We're big fans of any trendy new fitness routine that's backed by science, but the "latest and greatest" rules about how to burn the most calories or tone up fastest can be confusing—not to mention inaccurate. And a new study from the U.K. is setting the record straight.
Despite the belief that you get more benefit out of exercises you did at the beginning of a workout—or that resting for extended periods between moves or sets is more beneficial than not—when it comes to resistance training circuits, it all comes down to personal preference and how hard you're working, the authors say.
While it appears relatively logical in that you would have the most energy at the start of a workout, and be more fatigued later, these "acute measures" of performance have never been scientifically linked to actual benefits, says lead author James Fisher, a senior lecturer in sports conditioning and fitness at Southampton Solent University in the U.K. In his study, FIsher and colleagues tested theories like these, giving three different groups of volunteers similar workout routines consisting of upper-body, lower-body, and core exercises in different orders, with either one- or two-minute rests between moves. After 12 weeks, all routines proved to be about equal. Simply doing each move to the highest possible intensity of effort, while maintaining proper form and posture, "appears to stimulate physiological adaptations as well or better than far more complex workouts," Fisher says.
"Ultimately, resistance exercise should be far simpler than most people advocate," he adds. "Persons should self-select exercise order, rest interval, and the use of advanced training techniques to suit their desires, not under the impression that it will impact their long-term achievements."
Personal trainer and Get Healthy U founder Chris Freytag agrees. If you're training for a specific competition, you may worry more about the details, but if not, it's not worth getting bogged down in the "rules." Of course, there are still some workout parameters to stay within in order to see results. For strength training, Fisher recommends 15-minute workouts a few times a week, consisting of eight or so exercises, each completed to muscular failure. (Our String-Bikini Workout, for example, fits the bill perfectly.) It may not be the newest or trendiest advice, he says, but it's what works!