How much do you bench? Turns out the answer to this question may not be that important.
A new study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology suggests that lifting lighter weights more frequently is just as effective as lifting heavier weights.
Traditional weight training programs are designed to quickly achieve muscle exhaustion with heavy weights (e.g., bench pressing your body weight). However, pumping iron at the gym isn’t for everyone, including older adults whose balance and strength (and bravado) may not be what they once were.
This idea motivated researchers, including Stuart Phillips, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, to investigate the effects of a different type of weight training that involves lifting lighter weights more frequently.
Phillips split 49 healthy men into 2 groups, assigning each group a different weight lifting load. In the first group, the men were asked to lift loads between 75-90% of their one-repetition maximum. They continued to lift the weights until their muscles were exhausted (generally 10 reps).
In the second group, the men were asked to lift loads between 30-50% of their one-repetition maximum, and to continue until they couldn’t lift anymore (generally 25 reps). The two groups performed their weight lifting workout four times a week for a total of 12 weeks.
At the end of the 12 weeks, muscle strength, size and hormone levels were measured. There were no significant differences between the groups: all of the study participants had gained muscle strength as well as size.
However, what Phillips did observe is that the participants in both groups had to attain almost total muscular fatigue in order to increase muscle size and strength. In other words, the key to strength training isn’t about the weight you lift. It’s how tired your muscles get.
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