you alternate two sets of different exercises with now rest in between them), drop sets (when you do a set of one exercise until failure), and rest-pause training (when you pause between each reach rep in your set). And for great fitness advice, don't miss The Secret to Getting a Lean Body for Good, According to Science.

5

So What Does One Workout Look Like?

Young sports woman is working out in gym. Doing the bench press during training.

According the study, an example one-day-per-week total-body strength training routine would be a short warmup followed by leg presses or squats, an upper-body pulling exercise such as a pull-up, and an upper-body pushing exercise such as a bench press. You'd do roughly 4 sets of each, going for 4 to 15 reps per set. And if you're ready to squeeze in more strength training, read about the surprising Side Effect of Lifting Weights Just 2 Days Per Week.

William Mayle
William Mayle is a UK-based writer who specializes in science, health, fitness, and other lifestyle topics. Read more