Science shows that you can get stronger after working out for only 3 seconds, which isn't the minimal dose. Who knew? Not me. Who cares? Not me!
I don’t get it! Do most people dislike exercising that much? Or am I the strange one?
It may be odd I often feel that racing gets in the way of my training. The process is my passion. I enjoy pushing myself past the limits under the controlled conditions of training, where every watt is for a reason, and every pulse has a purpose.
It’s all right there in front of you. You can see the progress as much as you feel it. The numbers give you something to grasp, the effort a reason to gasp. You’re alone with your thoughts and the mental back and forth between the can and can’t.
Racing is for results, and the results don’t always tell the tale. Races are now and then, and when they’re good, it’s terrific. Bike racing is fickle, and success is fleeting.
Training is every day, whether on the bike or off—the dawn is another opportunity to make a difference in yourself. It never dawned on me that I must be the strange one until recently.
3-Seconds of Weight Lifting Builds Strength
The clickbait title that insidiously filled my newsfeed reads, “Studies show that 3-seconds of weight lifting a day is enough to build strength.” I couldn’t resist the urge while a part of me was thinking, “So what, and why?” The other part was thinking it didn’t mean what it said—it couldn’t.
Do scientists dedicate time and resources to this stuff? It was clear after noticing almost a dozen articles from multiple publications with similar titles. Some people dislike exercising that much and are willing to believe that 3-seconds is sufficient to satisfy their rationalizations. I needed to know more if I was to justify my vindications.
A February 2022 study published the finding in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. Researchers studied 39 college students and compared their results against a control group of students that didn’t work out.
The students in the workout group performed bicep curl strengthening exercises five days a week for four weeks. Scientists advised the participants to use maximum effort for 3-seconds and measured the results using a specialized resistance device.
The workout students were about 10-percent stronger, on average, after only 60-seconds of exercise over a month—my worst fear realized. After reading past the headline, a sigh of relief found the stronger student’s muscles didn’t grow, suggesting the gains were only neurological.
Logic didn’t seem to have much to do with it. Who is only going to exercise for three seconds? Indeed not anyone that I know, especially if motivated to get better. Or if they lined up against the racers that I do (although I wish some would dial back their training volume slightly, I must admit).
The Minimal Dose of Exercise Required to Maintain Strength
The answer is: the same person exercising the least they can in search of the holy grail of rationalization, the minimal dose of exercise. Doing the minimal amount of anything worth doing seems an oxymoron to me. Do scientists dedicate time and resources to this stuff?
Apparently so, according to a May 2021 brief review published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. A group of scientists scoured the available research to uncover the minimal dose of exercise needed to preserve endurance and strength over time.
In the general population (I’m looking at you, although if you are reading this, that’s not who’s looking back), endurance and strength are maintained after a 66% decrease in frequency and volume if the exercise intensity is high. That’s two 13-26 minutes sessions a week for 15-weeks.
In younger individuals, strength and muscle size last 32-weeks on one set of relatively high load exercise a week. Older populations require 2-3 heavy sets twice a week. The primary conclusion of the review is that exercise intensity is essential to physical performance maintenance over time when faced with significant reductions in frequency and volume.
Thirteen minutes of exercise to maintain the strength I gained after exercising for 3-seconds. Is something not right here? If you’re a motivated and dedicated cyclist, there is. Phew, there was one saving grace of the study. The scientists concluded insufficient data existed to make specific recommendations for athletes. Thank you.
The Optimal Exercise Dose to Reduce Mortality Risk
Thank you, too, to scientists that dedicate time and resources to this stuff. In a February 2022 systematic review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, scientists sifted through databases to find 16 relevant studies dating back to 2012.
The analysis of the studies, some with monitoring periods lasting 25 years, determined that 30- to 60-minutes of muscle-strengthening activity a week resulted in a 10% to 20% decline in the risk of death from heart disease, cancer, and all causes. The researchers noticed no appreciable benefit in those who exercised for more than an hour.
When individuals combined strengthening and aerobic activity, it reduced the risk of death from heart disease by 46%, cancer by 28%, and any cause by 40%. The researchers discovered the most significant benefit when adults exercise to strengthen all the major muscle groups at least twice a week in addition to at least 150 minutes of moderate activity and recommend the parameters as a basic guideline.
Conclusion—Your Exercise Pendulum Should Rest in the Middle
Speaking of recommendations, many of the experts cited in these pages talk about the importance of balancing training and recovery. Of course, not everyone is an athlete, and few take exercising to an extreme like cyclists. There is a chasm between overtraining and 3-seconds of training.
Your pendulum might not swing as far away from minimal as mine. Training for the love of training might not be your thing. Of course, the above studies have merit and implications beyond my light-hearted attempt to poke fun at healthy exercise fixation.
However, if you devote your time and resources to finding out how to do the least amount of something, you’re spinning your wheels. Or worse, you’ll go nowhere.
Has the minimal amount you can ride or exercise ever been a concern to you? Comment below! Your fellow cyclists want to know.
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Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, Endurance.biz, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!