Lifting heavy weights in the gym isn’t the only way to increase your muscle strength – in fact, research has shown that performing just one eccentric muscle contraction at maximum effort per day can have a positive impact on your muscle strength.
Professor Ken Nosaka is a Professor of Exercise and Sports Science at Edith Cowan University. He has researched muscle soreness related to exercise and exercises that benefit muscle strength throughout his career.
He shares that as we age our muscle strength begins to decrease slowly, and that muscle strength is also key to maintaining mobility and a healthy weight. His recent research shows that performing one eccentric muscle contraction per day, 5 times a week, for 4 weeks, can have a positive impact on the muscle strength of young adults.
‘So, only 3 seconds a day – 3 seconds a day, 15 seconds a week, 60 seconds a month,’ Professor Nosaka shares with Wellbeing by Teacher. ‘… We can say this is the minimum exercise you need to do to maintain muscle strength and muscle mass.’
What is an eccentric muscle contraction?
An eccentric muscle contraction is the action of lengthening your muscles, for example, the muscles in your legs are performing an eccentric contraction when you are walking down a flight of stairs.
Another example you might be familiar with is the act of lifting weights. When you lift a weight upwards, your muscles are shortening, which means they are performing a concentric muscle contraction. When you lower that weight back down, your muscle is lengthening, which means you are performing an eccentric muscle contraction. It’s the act of lowering a weight during a bicep curl that was tested and found to be effective in Nosaka’s research.
How to build your muscle strength
Part of Professor Nosaka’s research involved increasing the number of eccentric muscle contractions to 6 per day instead of one, to see if there was any extra benefit on muscle strength. Compressing all of the eccentric contraction exercises to perform them once per week, instead of across 5 days, was also tested.
‘We found that if you are doing 6 contractions a day only once a week, [there is] no improvement at all. But if you are doing 6 contractions per day, 5 days a week, for 4 weeks, you can increase muscle strength, but [it’s] very similar to only one contraction per day.
‘So increasing from one to 6 doesn’t make any difference. So, it means that we need a very small amount of exercise regularly (every day) – that is key. That is kind of the conclusion at this moment.’
Strategies for developing and maintaining muscle strength
There are many ways adults can begin to work on their muscle strength at home, with no equipment, Professor Nosaka shares.
‘Sitting down to chairs slowly, in 5 counts, is also [an] eccentric contraction. So, whenever you sit down to chair, sit down slowly,’ he suggests.
‘Then, if you want to strengthen your arm muscles – so we often do push ups, right? But maybe the important thing is going to the floor slowly, not pushing up. But going to the floor slowly, that is the eccentric phase … those can be done any time.
‘So, teachers are very busy, I think, but they can find 10 seconds or 30 seconds easily … every muscle contraction counts.’
Better Health. (2012). Muscles. Accessed September 2022. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/muscles
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