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Training with Lighter Weights Just as Effective as Heavier Weights

A new study has debunked the myth that heavier weights are required to build muscle and strength by showing that lifting lighter weights many times is just as efficient.

Researchers from McMaster University have contradicted through a series of studies the decades-old message that heavy lifting is required to build muscle and strength. Researchers recruited two groups of men for the study–all of them experienced weight lifters–who followed a 12-week, whole-body protocol. One group lifted lighter weights (up to 50 per cent of maximum strength) for sets ranging from 20 to 25 repetitions. The other group lifted heavier weights (up to 90 per cent of maximum strength) for eight to 12 repetitions. Both groups lifted to the point of failure.

Researchers analyzed muscle and blood samples and found gains in muscle mass and muscle fibre size, a key measure of strength, were virtually identical. While researchers stress that elite athletes are unlikely to adopt this training regime, it is an effective way to get stronger, put on muscle and generally improve health.

Another key finding was that none of the strength or muscle growth were related to testosterone or growth hormone, which many believe are responsible for such gains. Authors say that it is a complete falsehood that the short-lived rise in testosterone or growth hormone is a driver of muscle growth and that there is a need to end such kind of thinking.

Researchers suggest, however, that more work remains to be done in this area, including what underlying mechanisms are at work and in what populations does this sort of program work. The findings are published online in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

David Lintott is a freelance journalist, covering culture, sport and society. He hails from the decaying seaside town of Eastbourne, which he considers the source of his world-weariness.

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