Weight Training Avoided Because You Think It Takes Too Much Time? New Study Shows You Can Be Stronger In 13 Minutes

There is so much mythology around exercise and especially around weight training. I’ve recently resumed weight training after a back injury a few months ago spurred me to get stronger. Because I am a major nerd, I read about six books on weight training.Sets of weights in a rack

What I learned was that to get stronger you needed to do multiple sets of each exercise. Let me explain for those of you that are not savvy about weight training. Let’s say you decide to work out your bicep muscle. You pick up a dumbbell that weighs 10 pounds, and you curl it 12 times. Those are called repetitions. Then you rest for a minute or two, and you do 12 more repetitions. So far you’ve done two sets.

Conventional Wisdom on Weight Training

Most of the books I read suggested that it was necessary to do at least three sets, but often five sets in order to develop true strength. Many of the books differentiated between lifting heavy weights fewer times and lighter weights more times. When you lift heavy weights fewer times supposedly you develop more strength and less size, and when you lift lighter weights more times you develop strength but also bigger muscles.

It turns out that there is almost no science about any of this! Thanks to a group of researchers from Australia and from New York, we now have some good research. There is a good article about this research in the New York Times. 

The researchers took 34 fit young men who had some experience with weight training. They randomly assigned them to three groups; one group did one set of each exercise per training session, the second group did three sets of each exercise per session, and the third group performed five sets per exercise each training session. A set was 8 to 12 repetitions performed to failure, meaning the person could no longer lift the weight any further.

All groups did three weekly sessions, every other day, for eight weeks. The researchers then evaluated muscle strength by determining the maximum weight that each person could lift using a squat and a bench press exercise. They also measured the size of the participants’ muscles in the arms and the legs.

The one-set group took about 13 minutes to do each workout, the three-set group took about 40 minutes, and the five-set group took about 70 minutes to do one full workout.

Research Study Results:

So what happened? Surely the men who did five sets of each exercise got stronger than the ones who only did one set, right?

Not me, sadly…

Actually, there was no difference in the strength increase between the three groups. All three groups got stronger. The only differences were found in muscle size. The group that did three sets had slightly bigger muscles at the end of the study than the group that did one set. In the group that did five sets had even bigger muscles. But these were muscles that were bigger but not stronger.

This is great news for those of you who want to do weight training but who want to use the minimum effective dose of weight training. Since most of us would like to feel stronger and fitter, and not everyone cares about muscle size, this streamlined workout is equally effective. And one could get significantly stronger spending 45 minutes per week spread over three workouts. (I suspect that two workouts per week would also improve strength.)

If you are interested in taking up weight training, be sure to consult books on weight training, videos on YouTube, and perhaps pay a weight trainer to teach you how to do each exercise with good form. You don’t need a trainer on an ongoing basis, but it’s useful to learn from an expert so that your form doesn’t lead to injuries. Also a trainer can assess your current strength and figure out what weights you should be lifting at first.

I’m off to do my 13-minute weight training session…

Breaking Phone Addiction, a Poem: Today I Left My Phone at Home by Gavin Miller

In response to my last blog post, I received this lovely poem from Gavin Miller.  Thank you Gavin!

Breaking phone addiction, a poem

breaking phone addiction

Today I left my phone at home
And went down to the sea.
The sand was soft, the ocean glass,
But I was still just me.

Then pelicans in threes and fours,
Glided by like dinosaurs,
An otter basked upon its back,
And dived to find another snack.

The sun corpuscular and bright,
Cast down a piercing shaft,
And conjured an inspiring sight
On glinting, bobbing craft.

Two mermaids rose up from the reef,
Out of the breaking waves.
Their siren song was opium grief,
Their faces from the grave.

The mermaids asked a princely kiss
To free them from their spell.
I said to try a poet’s bliss.
They shrugged and bid farewell.

The sun grew dark and sinister,
In unscheduled eclipse.
As two eight-headed aliens
Descended in their ships.

They said the World was nice enough
But didn’t like our star.
And asked the way to Betelgeuse,
If it wouldn’t be too far.

Two whales breached far out to sea,
And flew up to the sky,
The crowd was busy frolicking,
And didn’t ask me why.

Today I left my phone at home,
On the worst day, you’ll agree.
If only I had pictures,
If only you could see.

Not everything was really there,
I’m happy to confess,
But I still have the memories,
Worth more than tweets and stress.

Today I left my phone at home,
I had no shakes or sorrow.
If that is what my mind can do,
It stays at home tomorrow.

By Gavin Miller

Thanks for this delightful commentary on breaking phone addiction to enjoy the world more!

For more on phone addiction and it’s effects see my article: How Your Smartphone Is Making You and Your Teenager Dumb and Depressed!


How Your Smartphone Is Making You and Your Teenager Dumb and Depressed!

smartphone making you dumber

Your smartphone. Smartphones are very cool devices. You can text, Snapchat, or email from anywhere. You can find your way through traffic using Google Maps or Waze. Find a good restaurant with Tripadvisor or Yelp. Take pictures and send them to all of your friends and family instantly. Nothing but upside right?

Wrong! Multiple research studies show that our smartphones are actually making us dumber, and maybe more depressed as well. Let’s look at some interesting facts. I’ve written previously about smartphone use and happiness but wanted to revisit the subject with more data.

