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Lifting heavy isn't necessary for building muscle

Posted on September 4, 2012 at 3:17 PM
The common consensus is that lifting heavier weights for relatively lower rep ranges is better for building muscle than a lifting relatively lighter weights for a higher number of repetitions. Now for pure strength gains, a weight where one can only perform three to five repetitions is best, but for muscular growth, rep range isn’t really relevant providing that you’re completing at least six reps with proper form. Using rep ranges any lower than that trains your central nervous system which will allow you lift more weight; you will see increases in muscular tissue, but if you’re lifting strictly for muscular hypertrophy this rep range is less than ideal.  

 For optimal muscular growth, it’s about time under tension and muscular fatigue. It’s doesn’t matter if you lift a weight eight times or twenty-six times.When using a weight where you can only complete eight repetitions, as compared to twenty six repetitions, the tension will be greater, but the time under tension will be less. Using a weight that you that allows you to complete twenty-six repetitions will result in less tension, but the time under tension will be much greater. In the end it all evens out.  As long as the last few reps are difficult, you’re providing enough tension for muscle growth. Whether you’re using a weight where you can only complete eight repetitions, or a weight that you’re able to complete twenty repetitions, your muscle gains will be the same.     

 “The research, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, challenges the widely accepted dogma that training with heavy weights -- which can be lifted only six to 12 times before fatigue -- is the best avenue to muscle growth.”               

In the study several experiments were performed on healthy, young, male subjects in order to measure how their legs muscles responded to various repetition ranges over a ten week period. After determining the maximum weight that each subject could lift one time, each subject was instructed to train at a different percentage of  his one rep max for each leg. These three programs were as follows: one set at 80% of their one rep max; three sets at 80% of their one rep max, and three sets at 30% of their one rep max. Typically, the heaviest weights were lifted eight to twelve times; the lightest weights were lifted twenty five to thirty times.               

After the ten-week period, three times per week, the heavy and lightweight groups saw substantial gain, as measured by an MRI, with no discrepancy (in the amount of muscle gain) among the groups. The groups that used the heavier weight gained a bit more strength, which is to be expected, as the heavier the weight is (relative to a person’s strength level) the more the central nervous system is trained. Muscle gain, however, was the same. The group that trained for a single set showed about half the increase in muscle size seen in both the heavy and light groups.               

Older adults, and people who have had injuries in the past, should be thrilled with these findings as they can reap the same benefits from resistance training as their younger counterparts, or those with less of an injury history.               

Remember, as long as you’re squeezing out those last few reps you’re on the right track. 

Categories: Routine Advice

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