A recent news article about a 3-second strength program keeps showing up on my newsfeed. Google knows me well.
I would usually ignore headlines such as:
“3 seconds of weight lifting a day could be enough to build strength if it’s intense, small study finds.“
However, I finished Wordle, and I had some time to kill.
Also, props to Business Insider for noting “if it’s intense” and “small study” in the headline, because I also found this same study hyped on other news sources as:
“No time for the gym? Too tired to exercise? How about 3-seconds a day?”
We know that can’t be true, but even the most exaggerated headlines have a bit of truth to them, so can we really get stronger in 3-seconds per day?
The answer is, maybe.
Let’s address some of the significant limitations before getting into the big take-home of this study.
There were only 10-13 people per training group, so the small sample size limits the conclusions. But more notable is that they are all college students, which tends to be a factor for lots of exercise science research.
The problem is that physiology changes with age (ref), so attaining firm conclusions about older people or kids is challenging from a single demographic.
Also—and likely the most relevant piece of information to this study—is that the group was untrained.
Overall, the research isn’t worthless, but it’s not likely to be the source of your next PR. And as I mentioned on our social, the more accurate title for the article would be:
“Study shows when you’re just starting, ANYTHING will make you stronger.”
However, these quick gains aren’t due to growing muscles (the study even stated there was no change in muscle mass); rather, evidence shows that the nervous system is responsible for these quick gains. Evidence shows the neuromuscular system is trainable, even with a stimulus more surprising than a 3-second contraction.
For example, there is a ton of research to show a cross-education effect to exercise, where lifting on only one side will improve strength on the other side (ref). These results are especially significant for injury rehab where joints are immobilized.
Or, how about this study that shows simply thinking about an exercise can increase strength?
Yes! We are remarkably adaptable, noticeably, when we’re just starting something new. But how about something relevant to someone like you, a superfit, world-class athlete?
The Take Home
It would be interesting to look at the results of only doing a max effort contraction for a multi-joint lift, like a deadlift, on strength gains in a trained population.
I would suspect we would be surprised by the results.
Although rolling into the lab each day cold to do one max effort deadlift could lead to some problems. Maybe it’s been done already, and if so, please point me to the research!
Now, back to the present study, we can pull a few things from this that would be relevant to your fitness.
1. New movements are good. They might not make any difference in muscle gains, but your brain learns how to do things differently. So try and switch your program up now and then.
2. The eccentric contraction produced the most gains. There may be some physiology behind this, but it’s most likely that the nature of eccentrics equaled more force and higher training loads. That’s a good reminder for you meatheads to slow those reps down a bit for maximum strength gains.
3. The stimulus to get stronger is not much, but somewhere we started to believe that it needed to be a sweaty one-hour affair for a workout to count. If you’re short on time, get your body moving with the Crossover Symmetry Activation programs and then 10 minutes of something rather intense.
For example, here is a 20-minute session by Crossover Athlete @seanaclayton that looks pretty dang good:
That’s all for now. Time for a QUICK workout.