As the new year starts and people across the country try to maintain resolutions to get in shape, most of them will burn out or give up too early. In my experience, excuses such as not having enough time or not having access to personal trainers are common. One of the challenges seems to be encouraging strength training programs that are relatively simple and yet maximally effective.

In Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Vassilis Paschalis et al. present the results of a study they performed looking at whether a weekly workout involving eccentric exercise is sufficient to induce positive health effects. They compared eccentric exercises, where the muscle lengthens as it contracts (such as the downward movement of a biceps curl) to concentric muscle exercises, where the muscle shortness as it contracts (such as the upward movement of a biceps curl). Traditionally concentric muscle training is what people commonly perform.

How much strength training do you need?

The authors only included female participants in this study. They also chose to study once-a-week sessions of exercise versus more frequent sessions, as it is felt that eccentric exercises can disturb muscle function for up to a week. Due to this increased recovery time, but also as once a week might be more likely for participants to be compliant, they chose to study once-a-week training. Participants completed 5 sets of 15 repetitions of either concentric or eccentric exercises with two-minute rest intervals, leading to a total of 75 maximal voluntary actions.

The authors looked at the effects of a once-a-week eccentric versus concentric training program for 8 weeks on blood chemistries, muscle performance, and resting energy expenditure. They found that eccentric training significantly increased muscle strength and performance and resting energy expenditure, while it decreased insulin resistance and blood lipid profiles. These changes seemed to exceed the benefits of concentric exercise training.

The results of this study are promising both for people new to strength training. These results can also suggest beneficial changes to resistance training programs for experienced athletes and exercise enthusiasts. As Paschalis notes, “…only 30 minutes of eccentric exercise per week for 8 weeks was sufficient to improve human performance and health, rendering eccentric exercise a promising novel type of physical activity.” The American College of Sports Medicine had previously published a position statement for those new to resistance training, advocating a more minimalist approach such as this one. They recommend one set of 8-12 repetitions for all the major muscle groups 2-3 times a week. This is a decrease compared to the 3-5 sets per muscle group that have traditionally been advocated by multiple organizations.

It seems to me that this is a novel idea in strength training. First of all, any program that can get more people exercising is a usually good change. With the benefits of resistance training to lipid profile, muscle function, basal metabolic rate, etc. I think that weight training is a good form of training for most people. Even people with medical conditions or bone or joint issues likely can do some form of resistance training, but I would encourage anyone looking to start a resistance training program to check with his or her physician if they have any questions. Potentially, however, a once a week training session which likely can be done in 30 minutes or less could have a high compliance rate. It might also prove to have very positive health effects.