Light is the New Heavy?

Light is the New Heavy?

Most people think that they only way to build muscle is by sticking to the old 3-4 sets, 10-12 reps standard. And for the most part that does work very well. Even for the NAFC PT courses, and most of our strength training courses we teach that as well, following the ACSM principles of 70-85% 1RM.

lighter-weightsHowever, science is always moving forward and exercise science is a HUGE interest in this modern age of irons, so it is interesting that recently the Journal of Applied Physiology published a study where participants made SIGNIFICANT muscle and strength gains using only around 30% of their reported 1RMs.

Using 49 experienced men all in their 20’s, they were split into two different groups. Group A trained with 3 sets of 8–12 reps using 75–90% of 1RM, while Group B did 3 sets of 20–25 reps with 30–50% 1RM.

The results were astounding. Both groups were discovered to have increases in muscle, and an increase on their Bench Press 1RM (albeit the heavy group reported a small % more).

There have a slo been a few more studies that have also shown that lighter weight training, accompanied with higher reps can increase strength and muscle mass, but we won’t go over each one.

Why could this be? One theory says that it is the Time Under Tension that matters most, and the higher reps groups just were doing more TUT. Other ideas are that as both groups did go to failure there may be some signalling within the muscle cell to grow as the signal is fairly identical within the cell.

The moral of the story here is be open to the ideas that there are more than one way to get results, and this study could also be applied to clients with injuries, beginner clients, and older clients or clients worn down from extensive years of lifting. Even iron legends like Lou Ferrigno, Arnold, and Frank Zane report using lighter weights in their workouts, and just finding ways to make them feel heavier (TUT anyone?).

Just be careful with taking clients to complete failure, maybe leave at least 1 rep in the tank.

  • It should also be noted that both groups took whey protein twice a day, so open that tub of whey.

Written by Ror Alexander