Fact One: The average smartphone user looks at their phone 80 times a day, according to Apple.

Other reports suggest that people look at their phone 130 times a day. That means 30,000 to 47,000 times a year! Each of those glances distracts you from your current circumstances, and if you are trying to do something complex, or learn something, you are getting dumber 30,000 to 47,000 times a year! That’s a lot of time to lose. And since studies show it takes 25 minutes and 15 seconds to recover from distraction, that means you are losing 526 days a year, which is more than a year, which means that you are basically distracted and dumber all the time.

Fact Two: The closer your phone is to you, the dumber you get.

The University of California, San Diego conducted a study of 520 undergraduate students. The students took two tests of intellectual functioning.  The main variable in the study was where student put their phones. Some students put the phones in front of them on the desk, others put the phone in their pockets or purses, and others left their phones in an adjoining room.

The results: the closer the phone was, the dumber the person based on the test results. Phone in front of you, bad, phone in your pocket or purse, a little better, and phone in the next room, best results. And remember, this was with participants never checking their phones!

Fact Three: We don’t realize how much our phones impair our performance.

All of the participants in the UC study later said their phone was not a distraction, and that they never thought about their phones during the experiment. This shows we don’t even recognize the damage our phones are doing to our minds.

Fact Four: Smartphones bring down college grades by one whole letter grade when brought to class!

Researchers at the University of Arkansas found that those students who left their phones at home scored a full grade higher on material presented in the classroom than those who had their phones in class. It did not matter whether the students used their phones or not. In another study from the U.K. found that when schools ban smartphones, test scores go up a lot, with the worst students benefiting the most.

Fact Five: Your smartphone makes you worse at relationships as well.

Another study from the U.K. had 142 people divided into pairs and asked to talk in private. Half had a phone in the room, while the other half had no phone. The pairs then rated each other for affinity, trust, and empathy. “The mere presence of mobile phones,” the researchers reported in 2013 in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, “inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust” and diminished “the extent to which individuals felt empathy and understanding from their partners.”

Fact Six: It Is Worse For Teenagers

According to Neilson, teenagers send and receive 3,339  texts per month, which is about 7 texts per hour, or one text every 8.5 minutes. Actually, it is worse. Let’s assume that most teens don’t text during classes. That means outside of class, they are texting about 12 times an hour, or once every 6 minutes.

iphone woman

This can’t be good for learning or memory.  Imagine you are trying to learn something hard, and every 6 minutes someone asks you a question and you have to respond. How’s your performance? And since we know that distraction lasts 25 minutes, that basically means that all teenagers are distracted every minute that they are awake and not in class.

What’s even worse is that smartphone usage also affects happiness. The Monitoring The Future Survey, which is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has collected data on 10th graders and 12th graders for decades. They asked teens how happy they are and how much time they spend on various activities including non-screen activities like socializing and exercise, and screen activities such as social media, browsing the web, or texting.

The results? All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all non-screen activities are linked to more happiness! Eighth graders who spent 10 or more hours a week on social media were 56% more likely to say they’re unhappy. Even those who spent six hours a week on social media were still 47% more likely to say that they were unhappy. And even more ominously, the more time that teenagers spent looking at screens the more likely they were to report symptoms of depression. Teens who spent three hours a day or more on electronic devices were 35% more likely to have at least one risk factor for suicide.

Here are a few somewhat radical suggestions:

  1. This one teenagers will really hate. What if parents took away smartphones from their kids, and gave them flip phones, for phone calls only? Turned off texting on the phone. I suspect the average teenager’s grades would go up a grade. Not to mention better learning and memory. Flip phones would allow teenagers to call their parents for a ride, thus having much of the convenience factor without any of the negative smartphone factors.
  2. If this is not practical then I would recommend that parents take smartphones from their children when they arrive home from school, put them in a locked drawer, and only give them back the next morning. Certainly, there should be no access to smartphones while studying or doing homework. When children have finished their homework and are in relaxation mode, they can have limited access to their smartphone, but only until a reasonable hour because the use of smartphones before bedtime is very disruptive to sleep.
  3. For adults, leave your phone in your car trunk when having dinner out. You’ll connect with your dinner partner much better.
  4. For families, all smartphones, tablets, laptop computers go away before every family meal. Unless you are a physician on call, nothing is so important that you can’t put away your smartphone and have a nice family dinner.
  5. Finally, consider a digital device Sabbath. Orthodox Jews do not use any digital devices during Sabbath, which starts Friday night and ends Saturday night. All of us should emulate this, and pick a day on the weekend which is a digital-free day.

I am reminded of the first time I met my friend Fred Luskin, a psychologist who studies stress and forgiveness. I was attending a workshop he led. At the beginning, he asked everyone to take out their smartphones and turn them off. Not “turn off the ringer” or “set to vibrate” but actually power down the phones. Participants were shocked and resistant. It took a few minutes for him to get people to actually turn off their phones. At the time I wondered about this, but now I can see that it makes a big difference. When your phone is powered down, you are not anticipating anything from it, so that little bit of attention that is always focused on the phone is freed up for other purposes.

Now I’m going to turn off my computer and my phone, go outside, and take a walk…