The Fastest Workout
Why simple strength-training exercises may be all you need.
There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch: Make That Single Set Count! continued...
"For the average person who wants to look good in a swimsuit or run
around with the kids on the weekends, one set is a very valid option," says
Hass. One-set proponents hope the latest findings will inspire more people to
lift weights. These days, after all, strength training is considered
practically a necessity for good health.
Lifting weights kicks the body's metabolism into a higher gear, making
weight maintenance easier. It also helps to prevent osteoporosis by slowing the
natural rate of age-related bone loss and muscle wasting. A study in the
February 2000 issue of Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart
Association even suggests that weight training can help lower blood
Some Say That More Is Still Better
Although experts agree that one-set training works in the short term and is
probably sufficient for general fitness, not all strength researchers fully
endorse the idea. "Everyone wants a quick fix, but you have to look at the
long haul," says William Kraemer, director of the human performance
laboratory at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. Kraemer's research on
trained athletes suggests that after four to six months, one-set exercisers
tend to plateau, whereas multiple-set exercisers continue to gain strength.
But nobody has studied novice or recreational lifters over the long term, so
questions remain about how long average Joes and Janes can continue to benefit
from one-set workouts. The experts at the American College of Sports Medicine
straddle the fence, saying that one set is sufficient for healthy adults, but
"multiple-set regimens may provide greater benefit if time allows."
For his part, Kraemer advocates "periodization," a technique where
you change your program -- including the number of sets and repetitions --
every two to four weeks. For example, you might start with one set of 10 to 12
reps, then do two sets of 8 to 10 reps, then two or three sets of 6 to 8 reps,
then three to five sets of 3 to 5 reps. Not only is this type of program more
effective than one-set training because it challenges your muscles in more
diverse ways, Kraemer says, but it's also less boring. "When you do the
same thing over and over, you don't look forward to it. It's like eating apple
pie every night."
While Hass agrees that a multiple-set program of this type can build more
strength than a standard one-set routine, he doesn't think most people have the
time or inclination to follow such a regimen. His scaled-down program, he says,
is simply more realistic for most time-pressed Americans who struggle to do any
strength training at all.
Even Kraemer's results, in fact, bear this out. When his
"periodization" study ended, he says, most of the three-set subjects
were eager to cut back their routines. "I'd see them in the gym and most of
them were happy to go back to one set," he says.