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Lifting lighter weights could still help build muscle strength

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A new report published in the Journal of Applied Physiology has challenged workout routines. The research has suggested that lifting lighter weights many times can be as efficient as lifting heavy weights for fewer repetitions.

This research is the latest in a series of studies which began in 2010. It contradicts previous thoughts that the best way to build muscle is by lifting heavy weights.

The senior author of the study, Stuart Phillips from McMaster University said,“Fatigue is the great equaliser here … Lift to the point of exhaustion and it doesn’t matter whether the weights are heavy or light.”

The researchers recruited two groups of men for the study. All participants of the study were experienced weightlifters, who followed a 12 week, whole-body workout.

Half the participants lifted lighter weights (up to 50% of maximum strength) for sets ranging from 20 to 25 repetitions. The other half lifted heavier weights (up to 90% of maximum strength) for eight to 12 repetitions. Both groups lifted to the point of failure.

Researchers then analysed muscle and blood samples. They found that gains in muscle mass and muscle fibre size, a key indicator of strength, were almost identical.

Phillips added, “At the point of fatigue, both groups would have been trying to maximally activate their muscle fibres to generate force.”

While the research team stressed that elite athletes were unlikely to adopt this new training regime, they concluded it was an effective way to increase strength and muscle and improve general health.

“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,” said Phillips. “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.” He added.

Another key finding from the study was that none of the strength or muscle growth were related to testosterone or growth hormones, which many believe are responsible for such gains.

Researchers suggested, that more work remains to be done in this area, including what underlying mechanisms are at work and in what populations this sort of programme works.

Source: Journal of Applied Physiology

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