Build Muscle and Strength in 15 minutes a week

Learn how to build muscle and strength in just 5 minutes, three times a week, by Antony Haynes, sports nutrition expert.

Although true good health involves a lot more than simply having a strong physique, there need not be a contradiction in aiming for both, as having strong lean muscle is in fact one of the key determinants of healthy aging. As we age, we progressively lose skeletal muscle mass and strength, leading to the loss of functional capacity and an increased risk of developing chronic diseases. Fortunately, this muscle loss can be reversed and associated health risks decreased. What’s more, you are never too young (or old!) to start.

The ability of the muscle protein machinery to respond to anabolic stimuli (which promote growth) is preserved up to very old age. [1]. Watch the video here. So what are the exact health benefits associated with an increase in muscle size? Strength training boosts your metabolic rate. Muscle cells burn more calories than fat cells so increasing your muscle mass will increase your resting metabolic rate. That means you will burn more calories, even when you’re standing still! Your metabolic rate is also to do with how quickly the liver breaks down glycogen or fat for fuel. Resistance exercise speeds this process up.

Resistance training reduces age-associated muscle loss. As we age muscle mass naturally decreases. Strength training not only decreases the rate at which this occurs but has been shown to improve function in daily activities, improve balance and reduce the chance of falls and injuries, especially in the older population. [2] Muscle-building exercise promotes the release of growth hormone and testosterone. As the circulating level of these hormones go up, the stress hormone cortisol goes down.

Cortisol is a major promoter of insulin resistance which is linked to metabolic syndrome and increased cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia risk. A recent study at the Institute of Sports Science reports that a combination of resistance and aerobic exercises produced greater circulating levels of growth hormone and greater improvements in metabolic syndrome factors in healthy middle-aged women than aerobic exercise alone. [3] Strength training increases insulin sensitivity. When you exercise your muscles want glucose so exercise stimulates insulin receptors to become more sensitive, reversing insulin resistance. This means that regular exercise helps your blood sugar to become more balanced because insulin starts to work properly.

There is lots of evidence that increased physical activity improves insulin sensitivity and reduces the risk of diabetes, even without weight loss. It also lowers your glycosylated haemoglobin which is one of the key measures of health blood sugar balance. Building Muscle Muscle-building exercise is called ‘resistance training’ since muscle only builds when you are resisting some force, such as lifting a weight. Alternatively, resistance can be provided by working against your own body weight or from resistance bands. While most of us find it hard to gain muscle but easy to lose, the only way to truly shape your body is by building muscle. For men, this often means larger muscles, but for women, muscles become more dense rather than larger. Of course you don’t have to develop the physique of a body-builder. Both men and women can develop toned, lean muscles which won’t add ‘bulk’ to the frame but will allow them to reap the benefits of strength training and prevent sagging skin and fat.

Naturally diet is important to provide the nutritional building blocks to enable muscle growth. Physical activity and/or exercise stimulate post-exercise muscle protein accretion in both the young and elderly [1], so it becomes all the more important to ensure adequate protein intake from your diet. More on this later.

Why LESS Training Means More Muscle
What first led me to consider doing LESS training was an account of the training programme of the remarkable Albert Beckles in a muscle mag in 1984. The following year, 1985, Lee Labrada won Mr Universe and I read how he would engage in shorter workouts than many of his contemporaries. I was intrigued by the notion that doing LESS but in a smart way could produce the same or even better results than by doing MORE.

Modern living provides us with so little time, it can be a challenge to achieve everything we need to as well as maintain physical fitness. So, the ability to achieve noticeable muscle development and better health in as short a time as possible is a very attractive proposition. In fact, you don’t need to spend half your day in the gym to build muscle. There’s no need to spend hours devoting yourself to the rigours of training. Noticeable gains can be achieved at home, practising simple isometric exercises and requiring very little equipment – just a set of springs that cost about £10. See my video to see how this works for the upper body, and below for how to apply the same technique for the lower body.

Understanding Isometrics
Isometric exercise has been around a long time, and is thousands of years old, with examples from the static holds in certain branches of yoga or Chinese martial arts (kung fu). It remains the best way to achieve greater strength and muscle mass from the least time spent exercising. Isometric exercise or isometrics are a type of strength training in which the joint angle and muscle length do not change during contraction (compared to concentric or eccentric contractions, called dynamic/isotonic movements). Isometrics are done in static positions, rather than being dynamic through a range of motion. The joint and muscle are either worked against an immovable force (overcoming isometric) or are held in a static position while opposed by resistance (yielding isometric). Isometrics were first brought to the public’s attention in the early days of what was called physical culture, the precursor to bodybuilding. Many of the great bodybuilders of the day incorporated isometric exercises into their training regimes. However, isometrics fell out of favour when it was discovered that many of the principal advocates were using anabolic steroids to enhance their gains.

