Blokes usually want one of two things: muscle mass or increased fitness and endurance. And for the time poor among you who still want results, there’s good news for you: “The time it takes is relatively short in terms of muscle mass and relatively short in terms of muscle adaptation for endurance sports,” Dr Boutagy says. That’s right, for endurance sport and muscle you can make surprisingly good gains in much less time than you might think. And there’s good reason for this.
“To gain muscle or to gain the aspect of muscle that’s used for sport – mitochondria – there’s a minimum threshold that you need to pass and you can do that relatively quickly,” Dr Boutagy explains. “You can use interval training for endurance adaptation and you can use training to failure for strength training.”
Recent years have seen a change in our understanding of muscle. In the past it was believed that you had to perform multiple sets and multiple exercises per muscle – lots of volume and lots of exercises to activate muscle tissue and make it grow.
“However, research from Canada over the last three years has demonstrated that all muscle fibres are recruited when you take that lift that you’re performing to failure,” Dr Boutagy says.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to use heavier weights with shorter reps, either. “You can use a lighter load and do lots of reps, and if you fail at 30 or 40 reps you are still activating the same muscle tissue you would if you did eight or 10 reps at a heavier load,” Dr Boutagy says.
“That’s the big finding – it was thought up until a few years ago that for muscle size you would have to lift heavy and do lots of sets, which is obviously very time-consuming. If you look at what the average bodybuilder does – they’ll pick two or three muscle groups and hammer that for an hour – that’s just not time effective.”
So you’ve got 20 minutes to spare. Time to get busy. First, spend five minutes warming up. Then you would pick six to eight exercise for the major muscle groups.
“How I would design that, so you don’t just focus on what you can see and miss the muscle fibres that you can’t see – which is one of the more common problems – I would pick four exercise for the lower body and four for the upper,” Dr Boutagy recommends.
“Whether you choose to do them one after the other or do them in one big circuit won’t really make a difference, “Dr Boutagy says. “But you need to perform one set to virtual failure, then take a very short rest and either drop the weight or try and keep the weight the same, and then do as many reps as you can until you reach absolute failure.
“After that point you’re not really going to activate any more muscle tissue. If you were to rest five minutes and then go again, you’ve already activated all the muscle tissue you’re going to activate for that day. You can do more, but you’re not going to get impressively more results.”
Dr Tony Boutagy is the director of the Boutagy Fitness Institute and has completed a PhD at Charles Darwin University in sports science. He is also an Adjunct Associate Lecturer at the University of the Sunshine Coast. Check him out at tonyboutagy.com.
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