You Don’t Need to Lift Heavy Weights to Build Muscle
We’ve already discussed this in our post on low and high rep workouts , but it bears repeating: whether you lift light or super heavy weights, your muscles can still grow, provided you push yourself to the point where you can’t. physically lift the extra rep. In the end, it’s all about intensity.
In a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology , Canadian researchers recruited 49 men who had trained with resistance over the past two years. There are already two key contributions to this study: it includes a larger sample size than most similar studies, and subjects that won’t just experience a bunch of newbies in cloudy results.
Half of the subjects were placed in the high repetition group (20-25 repetitions); the other in the group with fewer reps (8-12 reps). Each group trained four days a week for 12 weeks, and the total amount of “work” they did was the same. There were also no significant differences between their diets. To really ensure that the subjects climbed at true intensity ( as they call it “to failure” ), the researchers trained each subject individually and generally made sure that the subjects really had nothing left by the end of the recruitment.
After 12 weeks, the researchers tested the subjects’ thigh muscles and found that both groups built the same amount of muscle. They also had a similar increase in strength , a finding that challenges the idea that high-rep workouts aren’t as effective at increasing strength. Strength is the result of having muscles and the nervous system used to lifting a certain weight. The article explains that increasing maximum strength is possible with high rep workouts if you also lift really heavy weights periodically.
And finally, another interesting tidbit from this study: growth hormone and testosterone, both considered important factors in muscle gain, did not influence the results.
So what’s the message here? One of the study’s authors, Stuart Phillips , professor in the department of kinesiology at McMaster University, says:
For “mere mortals” who want to get stronger, we’ve shown that you can take a break from lifting and not compromise your accomplishments. It is also a new choice that can appeal to the masses and motivate people to do what they need to do for their health.
If you’re going to lift weights with the intent to get big and strong – be it 30 or 5 reps – make sure you work really, really hard.