Lifting lighter weights gains as much muscle as heavier options
Lifting lighter weights for a longer time is just as effective as using heavier weights for fewer reps, a new study has found.
Some people may be embarrassed by reaching for the smaller options at the gym, but this shouldn't be the case as the weightier options may not actually build muscle mass.
Researchers gathered two groups of men, all experienced weight lifters, and gave them a 12-week, whole-body protocol to follow. While one group worked with lighter weights - up to 50 per cent of their maximum strength - for around 20 to 25 repetitions, the other men used weights up to 90 per cent of their maximum strength for eight to 12 repetitions. Both groups lifted until they could no longer muster the strength, then the researchers looked into muscle and blood samples. Gains in muscle mass and muscle fibre size, a measurement of strength, were virtually the same.
"Fatigue is the great equaliser here," Professor Stuart Phillips, lead author of the study from McMaster University, said. "Lift to the point of exhaustion and it doesn't matter whether the weights are heavy or light."
These findings are the latest in a long series, beginning in 2010, going against the common belief that lifting heavier weights is the best way to get muscular.
"At the point of fatigue, both groups would have been trying to maximally activate their muscle fibres to generate force," Professor Phillips added, noting it's an effective way to improve strength, tone up and improve health.
"For the 'mere mortal' who wants to get stronger, we've shown that you can take a break from lifting heavy weights and not compromise any gains. It's also a new choice which could appeal to the masses and get people to take up something they should be doing for their health."
Co-author Rob Morton also pointed out that testosterone had nothing to do with the muscle gain - another common mistake people assume.
"It's a complete falsehood that the short-lived rise in testosterone or growth hormone is a driver of muscle growth," Mr Morton said. "It's just time to end that kind of thinking."
Results were published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.