I learned of this interesting study on Alex Hutchinson’s column “Sweat Science“. It it soon to be published in Plos One but here is a link to a preprint. If you do one set of strength training, once a week, on several exercises that cover major muscle groups, it will lead to significant strength gains early on and continued improvement over the course of several years.
The study followed several thousand participant for a few years. The protocol was one set of four to six slow reps of strength training on 5 different machines. The resistance was chosen so that failure (inability to complete another lift), would occur somewhere in the range of 4 to 6 reps, and more resistance added to a station when you can exceed 6.
So over the course of a couple of years, working out for less than 20 minutes a week, you can improve your strength by about 50%, by working hard. Eventually the gains become more marginal with time, but this is still a great result. Consider that most inactive adults lose a lot of muscle mass and strength with age. For example, between the ages of 60 and 70, 30$ of strength can be lost. Now imaging instead gaining more than 60% in strength in the same period, just by doing one 20 minute workout a week. A criticism of these results is that your gains become marginal eventually, but that’s only after several years. You could always switch things up a bit at that point. What to do when your strength is no longer improving is covered in this book, among others:
There are a couple of other things about this study that were interesting. It is an example of a high intensity strength protocol, which I’ve discussed elsewhere. And the exercises were done on the new “Nautilus One” machines, a new version of the classis Nautilus machines invented by the late Arthur Jones, an early advocate of high intensity strength training. Jones would have approved of the protocol used in this study. Go hard, once a week. Keep improving steadily. I learned about the colorful and fascinating Mr. Jones on Clarence Bass’s web site.