I’ve gotten marginally stronger and lowered my body fat by working out 20 minutes a week for the past 2 months. As someone who trained 5 days a week during high school and college, this self experiment has been pretty mind-blowing.
The genesis of this experiment came from an excellent book on fitness and reaching your physical potential called Body By Science (affiliate link with proceeds to charity). My summation of the content doesn’t quite do the book justice, but I’ll attempt to outline some of the higher level principles that initially intrigued me as well as my results.
The Big 5 Workout
The prescribed regimen in Body By Science is called the Big 5 Workout. It’s 1 Set of 5 different lifts once a week: Bench, Pulldown, Leg Press, Seated Row, and Shoulder Press. Instead of measuring performance/progress using repitiions, they encourage measuring by “time under load” (the duration your muscles are under pressure during a set). Each rep is performed with a 10 second up, 10 second down cadence. They advocate shooting for a time under load of 90 seconds for each exercise.
I adjusted my goals to 55-60 seconds under load per set using a cadence of 5 seconds up, 5 seconds down. To be completely honest, I have no good reason for this personal adjustment besides the fact that I like how the bar looks when there’s more plates on it.
Once I hit 55 seconds at a given weight, I’d increase the load during my next workout.
Lifting and Absolutely NO RUNNING. YES!!!
The book states if your fitness goals are to have the lowest bodyfat with the least amount of work, you should focus on strength training (lifting). Their recommendation traces back to the concept of your resting metabolic rate. The easiest way to think about it is how many calories your metabolism would burn if you sat in bed watching netflix all day.
For an 185lb male, the human body burns 35 calories a day to sustain each additional lb. of lean muscle mass. Conversely, the body burns 2 calories to sustain an additional lb. of fat. Hence, the more muscle you have, the more calories (and fat) you’ll burn during every moment you’re not in the gym.
Big Takeaway: You’re time is best spent on activities that build muscle because those provide the most residual benefits. Lifting scales!
High intensity strength training (lifting) is the optimal way to build muscle. Aerobic exercises like jogging or biking don’t exert your muscles to the extent needed to recruit an optimal amount of muscle fibers in order experience significant muscle gains. Just ask Arnold.
Why only 20 minutes a week?
The lack of frequency in their proposed training regimen was the most shocking to me. Basically they believe a single set taken to the point of positive failure is a sufficient enough stimulus to trigger the optimal muscle recruitment and growth. Additional sets produce nothing but more time spent in the gym. Thus, engaging each major muscle group with one proper set is all you need to receive majority, if not all of the benefits of a training session.
Below are results of my lifts over the course of 7 weeks. The table reads the weight x the number of seconds I was under load while completing a series of 5 second up, 5 second down repetitions till failure. By week 7, I was lifting more or the same on every single lift.
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Week 5||Week 6||Week 7||Result|
|Bench||225 x 46||225 x 37||225 x 42||225 x 43||225 x 41||225 x 43||225 x 50||Stronger|
|Pulldown||210 x 54||210 x 54||210 x 50||210 x 51||210 x 56||215 x 50||215 x 51||Equal|
|Leg Press(Single Leg)||210 x 102||215 x 52||215 x 54||215 x 57||220 x 50||220 x 53||225 x 55||Stronger|
|Seated Row||160 x 46||160 x 54||165 x 59||170 x 52||170 x 51||175 x 51||175 x 48||Stronger|
|Cable Shoulder Press||45 x 60||50 x 50||50 x 53||50 x 50||50 x 51||50 x 53||50 x 54||Equal|
I used a stopwatch to record my time under load and recorded each lift in my trusty moleskin.
Body Composition Results
I’m not a big fan of sharing your body fat publicly (unless for self-motivational reasons) so I’m simply going to share the net difference after 7 weeks.
|Difference by Week 7|
|% Muscle Mass||Increase 1.3%|
I recorded my progress each week in the morning before my lift using my Eat Smart body fat scale (affiliate link with proceeds to charity). Though I’m not certain of the actual bodyfat accuracy, I felt confident enough to use it in order to benchmark progress.
Thoughts and Analysis – Dude, It Actually Worked
At this point in my life, my fitness goals are to have the lowest body fat and most muscle mass I can at my current weight (note* different than health/wellness goals). Ideally, I’d like to achieve this in as little time as possible. It’s not that I don’t enjoy exercise, in fact I love going to the gym. It’s just that there are other personal goals higher on my priority list than taking on Brad Pitt in Troy at a pool party…
Seven weeks and just over 2 hours later, I’m stronger and have less body fat. I also would like to note that this span was also one of the more unhealthier stints dietwise I’ve had in the past two years. Still, I came away leaner. It’s pretty incredible.
Is this workout for a professional body builder? Someone trying to run a marathon? People who absolutely hate pushing themselves? Probably not. But if you’re trying to minimize your time in the gym and enjoy strength training, I highly reccomend giving it a swing. Part of me suspects that if I spent a little more time, I may get slightly better results…but again, at the moment this is not my number one prerogative and I’m pretty satisfied with these results.