New research seems to show light weights work at least as well
PLoS ONE: Low-Load High Volume Resistance Exercise Stimulates Muscle Protein Synthesis More Than High-Load Low Volume Resistance Exercise in Young Men
Here's a summary:
Building Muscle Doesn't Require Lifting Heavy Weights, Study Shows
ScienceDaily (Aug. 12, 2010) — Current gym dogma holds that to build muscle size you need to lift heavy weights. However, a new study conducted at McMaster University has shown that a similar degree of muscle building can be achieved by using lighter weights. The secret is to pump iron until you reach muscle fatigue.
"Rather than grunting and straining to lift heavy weights, you can grab something much lighter but you have to lift it until you can't lift it anymore," says Stuart Phillips, associate professor of kinesiology at McMaster University. "We're convinced that growing muscle means stimulating your muscle to make new muscle proteins, a process in the body that over time accumulates into bigger muscles."
Phillips praised lead author and senior Ph.D. student Nicholas Burd for masterminding the project that showed it's really not the weight that you lift but the fact that you get muscular fatigue that's the critical point in building muscle. The study used light weights that represented a percentage of what the subjects could lift. The heavier weights were set to 90% of a person's best lift and the light weights at a mere 30% of what people could lift. "It's a very light weight," says Phillips noting that the 90-80% range is usually something people can lift from 5-10 times before fatigue sets in. At 30%, Burd reported that subjects could lift that weight at least 24 times before they felt fatigue.
"We're excited to see where this new paradigm will lead," says Phillips, adding that these new data have practical significance for gym enthusiasts but more importantly for people with compromised skeletal muscle mass, such as the elderly, patients with cancer, or those who are recovering from trauma, surgery or even stroke.
The common element of both studies is not "muscle fatigue", but "muscle failure" - there's a difference. The latter is more clearly defined and essentially means that you perform an exercise until it's no longer physically possible for you to perform another repetition.
It's certainly nice to know that you can get similar results with more repetitions / higher durations at least in relatively untrained persons or especially the elderly/weak, whom you would have great difficulty getting to move heavy weights. But I think that as you progress, you may need to move towards using heavier weights and fewer repetitions. Check out reference study #52:
Twitch contractile adaptations are not dependent o... [Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1990] - PubMed result
" were determined in six healthy but very sedentary subjects before and after 16 weeks of isometric training"
There are a lot of studies out there which are based on test subjects which are basically untrained. For those people, most types of training will lead to improvement. A study is much more significant if it is based on subjects who either have som basic training, or which are sufficiently randomized in terms of progress and body type - but of course the latter would be much more expensive, since it would have to involve much more subjects.
It may be the case for muscle BUILDING - however, STRENGTH is very different.
Sounds like the comparison of hypertrophy vs. functionality.
Who wants a fancy Ferrari with the engine of a Lada? Who wants big muscle with no strength?
I would rather have muscle endurance and strength, which is why I do a combination of both types of lifting. I want to be strong but be able to go long time :-)!!
It's not even the same type of muscle. Those researchers should probably note that.
Originally Posted by Bissen
Well, I guess I could do 100 curls with a 3 lb weight and gain muscle, but why would I want to? I'd be at it all damn day. I'd much rather spend 5 minutes lifting something heavy than 20 minutes lifting something light.
The appeal of light weights for me is the lower risk of injury. I have been injured with heavy weights. I cannot do loaded squats at all (I have studied the technique recommended, and I do not think that it is a problem with my technique). I've also been injured doing bench presses. I have never been injured with light weights.
I went through a period of using nothing but high reps to failure on light weights, years ago, and found it improved my strength. I also went through a period of using very heavy weights (<6 reps). I personally found that the very heavy weights produced the most rapid gains in strength, but again, it was not worth the risk to me. I also experienced greater soreness the next day.
I am not at all convinced that you can get muscle growth without some corresponding increase in strength or power, but it might well be true that you get greater increases in strength with very heavy weights.
As far as time spent is concerned, I don't think that number of reps is very important in terms of time. You can just do the reps faster. There is some scientific evidence that faster movements (at least on the contractions) produce faster improvements in strength than slower movements, although this is still in controversy and might (like all this stuff) vary enormously from one person to another. I myself have done the standard contraction speed, "superslow," and fast contractions, and the one that seemed to produce the fewest benefits was superslow. That's just anecdotal impression, however, and it could well be wrong even for me.
Thanks to MikeEnRegalia for the scientific article.
I don't think it is the same - doing a lot of reps with light weight and doing a few reps with heavy weight. It works different muscle fibers. I think both strength and endurance are 1 - a good thing and 2 - necessary.
For me 6 sets of pyramiding up in weight and for reps, then back down in weight for higher reps, works well for both strength and endurance. Plus the intensity level stays high!
40 reps lightest weight
6 reps heaviest weight
15 reps/to failure
25 reps/to failure
Um - EVERYBODY in the strength world already knows you can build muscle "mass" by using light weights and high reps. It is pretty bizarre that anyone even thinks this is news. That is basic textbook info - it is what people do to build muscle size, from "The Situation" to ALL bodybuilders.
The question is - can you increase your LIMIT STRENGTH (1RM) substantially using 30% 1Rm for high reps to failure? And how does the result change across study participant fitness levels? That is the only interesting question, which this study of course does not address.
These studies are so poor it really is shocking - I mean basic research methods. And a year of research methods ought to be a basic job req for any journalist. Just shoddy.