The short sharp route to muscle strength

Recent research from the UK has found that short, explosive contractions are the most effective way of strengthening muscles.

Researchers at Loughborough University led by Dr Jonathan Folland, compared explosive contractions lasting less than one second with contractions that lasted for three seconds.

For the study, the effect of different contractions on participants' quadriceps muscles was investigated. Participants were placed in an explosive contraction group, a sustained contraction group or a control group. Three times a week, for three months, participants carried out 40 contractions, which were monitored to ensure they were either sustained or explosive. Physiological measurements were taken prior to and following the training to gauge changes.

Explosive contractions were found to be an easier and less tiring method of increasing strength and functional capacity – whereas more sustained contractions were found to be more effective at increasing muscle mass.

Folland, from the university's School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, said: ‘The easiest way to make muscles stronger has been debated by fitness and sports professionals for many years, but this study shows that it doesn't have to mean lots of pain for any gain.’

‘Whereas traditional strength training is made up of slow, grinding contractions using heavy weights, which is quite hard work, this study shows that short, sharp contractions are relatively easy to perform and a very beneficial way of building up strength. These short, explosive contractions may also be beneficial to older individuals and patient groups such as those with osteoarthritis, who would benefit from getting stronger, but are reluctant to undergo tiring sustained contractions.’

Source: Journal of Applied Physiology