With weights, you can lighten your load

One of the mantras of NMTBP is that weight training (also called muscle training or resistance training) is increasingly important to us as we grow older. Unfortunately another mantra of the weight training community, in fact one of its most dearly held, is that to build muscle, you have to ‘lift heavy’. In other words, you need to lift weights that are at, or near, your maximum in order to gain any real benefitĀ  in terms of muscle growth

Now, I don’t know about you, but for most people the thought of sitting underneath a 200 pound barbell is probably pretty terrifying. That’s why many people are put off weight training

But if you’re one of those people, there’s some good news. If you can’t lift heavy weights or they just scare you a little bit, recently published research suggests that lighter weights can have the same muscle building effect provided you do more repetitions (reps)

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

The key to muscle gain, say the researchers, from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, is working to the point of fatigue

“We found that loads that were quite heavy and comparatively light were equally effective at inducing muscle growth and promoting strength,” says Cam Mitchell, one of the lead authors of the study and a PhD candidate in the Department of Kinesiology. “Many older adults can have joint problems which would prevent them training with heavy loads,”continues Mitchell. “This study shows that they have the option of training with lighter and less intimidating loads and can still receive the benefits”

For the study, a series of experiments were conducted on healthy, young male volunteers to measure how their leg muscles reacted to different forms of resistance training over a period of 10 weeks

The researchers first determined the maximum weight each subject could lift once in a knee extension. Each subject was then assigned to a different training programme for each leg

The participants trained three times a week for 10 weeks doing one of three resistance training regimens: one set at 80 percent of maximum load; three sets at 80 percent of maximum load; or three sets at 30 percent of maximum load

After 10 weeks of training, three times per week, the heavy and light groups that lifted three sets saw significant gains in muscle volume — as measured by MRI — with no difference among the groups. Still, the group that used heavier weights for three sets developed a bit more strength

The group that trained for a single set showed approximately half the increase in muscle size seen in both the heavy and light groups

“The complexity of current resistance training guidelines may deter some people from resistance training and therefore from receiving the associated health benefits,” says Stuart Phillips, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and supervisor of the study. “Our study provides evidence for a simpler paradigm, where a much broader range of loads including quite light loads can induce muscle growth, provided it is lifted to the point where it is difficult to maintain good form”

Remember, though, even if you use lighter weights, you still have to push yourself to the point of fatigue

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