We’re not going to lie. Muscle building takes more than six minutes.

The Daily Mail and the BBC recently released an article claiming resistance bands would build more muscle than dumbbells, and that you would require a mere six short minutes to do this in. The rationale is based around muscle activity being higher towards the end of the routine when using bands than dumbbells whilst also performing repetitions until you can't do any more.

Whilst the article was more aimed at absolute beginners, the notion that six minutes of resistance exercise is optimum to build muscle mass is misleading to many. In this post, we'll explain this in more detail.

It's quite technical...

When looking at particularly addressing the goal of building muscle mass, MANY different factors come into play, some of which include:

  • Genetics (body shape, variations between male and female)
  • Volume of lifting (the amount of sets completed over the session)
  • Frequency of training sessions (the number of times trained each week)
  • Intensity/Loads when performing resistance exercise
  • Length of time a muscle is under tension for (the longer the set, the greater the metabolic demand on muscle groups)
  • Creating a calorie surplus (consuming more energy than you output)
  • Exercise selection (isolation vs compound exercises)
  • Sleep quality

What's the best way to build muscle?

If we look at what we know from research, to develop muscle mass, the perfect scenario will look like:

  • A session volume of approximately 15-20 sets in total.
  • For hypertrophy we aim to perform 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions
  • Each set should take around 45-60 seconds to complete.
  • Rest times should take between 30-60 seconds.
  • Calorie intake should be roughly 250-500 calories more than BMR (the calories required for the body to maintain it's current weight).

Looking at the mathematics of what would be the optimum for muscle building - our session should take no less than 18-20 minutes at the very least! This is also removing other essential elements from the equation.

Once you put this into perspective, you can see how the programming of gaining muscle is very different from what has been proposed in the Daily Mail - you would need to perform 3-4 times more work to achieve the desired results.

So what happens from performing six minutes of resistance band exercise?

When performing sets to complete failure, as suggested by The Daily Mail, the effect here won't be based on developing muscle mass. The emphasis will change to improving muscle tone and muscle endurance. High repetition, low-frequency, and low-intensity exercise will fatigue muscle groups but do not provide the optimum stimulus to achieve the desired outcome.

More likely to occur is increased muscle tone (or motor units in science-speak). Therefore, the adaptation from a muscle is more driven from the nervous system - i.e. the same number of muscle fibres being used more efficiently to produce more force, instead of more muscle fibres creating more power to lift a heavier weight.

Does Equipment Matter?

Short answer. It depends...

Given that most people won't be blessed with a fully equipped gym in a national lockdown, with a wide range of weights and machines, it can be challenging to get the results you're after when it comes to hypertrophy.

Resistance bands are just one tool in a vast toolbox that we can use to challenge muscle groups to grow and become stronger. There are pros and cons for all equipment pieces, but one of the main pillars of training is variety! Using different equipment, sets, reps, weights, rest times will always get the best response rather than using one method over and over again.

Nevertheless, relating to the list to factors above, we can still manipulate the variables to our advantage, these include:

  • Increasing rep tempos by using pause reps or negative repetitions.
  • Isolating muscle groups using single muscle/single-joint exercises to accelerate fatigue.
  • Decrease rest times to the lower end of the spectrum to enhance fatigue.

We can change a few more variables around which we spoke about at the beginning of lockdown.

Take Away Points

To summarise, don't be fooled that you can get the real results you're after regarding building muscle, in just six minutes. Whilst it's positive media are encouraging physical activity, the truth must always be recognised that there is no 'quick fix'.

The reality is that building lean muscle mass is a complex, fine-tuning process that is totally individual. It will often take anywhere between 4-6 weeks of consistent, progressive and varied resistance exercise; utilising different exercise structures and equipment.

Like all good things, they take time.

Invest in the longer-term lifestyle change and commitment to a goal, rather than continually chase after the quick wins. Not only will you see the results in the mirror physically, but the sense of achievement. The benefits of adopting routine exercise into your life will far exceed the short term fatigue you'll get from a "quick six minutes".

If you're reading this and feel you need advice and coaching on beginning to exercise, getting more from your workouts, or how to optimise your current training for your specific goals, we can help!

At Namix Performance, we have an expert team of coaches that can set you on the right path. We work with absolute beginners, to professional athletes and bespoke everything to you.