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How to Get Stronger in a Hurry

Want to get stronger? All it takes is lifting weights, three times a week, for a mere 13 minutes. That’s the remarkable finding from a study led by Professor Brad Schoenfeld, an exercise scientist at Lehman College.

The research compared muscle strength from three groups of healthy men, ages 18 to 35. Those who did just one set of exercises per session had the same increase in strength as those who did three or five sets. “Gains in muscular strength were strikingly similar across conditions,” the researchers concluded. Or, as one report on the study put it, “less will do.”

All participants did their workouts three times a week for eight weeks. The only difference in routine was the total time spent in each session — 13 minutes, 40 minutes, or 70 minutes — and the number of repetitions for each exercise. 

Sets consisted of eight to 12 repetitions of seven different exercises targeting all major muscle groups in the upper and lower limbs: flat barbell bench press, barbell military press, wide grip lateral pulldown, seated cable row, barbell back squat, machine leg press, and unilateral machine leg extensions.

Participants completed each exercise to the point of muscle fatigue. As they got stronger, they increased loads to ensure “as much resistance as possible.” Researchers supervised their routines, and used ultrasound imaging to measure muscle thickness.

The study “has important implications for those who are time-pressed, allowing the ability to get stronger in an efficient manner, and may help to promote greater exercise adherence in the general public.” In an interview, Schoenfeld said the findings “really surpassed my expectations.”

But if you’re looking to show off how big those muscles look, there is an advantage to doing more. Those who exercised the most showed the biggest increase in hypertrophy or muscle enlargement.

Schoenfeld has published over 60 articles on resistance training. Last year, he was part of a team studying high-velocity resistance training as a safe means of strength training for those with high blood pressure.  

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work

Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men
Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2019

Work By

Bradley Schoenfeld (Assistant Professor, Exercise Science) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools

Lehman College

Bonus Content

"In a Hurry? Try Express Weight Training" (The New York Times)