Sometimes life gets in the way of training. So, what’s the minimal amount of running you need to do to stay fit? A new study, published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, looks into this question and comes back with some encouraging results.
The researchers looked at three variables: frequency (how often you run), volume (how long you run) and intensity (how hard you run). The general conclusion they came to was that you can get away with as few as two sessions a week – as long as you maintain the volume and intensity of your workouts.
However, while doing so can maintain your VO2 max – the recognised measure of aerobic fitness – there are limits to this minimalist style of training. You’re unlikely, for instance, to run your best half-marathon or marathon on a two-days-a-week plan. This study is about the minimum dose of training, not the optimum one.
Nevertheless, there’s some similarly encouraging news with regards to the minimum amount of strength training required to get results. New research suggests just one 20-minute strength workout a week is enough to result in significant improvements.
The participants followed a training programme called Fit20, which involved a series of six exercises performed once a week on exercise machines: chest press, pulldown, leg press, abdominal flexion, back extension and either hip abduction or adduction. For each exercise in this programme, you do one set with a weight chosen so that you’ll max out after six reps. The reps must be performed slowly (10 seconds up, 10 seconds down), without locking the limbs or resting at the top or the bottom, and the rest is minimal (20 seconds between exercises). After one year of doing this, participants registered a 30 per cent increase in overall strength.
Again, terms and conditions apply. The first is that, after a year, the strength gains began to plateau. The second is that for runners older than 60, other studies have suggested that twice-a-week sessions are better at maintaining muscle.
But even with these caveats, these two recent studies are a boon for runners who are short on time – but don’t want to be short fitness and strength.
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