When we think of lifting for strength and power gains, most of us immediately think about lifting barbells loaded with all the weight we can handle. Low-volume, high-weight resistance training is the accepted “norm” for building serious muscle mass and strength. But, according to a study from early 2016, that may not be the case.
A team of researchers from McMaster University have been studying the effects of heavy versus light weight since 2010, trying to determine whether or not the age-old belief of “heavier is better” is correct. According to the study’s senior author, weight has nothing to do with results. Instead, it’s all about hitting fatigue.
In the latest study, two groups of experienced weightlifters were recruited to undergo 12 weeks of whole-body training. One group lifted heavier weights (up to 90% 1-rep max weight), performing sets of 8 to 12 reps. The other group lifted lighter weights (no more than 50% 1-rep max weight), performing sets of 20 to 25 reps. Throughout the training protocol, the researchers took regular measurements of muscle fiber size, muscle mass, and blood samples. Their discovery: both groups saw virtually identical gains.
Both groups trained to the point of exhaustion (muscular fatigue), and the results were the same. Simple logic states that both types of workout are equally effective. Perhaps that age-old wisdom of “heavier is better” has been wrong all this time.
When you approach muscular fatigue, you have to maximally activate your muscles in order to generate force. Regardless of the weight used, that maximal activation is what led to the greatest increases in strength and muscular size.
Instead of pushing yourself to your limit to go heavy, why not try using less weight and lifting for more reps? Not only will you be less likely to injure yourself, but you can work on your muscular endurance while building strength at the same time. As this study proves, both light and heavy weights are equally effective as long as you work to muscular fatigue. Professional bodybuilders may not see results, but for the average gymgoer, this can be just what you need to switch up the goal of your workout. You can pack on the muscle, increase fat-burning, and boost your strength by making the switch from uber-heavy weights to lighter weights lifted for more repetitions.
1. Robert W. Morton, Sara Y. Oikawa, Christopher G. Wavell, Nicole Mazara, Chris McGlory, Joe Quadrilatero, Brittany L. Baechler, Steven K. Baker, Stuart M. Phillips. “Neither load nor systemic hormones determine resistance training-mediated hypertrophy or strength gains in resistance-trained young men.” Journal of Applied Physiology, 2016; 121 (1): 129 DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00154.2016.