New research challenges traditional workout with heavy weights
New research challenges traditional workout with heavy weights

New research challenges traditional workout with heavy weights

New study from McMaster University shows lifting lighter weights many times is as efficient as lifting heavy weights fewer times..

Professor Stuart Phillips, lead author of the study said: ‘Fatigue is the great equalizer here.

‘Lift to the point of exhaustion and it doesn’t matter whether the weights are heavy or light.’

The new findings are the latest from a series of studies that started in 2010, contradicting the decades-old message that the best way to build muscle is to lift heavy weights.

Scientists recruited two groups of men for the study–all of them experienced weight lifters–who followed a 12-week, whole-body protocol. One group lifted lighter weights (up to 50 per cent of maximum strength) for sets ranging from 20 to 25 repetitions. The other group lifted heavier weights (up to 90 per cent of maximum strength) for eight to 12 repetitions. Both groups lifted to the point of failure.

Researchers analyzed muscle and blood samples and found gains in muscle mass and muscle fibre size, a key measure of strength, were virtually identical.

“At the point of fatigue, both groups would have been trying to maximally activate their muscle fibres to generate force,” says Phillips, who conducted the work with graduate students and co-authors Rob Morton and Sara Oikawa.

While researchers stress that elite athletes are unlikely to adopt this training regime, it is an effective way to get stronger, put on muscle and generally 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,” says Phillips. “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.”

Another key finding was that none of the strength or muscle growth were related to testosterone or growth hormone, which many believe are responsible for such gains.

“It’s a complete falsehood that the short-lived rise in testosterone or growth hormone is a driver of muscle growth,” says Morton. “It’s just time to end that kind of thinking.”

Scientists suggest, however, that more work remains to be done in this area, including what underlying mechanisms are at work and in what populations does this sort of program work.


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    1. While the research shows the results are comparable – why would you want to spend your time lifting 10 times more reps with lighter weights – when you can get the same result for less time with heavier weights? Next study: the effects of boredom on lighter-weight lifters LOL

    2. Seems to me I remember hearing a podcast recently, where Pavel Tsatsouline mentioned the “50% of maximum strength” workout as having been employed by Soviet powerlifters with great success in the 1980’s, as directed by Soviet sports medicine back then. Funny how its only now coming to light now in the west.

    3. Figured this stuff out years ago. Am now 64 and
      in great shape. Less weight, less chance of tearing
      something. Also, one day on, one day off gives the
      muscle a break. Or 5 on 2 off. Which ever suites
      the individual, just remember, it takes time and

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