It’s no secret that people who feel better are more successful in their daily lives. What you may not know is muscle strength can improve your health and job performance.

A paper was published that includes a study of 11,000 HealthPartners employees who do strength exercises at least 2 days per week. These people are in better physical and emotional shape. They also have a better general health status, productivity and fewer health risks. Other benefits include less neck, shoulder and back pain. Also lower blood pressure, less headaches and better work performance.

While the benefits of strength exercises are clear, Brian Nelson, MD, warns that most people do these wrong.

“If you only have 30 minutes each week to exercise, you are much better off spending the time strength training than working on cardio,” he says.

According to Nelson, proper strength training requires five key components:

  1. Each muscle group should be exercised twice per week but never two days in a row for the same muscle.
  2. Only a single set is needed as long as the weight is lifted with proper form. Also timing (three seconds up with a one second pause followed by three seconds down), and intensity.
  3. Pick a weight that causes failure around 15 reps. When you can do more than 15 reps increase the weight by 5 percent.
  4. Strength training also improves cardio if you do circuit training. That is, after each single set with a particular muscle group wait only one minute before going to the next muscle.
  5. Choose machines over barbells for safety reasons.

“Strength training needs to be hard,” Nelson continues. “The good news is that just 20 minutes twice per week can increase one’s strength. The bad news is that the 20 minutes must be hard.”

“A little strengthening goes a long way,” says Nelson.