Archive for the tag - high reps

New Study: Light Weights Good for Building Muscle, Too?

Conventional wisdom holds that heavy weights and 7 - 12 reps is best for muscle growth - but a new study suggests that light weights and high reps works, too.

So you’re trying to build muscle? Great.

If you ask any personal trainer about the number of repetitions of each exercise that you should perform, the trainer would most likely advise you to target somewhere between 7 and 12 reps until you experience muscle fatigue. In other words, you’ll be using a heavy weight for a fairly low number of repetitions.

A new study suggests that there’s another way to build muscle – and it flies in the face of conventional wisdom. According to the study, performing light weights for a high number of repetitions until fatigue also results in similar muscle growth.

For the study, researchers calculated the maximum load for each individual and then broke the participants into one of three groups as follows:

  1. Exercisers perform one set at 80% of the maximum load until fatigue, or
  2. Exercisers perform three sets at 80% of the maximum until fatigue, or
  3. Exercisers perform three sets at 30% of the maximum until fatigue.

Performing sets at 80% of the maximum load usually results in rep ranges of 7 – 12. Training at 30% of the maximum load, on the other, results in much higher rep ranges of 25 – 30.

According to their data, participants in groups 2 and 3 gained the same amount of muscle mass. In other words, training with heavy weights and low reps resulted in the same muscle growth as light weights and high reps. Notably, participants in group 2 – whose training most closely mimics conventional muscle building strategies – resulted in larger strength gains than group 3. Participants in group 1 experienced approximately half the muscle growth as groups 2 and 3.

Because group 2 exercisers experience increased gains in strength, rep ranges of 7 – 12 are still ideal. And, fewer reps means less time at the gym – so lower rep ranges with heavy weights make for a more efficient workout.

But because lower repetition ranges require heavy amounts of resistance, they can be intimidating for beginners. Moreover, heavy amounts of resistance can prevent people with joint issues – and, in particular, older populations – from utilizing the heavy resistance/low rep training strategy.

The implication of this study is obvious: Don’t let current strength training guidelines deter you from lifting weights and thus receiving the associated health benefits. If the heavy levels of resistance associated with lower rep ranges is a limiting factor for you, this new research suggests that light loads can also yield great results.

High Reps / Low Weight Vs. Low Reps / High Weight.

Which is better: Light weights and high reps or heavy weights and low reps? Well, it depends on your goals.

But first things first, let’s define low and high reps. A “rep” is one repetition of an exercise. For example, if you do three push-ups, you just performed 3 reps. Low reps are anywhere from the 6 to 10 range – that is, performing 6 – 10 push-ups, presses, curls, etc. High reps are anything including and above 10, usually the 10 to 15 range.

High Reps / Low Weight

Some trainers (i.e., Tracey Anderson) are big fans of using light weights performed at high reps. The truth is, it depends on the goals of the client. If you can curl a dumbbell 15 times, for example, the weight is generally too light to actually break down your muscle fibers. It is the body’s repairing of muscle fibers that builds muscle – so high reps will do little to increase muscle mass. On the other hand, high reps will get your heart pumping and a cardio effect occurs and you’ll burn calories and fat. In addition, high reps build muscle endurance which helps muscles work under stress. If you’re training for a triathlon, for example, high reps and light weights could be very useful. 10 – 15 is generally considered high rep.

Low Reps / High Weight

Lifting heavier weights at lower reps is the best method for building muscle mass. Increased muscle mass boosts metabolism and heavier lifting increases bone strength. There a lot of great benefits here, but again, it depends on the goals of the client. In general, you should select a weight that fatigues your muscles (in other words, you can’t do one more rep) in 6 – 10 repetitions.

The bottom line: Which is better? It depends on your goals. If you want to build muscle endurance and get some cardio, then high reps of low weights are for you. If you’re looking to increase your muscle mass, boost your metabolism and strengthen your bones, low reps of higher weights are your cup of tea.

Questions? Leave ’em in the comments, below.