Being the big guy in the gym doesn’t always mean lifting the heaviest weights. A new study from McMaster University in Canada has shown that lifting lighter weights is just as effective for building muscle as lifting heavy ones.
Researchers say the key is to get your muscles just as tired as they would with heavier weights by lifting lighter weights for more repetitions.
“Fatigue is the great equaliser here,” said Stuart Phillips, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University. “Lift to the point of exhaustion, and it doesn’t matter whether the weights are heavy or light.”
A study involving 49 experienced weight lifters were divided into two groups and were required to perform a strength-training workout four days a week for 12 weeks. Between the two groups, body scans revealed similar improvements in the amount of lean muscle mass in their bodies, size of their muscle fibres and improvement in muscle strength.
The first group lifted lighter weights (30-50 per cent of the maximum weight the individuals could lift), for 20-25 repetitions per set for three sets. The second group lifted heavier weights (between 75-90 per cent of the maximum weight people could lift) for 8-12 repetitions per set.
At the conclusion of the study, researchers were able measure strength by the changes in muscle fibre size and muscle mass through muscle tissue samples and body scans provided by the participants.
Although elite athletes won’t all be jumping at once to change their workout regimes based on new finding, the study has implications for those that aren’t experienced weight lifters or the "average joe" who wants to increase mass strength.
“For the ‘mere mortal’ who wants to get stronger, we’ve shown that you can take a break from lifting heavy weights and not compromise any gains, “ Phillips said. “It’s also a new choice, which could appeal to the masses and get people to take up something they should be doing for their health”.