This is not a new technology, it is merely rediscovered, and it means you can build muscle and strength in LESS TIME, not more. It involves the least time to work out, with maximal potential for growth and development of strength. In just ten minutes you can do enough work to stimulate muscle growth and improve strength. That’s five minutes for the upper body and five minutes for your legs. My five-minute upper body workout is a series of isometric exercises with the Spring Chest Expander. It does not show exercises for your legs, such as lunges and squats. See Patrick’s Fat Burning Exercises for tips on how these can be easily and safely practised at home.

Building Muscle Fibres Needs Intensity
Muscle fibres can be categorised in two ways: by the type of myosin (fast or slow) present, and the degree of oxidative phosphorylation that the fibre undergoes. In this way, skeletal muscle is broken down into two broad categories: Type I and Type II. Type I fibres appear red due to the presence of the oxygen binding protein myoglobin. These fibres are suited for endurance and are slow to fatigue because they use oxidative metabolism to generate energy.

Type II fibres are white due to the absence of myoglobin and a reliance on glycolytic enzymes for energy. These fibres are suitable and efficient for short bursts of speed and power and use both oxidative metabolism and anaerobic metabolism depending on the particular sub-type. They are quicker to fatigue, and it is these that we are engaging with the isometric exercise. The key to the isometric exercises is the intensity of the exercise. This is vital in order to stimulate the body’s innate healing and adaptive mechanisms for optimal recovery and gains.

Without committing to the utmost effort of pulling or pushing the springs, the signalling to the muscles will not be sufficient to promote gains in strength and mass. Stimulating Growth Hormone Growth hormone (GH) is a protein-based peptide hormone. It stimulates growth, cell reproduction and regeneration in humans and other animals. Growth hormone release is stimulated by exercise, particularly of an intense nature – and we already know that strength-training exercises promote release. The best combination of exercises to elicit the most favourable release of growth hormone include the upper body and legs, due to size and volume of the skeletal tissue used. This acts as a rejuvenating factor for the whole body.

Increase Protein for Repair and Recovery
It is vital to consume adequate good-quality protein while undertaking this kind of exercise. It is recommended to consume about 20g at each of your three meals, which is equivalent to a piece of fish or breast of chicken, or 3 egg omelette, or 2 eggs plus a spoonful of chia seeds, for example, at breakfast. On the days you undertake the isometric exercise it would be ideal to include an extra snack, as soon after the exercise as possible (mid or late afternoon is best), which includes at least 10g more of protein. Protein powders can be used for this purpose, eg in a smoothie or shake.

Action Plan for Improved Muscle Strength and Mass
Do ten minutes a day, three times a week only, using the isometric springs as shown in the video, taking five minutes to work the upper body; and then doing the leg exercises shown in Fatburning Exercises (lunges and squats), for a further five minutes. As you progress, observe the difference in your strength in two ways: your ability to pull the springs further apart or use more springs than when you started, and in your muscle tone and body shape. Antony Haynes – Biography Antony has been in private practice for over 18 years and is one of the most experienced and knowledgeable Nutritional Therapists in the country. He is known as a practitioners’ practitioner. He employs his clinical experience in managing the nutritional needs of his patients, which number in excess of 11,500, at his clinic in Harley Street, London. Antony is also Head of Technical Services at Nutri-Link, responsible for the technical & practitioner support team. For over 14 years, he has been presenting clinically focused workshops, lectures and seminars that practitioners find invaluable, inspiring and motivating. He is also a successful, award-winning author of two books on nutrition, The Insulin Factor and The Food Intolerance Bible, and has appeared on television and radio.


1. R Koopman & LJC Loon, Aging, exercise, and muscle protein metabolism, Journal of Applied Physiology (2009), vol 106, pp 2040-2048.

2. MA Fiatarone et al, High-intensity strength training in nonagenarians. Effects on skeletal muscle, JAMA (1990), vol 263(22), pp 3029-34.

3. D Seo et al, 12 weeks of combined exercise is better than aerobic exercise for increasing growth hormone in middle-aged women, International Journal of Sport Nutrition Exercise Metabolism (2010), vol 20(1), pp 21-6.