Home workout tips that REALLY work

Home exercise tips that REALLY work: BBC investigation finds resistance bands than dumbbells for building muscle – and you can see results with just six minutes of exercise a WEEK

  • BBC documentary The Truth About… Getting Fit At Home airs tonight
  • Investigates claims around exercise and looks at which workouts are effective
  • Finds resistance bands trigger more muscle growth than heavy dumbbells 
  • Reveals just six minutes of exercise a week could help you build muscle 

With gyms closed once again, millions of Brits are relying on home workouts to stay fit over lockdown. But what’s the best way to get the most out of your exercise? 

That’s the question presenter Mehreen Baig attempts to answer in BBC documentary The Truth About… Getting Fit At Home, which airs tonight. 

Mehreen speaks to experts in heart health, fitness and physiology to discover the most effective ways to work out without stepping foot in a gym. 

Perhaps surprisingly, Mehreen discovers that it takes as little as six minutes exercise a week to build muscle and is told resistance bands, which cost as little as £5 from a supermarket, trigger more muscle growth than heavy dumbbells. 

She also learns one of her favourite exercises – a ‘booty workout’ – isn’t a shortcut to a curvaceous figure. 

Presenter Mehreen Baig (pictured) investigates the secrets to a successful home workout in BBC documentary The Truth About… Getting Fit At Home, which airs tonight

WORK OUT FOR SIX MINUTES A WEEK TO BUILD MUSCLE 

Studies show that even a few minutes of putting the muscles under strain triggers the release of protein molecules that help them increase in size and strength. 

‘You need to do as many repetitions as you can, until you can do no more, even if that’s just one,’ says Professor Jason Gill, an expert in heart health at the University of Glasgow.

It’s well known that strengthening exercises, such as lifting dumbbells, press-ups or squats, are good for our overall health and associated with living longer, but how much is enough?

According to Prof Gill’s research, the answer is, quite simply, until you have to stop.

Based on the evidence, Prof Gill explains that for complete beginners exercising each major muscle group in the body for just one minute per week is sufficient to increase strength, and is associated with benefits for heart and lung health as well as longevity.

That’s just six minutes per week in total – exercising muscles in the legs, chest, abdomen, back, shoulders and arms. ‘Most people think “one minute per muscle group per week?” Yeah, I can do that,’ Prof Gill says. 

Mehreen speaks to experts in heart health, fitness and physiology to discover the most effective ways to work out without stepping foot in a gym. Stock image

DITCH THE DUMBBELLS FOR RESISTANCE BANDS

Resistance bands, which are available for under a fiver from budget supermarket Lidl, trigger more muscle growth than even the heaviest dumbbell, according to research by Tony Kay, a professor of biomechanics at Northampton University.

Prof Kay uses stick-on arm sensors which measure electrical activity in muscle fibres and beam the information back to a computer. This indicates how hard the muscle is working – and whether new fibres are growing.

Mehreen acts as a guinea pig, performing a series of bicep curls with 5kg (11 lb) dumbbells, followed by the same number of repetitions using a resistance band, wrapping it around the hand for maximum tension.

The analysis shows that there is more electrical activity with the resistance bands towards the end of the routine. The muscle change occurs in the second part of the movement, when the arm lowers while still keeping the bicep tensed, explains Prof Kay. But the arm muscle fatigues quickly when using the dumbbell. The stretch in the resistance band, however, makes it easier to control, retaining the tension.

JUST 15 MINUTES OF HIIT A WEEK TO SEE RESULTS

High intensity interval training, or HIIT, has become even more popular during lockdown thanks to how easy it is to do in the front room at home. This is the type of exercise Joe Wicks champions in his PE classes. 

Yoga also gets the heart pumping 

Remarkably, Dr Phillips explains the same effects can be achieved with some forms of yoga – particularly Vinyasa and Ashtanga yoga, which are fast-paced.

This will be welcome news for people with reduced mobility who want to exercise. 

Previous research supports this. One American study followed more than 15,000 overweight adults for four years and found that those who had done yoga regularly as their main form of exercise were a stone lighter at the end of the trial. 

HIIT involves short bursts of gruelling cardio exercise, such as running or jumping, interspersed with the same amount of rest time. It has been shown to increase the fitness of your heart and lungs, reduce body fat and improve blood sugar control. 

So is it the best way to do an aerobics workout at home? 

‘In terms of the benefits for your heart and lungs, HIIT and running are probably quite similar,’ says Beth Phillips, expert in clinical physiology at the University of Nottingham.

‘But one of the benefits of HIIT is that it can be done in this compressed time scale, so a lot of HIIT workouts are only 15 minutes in duration, whereas you would maybe go for a run for 45 minutes.’

And you don’t need to do too many of them to see the benefits, says Dr Phillips. 

‘We did a study and we found that when we had seven intervals vs five intervals but at a slightly higher intensity, five intervals were better. Intensity is key for being able to see benefits with HIIT.’

One study found you need to do just 15, one-minute intervals a week (so a single 30-minute workout) to start seeing significant health gains. And you can see results in four weeks.  

BOOTY WORKOUTS AREN’T A SHORTCUT TO CURVES

Instagram is full of influencers demonstrating ‘booty workouts’ that promise to create a curvaceous pert derriere like those seen on many celebrities and social media stars. 

‘It’s effectively just using your own body as a body weight and doing exercises designed to increase the strength of the muscular endurance, particularly of the lower limbs,’ Dr Phillips says, explaining how the exercise works. ‘So why it might be labelled as a booty workout, really they’re for the whole of your lower body.’

But she warned against seeing the workouts as a shortcut to a curvaceous figure. 

‘There are so many other factors to consider,’ she says. ‘Genetics has a massive role to play; where your muscle and fat are distributed across the body and then there’s also nutrition.’ 

FITNESS TRACKERS DO MAKE YOU MOVE MORE

Another surprise is the programme’s revelation that fitness trackers, which studies suggest most users ditch after just six months, are actually worth investing in simply for their short-term benefits. A study featured in the show put 100 volunteers through a 12-week exercise programme. Half wore a tracker and half didn’t. Those who did exercised for twice as long, on average, and burned twice the energy.

According to the experts behind the study from Liverpool John Moores University, trackers let wearers see how hard they’re working in real time – their heart rate and calorie burn – which motivates them to keep going.

‘About six weeks into the study, the tracker group were doing four routines a week, which is more than we’d asked, whereas the other group were down to one or two sessions,’ says physiologist Dr Matt Cocks. ‘None of the studies we’ve ever done has got participants exercising this much.’

And there’s no need to fork out hundreds of pounds on the latest fitness watch – a simple heart-rate monitor, worn around the wrist and available online for about £20, can have the same effect.   

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