You CAN build muscle with light weights...
I had to re-read this research multiple times to wrap my head around it.
After all, I love lifting heavy things...it's my idea of fun.
And naturally, when you think about building muscle, you think about lifting heavy weights, right?
Well, after reading a number of articles and research on this idea, I've come to the conclusion that yes...light weights can actually be just as good, if not better (in some ways), than heavy weights for building muscle.
This is one of the research papers on building muscle with light weight that surprised me.
Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men., by noted exercise scientist, Brad Schoenfeld (et al).
Here's a summary of the results, taken from the abstract (I'll break it down for you below as well). In this study, Low Load was a weight that allowed 25-35 reps. High Load was 8-12 reps.
"Both HL and LL conditions produced significant increases in thickness of the elbow flexors (5.3 vs. 8.6%, respectively), elbow extensors (6.0 vs. 5.2%, respectively), and quadriceps femoris (9.3 vs. 9.5%, respectively), with no significant differences noted between groups.
Improvements in back squat strength were significantly greater for HL compared with LL (19.6 vs. 8.8%, respectively), and there was a trend for greater increases in 1 repetition maximum (1RM) bench press (6.5 vs. 2.0%, respectively).
Upper body muscle endurance (assessed by the bench press at 50% 1RM to failure) improved to a greater extent in LL compared with HL (16.6 vs. -1.2%, respectively).
These findings indicate that both HL and LL training to failure can elicit significant increases in muscle hypertrophy among well-trained young men; however, HL training is superior for maximizing strength adaptations."
The key takeaways from this study...
1. Both High Load and Low Load training were about equally effective for building muscle mass.
2. The study used well-trained subjects, not untrained subjects, making it actually appropriate for experienced lifters to draw conclusions from.
3. High Load results in greater strength gains than Low Load (not surprising due to trainnig specificity).
What this means beyond the raw data...
In further reading I've done on the subject, the reason suggested for this effect is that muscle growth is due to effort you put in at the END of the set, regardless of the resistance used (to a degree) and how many reps it takes you to get there.
In other words, hitting failure after 25 reps can just as effective for stimulating muscle growth as hitting failure after 8 reps. The key is how hard you push at the end of the set.
The practical upshot of this is that the weights you use for 25 reps sets are MUCH lighter than for 8 rep sets, making the training easier on the nervous system, the hormonal systems and the connective tissue, which will be faster to recover from.
As well, because you're using lighter weight, it's easier to maintain good form, which means more effective targeting of the muscle.
I find this concept absolutely fascinating.
Because it shows proof that you CAN build muscle very effectively with light weights.
What's the best way to put this concept to work and acutally build some serious muscle while using light weights?
You could very easily put together a workout based on very high rep sets and see good results, taking advantage of this concept.
That being said, though, the program I've been talking about for the past few days (Anabolic Reload by Steve Holman), targets this concept EXACTLY, and it's put together with an eye towards more effective muscle activation.
This is the Positions of Flexion concept I've talked about in the past, where you perform exercises that focus on the stretch position (i.e. an incline curl), the mid-range position (where the tension is greatest about halfway through the exercise, like in a standing barbell curl), and the peak contraction position (e.g. a concentration curl).
It's awesome stuff and I use this concept a lot in my own training.
So when you put a POF muscle-activation template on top of light-weight style training (which Steve calls STX Sets...a powerful combination of rest-pause training and "add" sets instead of "drop" sets), you get a potent combination that increases anabolism WITHOUT overly taxing your recovery mechanisms.
What if you love lifting heavy weight?
This program is all about lifting light weights...and it works...but you don't have to do this program forever.
If you're coming off a cycle of heavy training, this is the PERFECT way to give your body a break (joints, nervous system, etc.) while still building muscle mass.
You don't have to give up lifting heavy. Personally, I love lifting heavy things and I'm not going to stop.
But being SMART about lifting heavy is important, meaning you shouldn't keep beating yourself down all the time.
That's where a program like this comes into play and can be very useful for extending your training longevity.
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