You Can Go “Lightweight” and Still Build Muscle and Strength
Until 2010, most studies had recommended the principle of lifting heavy weights and performing fewer repetitions (to exhaustion) in order to build muscle mass. Beginning in 2010, research began to suggest that there might be other ways to achieve the same muscle mass goals – namely, lifting lighter weights with more repetitions. Results from a new McMaster University study suggests that you can lift lighter weights and do more repetitions to achieve the same muscle-strengthening results that you get lifting heavy weights and performing fewer repetitions.
“Lift to the point of exhaustion and you will get similar results whether using light or heavy weights,” seems to be the message from this latest study.
The researchers recruited two groups of men for this study and all of them were experienced weight lifters. The study was set up as a twelve-week weight lifting program. One group of subjects lifted lighter weights (50% of their maximal strength) for sets that ranged 20-25 repetitions. The second group lifted heavy weights (up to 90% of their maximal capacity) for one set of eight to twelve repetitions. Both groups “lifted to failure,” which means until they could simply not move the weight at all.
The researchers measured muscle and blood samples. They found gains in muscle mass and muscle fiber size. Muscle fiber size is a key measure of strength. Both groups showed nearly identical results.
The researchers acknowledge that serious weight lifters are not likely to change to a “lighter weight regimen,” but for the average individual who wants to build muscle and get stronger, it’s good to know that you can have days of lifting lighter weights with more repetitions to maintain your muscle mass or even to increase it. Mixing in lighter weight protocols can also help to limit your risk of injury. A lighter weight routine can also help teens or beginner exercisers who may find heavy weight lifting just too challenging or intimidating.
The researchers also noted that none of the muscle strength or growth gains were related to changes in testosterone or growth hormone levels, which had been a strong prior prevailing theory.
Still the researchers feel there is more work that needs to be done, including trying to find out what specific mechanisms are at work during the different levels of weight training and which populations would be best served by heavy lifting, lighter lifting or a combination of the two approaches.
If you do want to begin a weight-training program, consider doing leg exercises s on one day and arm exercises on another day and choose specific muscle groupings. You can start with light weights and two sets of repetitions, with each set done “till exhaustion.” You can then slowly increase the weight size and begin to introduce some days of heavier weight lifting with fewer repetitions. There are loads of programs online that can help you to personalize your weight training program. A one-time visit with an experienced personal trainer is invaluable, in terms of learning proper form.