We often see studies and articles focusing on what to do to get “optimal” fitness results. However, more and more literature has shown that even a few hard training sessions per week may be enough to make great gains. But what about health? How much aerobic and resistance training do we really need to be healthy?
What did they test? The two studies examined, looked at the relationship between resistance and aerobic training dose and all-cause mortality.
What did they find? One hour of aerobic training and one hour of resistance training per week is enough to significantly reduce the risk of all-cause mortality.
What does it mean for you? Performing one hour of aerobic and one hour of resistance training per week may not only allow you to make great muscle and aerobic fitness gains, but also significantly improve your health.
What’s the Problem?
Whenever you read about anything exercise related, either that being strength or aerobic training, it is not uncommon to often read about how to “maximize” adaptations and how to go about your training if you really want to eek every possible ounce of progress possible. “Optimal” is usually the main focus of many magazine articles, studies and workout programs that people tend to read/follow, often creating the illusion that anything below optimal is not even worth considering doing.
What many people fail to realize is that suboptimal is not equivalent to “non-meaningful” or “non-significant” as far as potential for improvement is concerned.
Let’s take the research on hypertrophy and strength as an example. From the current available evidence we know that the optimal range of hypertrophy is somewhere between 10 to 20 hard sets per muscle group per week.
10-20 hard sets per muscle group per week will probably help you get 100% of potential hypertrophic gains from resistance training.
However, doing less than 10 sets, eg: 5-9, will not be catastrophic for your gains, but in reality, will still get you around 80-85% of gains, with 1-4 sets accounting for around 60-65% of those gains 1. As far as strength goes, current research suggests that optimal strength gains may need somewhere between 5-12 sets per exercise per week, but there’s now quite a bit of data showing that even 2-3 sets per exercise per week will be enough for significant strength gains (approximately 80% of maximum gains), even in trained individuals 2. A study we conducted a couple of years ago 3 looked at approximately 15 thousand individuals over the course of 7 years, who only performed 20 minutes of resistance training to failure per week and found that strength increased 50% over baseline for the first 1-2 years before slowly plateauing (but strength still following a very slow upward trend). And that was with just 20 minutes PER WEEK.
For someone who is a bodybuilder, or sole’s purpose is to get maximally jacked, doing what they can to get as close to 100% makes sense. For other people who simply want to get significantly bigger and stronger, and may have busy lifestyles, a family etc, the trade-off between time/energy spent in the gym and potential gains lost is often not worth it. The average individual who wants to look and feel better may not necessarily care if they manage to get their lower lats to look a bit thicker and add a few more pounds to their deadlift 1RM, especially if they need to dedicate a bunch more time in the gym to do so.
The same is true for aerobic exercise. Maximal increases in aerobic fitness/capacity may be of great interest for Individuals who are looking to maximize performance in a given sport (eg: running, cycling etc) but not necessarily to individuals who just want to be fitter and improve their health.
Which brings me to my next point and the focus of this article. A lot of individuals engaging in resistance and aerobic training do so primarily for the health benefits exercise has to offer. Both resistance and aerobic training can have a really positive impact on health, significantly reducing the risk for all-cause mortality and even counteracting some of the downsides of aging 4.