How to Train for Strength Faster According to Science
If you find it difficult to find enough time to exercise, you are not alone. While an effective workout can be long, short, or intermediate, we often allow the time it takes to do the exercises as a hindrance and feel that it’s not even worth starting. Luckily, a new review by athletic scientists has put together recommendations for time-efficient strength training, and their recommendations will help you get the most of the work done in no time.
To speed up your workout, skip stretching and shorten your warm-up time.
When you first go to the gym, do you spend 20 minutes doing cardio, stretching, and body movement doing a series of warm-up exercises? If so, you can save a lot of time by eliminating anything that has no particular reason to be part of your routine.
The reviewers write that the ideal time-bound warm-up is the one that is right: “We advise limiting the warm-up to exercise-specific warm-ups and giving preference to stretching only if the goal of the workout is to increase flexibility.”
Exercise-specific warm-up means doing the warm-up sets for the exercise you are about to do. For example, if you plan on doing squats, you should warm up by squatting with an empty bar and then squatting with a light weight before loading the bar for your first work set.
If you feel that this is not enough, remember that these are only guidelines and you can include whatever you like to do or that makes your workout better. To learn more about how to customize your warm-up to suit your needs, check out our warm-up guide , where we explain the purpose of each part of the warm-up. But just because you can include something in your warm-up doesn’t mean you should.
Choose multi-joint bilateral exercises.
The exercises that work the most muscle in the shortest amount of time are bilateral (using both arms or both legs at the same time), in which you bend multiple joints, not just one. Ideally, they should also include both lifting and lowering.
For example, a single dumbbell bicep curl can be unilateral (one arm) and single-joint (you just ask the biceps to flex your elbow). On the other hand, pull-ups involve both arms, elbows, and shoulders. If you’ve ever done pull-ups, you’ll remember that they work for pretty much everything from the waistband up. This makes them ideal for a quick workout.
The authors write that if there are only three exercises to choose from, do them:
- Upper body pull-up (such as a pull-up or deadlift)
- Upper body push (such as bench press or overhead press)
- Leg exercise (such as squatting)
They write that both machines and free weights work, so you can do leg presses instead of squats, or chest press instead of bench press. They prefer barbells to dumbbells if you can, since you can usually carry more weight in a barbell exercise than in its dumbbell equivalent. Resistance bands and bodyweight exercises can also work if they are difficult enough to complete the required reps.
Lift heavy enough for you to do 6-15 reps.
How many reps should you do in each set? This is a long-debated question to which the authors of this article have two answers.
Ideally, you should do your sets heavy enough to make the last few reps feel difficult . These sets can have 6 to 15 reps, and the last does not have to be to complete failure; you can stop when you feel like you can squeeze out a few more.
Another option, if you don’t have enough heavy weights, is to do the exercises to complete failure – the point where you simply cannot complete another rep. In this case, the number of repetitions can be from 15 to 40.
To save even more time, you can rest less between sets. Typically, rest times are three to five minutes, but if you’re new to weight lifting, one to two minutes is probably fine, the authors write. (You may not be able to load the bar with as much weight as you could with longer rests, but your muscles still get a lot of work to do.) To simplify things even further, you can add a few time-tested bodybuilding tricks: supersets. Drop sets and rest-pause sets give your muscles more work in less time.
How often should I train for strength?
Two or three times a week is great when you’re doing a full body workout. But the authors note that what matters is the total amount of exercise you do, not the number of days you exercise. So if you can only do one session a week, but can devote a little more time to it, you can effectively squeeze a whole week of strength training into one day.
On the other hand, if you can only manage 15 minutes a day, but you can do it every day, you can still do the same amount of work as someone who does two or three regular classes a week.
What is considered a weekly workout? The authors recommend four to 12 sets per muscle group per week. Four is a low level compared to what many gym goers do, but we’re trying to find the minimum that will keep you in shape, so if you can only handle four, four will be. They note that research has shown that people who are new to strength training can build muscle with very little exercise (in some studies, three sets per week), so even a small amount of strength training is worth your time.
Going back to our three-exercise set-up, if you can do four sets of jerks, four sets of deadlifts, and four sets of legs, that’s your weekly minimum. Do it in one day if that’s all you can do, or spread it over a week. More is better, but this is your minimum goal.