Working out with weights is important to gain strength, improve mental state and prevent osteoporosis. As a sports medicine physician I am often asked by my patients, “how much working out do I need to do.?” The answer is you need to work out 6 days a week but using weights is best done on alternate days. Muscles need 48 hours to recover and appropriate rest will help prevent injuries and allow recovery. You can work out different muscles on different days but must allow the specific muscles worked time to recover.
A recent study done at Lehman College in the beautiful Bronx answered a very important question: How many sets do you need to do to increase strength? The study looked at 34 young men and divided them into 3 groups. Group 1 did 5 sets, Group 2 did 3 sets, and Group 3 did only 1 set. All three groups lifted weights doing 8-12 reps, but it had to be to exhaustion where they could not do another rep without a break. The multiple sets groups had 90 second break between sets.
The exercises that all 3 groups performed were bench press, military press, lateral pull downs, seated cable row, squats, leg press, and unilateral leg extension. Because of doing more reps, Group 1 with five sets took 70 minutes to work out. Group 2 with three sets took 40 minutes and Group 3 with only one set took 13 minutes. Each group worked out three times a week for 8 weeks.
At the end of 8 weeks, all 3 groups had significant increases in strength but surprisingly all 3 groups had equal gains in strength! So, a 13-minute work out can give you the same strength gains as a 70-minute workout. You can save an hour off your work out. Nobody has enough time to work out so saving an hour is huge. The group doing 5 reps did have larger muscle mass gains (size), but not more strength.
The lessons from this study is that you need to work out until you cannot do another rep to make strength gains. Work out 3 times a week. This study was in young males and has not been done in older men or females. I believe the results will be the same.
It is important to not push your muscles above what your body can handle. Make sure you do not lift too much until you can handle the heavier weights. Be smart to prevent injuries. If you are having pain stop and don’t push through it. If you are having continued painor questions make an appointment with your local orthopedic sports doc.
By Rick Weinstein MD, MBA
Director of Orthopedic Surgery, Westchester Sport and Spine of White Plains Hospital