Building muscles with low loads? Train them to failure
If you do strength training, you can build just as much muscle mass with relatively light weights as with relatively large weights. At least if you do sets to failure, sports scientists at the University of Sao Paulo write in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
For 8 weeks, the researchers got 25 male students to train their thigh muscles on a leg extension machine twice a week. The men trained their legs separately. The researchers were therefore able to experiment with 50 thighs and divided the 50 thighs into 4 different groups.
The researchers got the first group of thighs to train to failure with 80 percent of the load with which just 1 rep was possible [HL-RF]. The men did an average of 12 reps per set.
The researchers got the second group of thighs to train not to failure with 80 percent of the load with which just 1 rep was possible [HL-RNF]. The men did an average of 7 reps per set.
The researchers got the third set of thighs to train to failure with 30 percent of the load which with just 1 rep was possible [LL-RF]. The men did an average of 34 reps per set.
The researchers got the fourth set of thighs to train not to failure with 30 percent of the load which with just 1 rep was possible [LL-RF]. The men did an average of 2- reps per set.
By having the thighs in the not to failure groups be trained with do additional sets, the researchers ensured that the training volume of the to failure and not to failure groups was the same.
Strength training with relatively heavy weights [HL] resulted in a greater increase in muscle strength than strength training with relatively small weights [LL]. It did not matter whether the subjects trained their muscles to failure [RF] or halted their set before the failure point [RNF].
As for muscle mass, the picture was a bit more complex. When the men trained to failure with relatively heavy weights, they built up just as much muscle mass as when the men did not train to failure with relatively heavy weights. Exercising with relatively small weights was just as effective - if the thigh nuscles had been trained to failure.
"We propose that a high level of effort is required to elicit hypertrophic adaptations in low-load resistance training in beginners, even matched with total training volume," the researchers summarize their findings. They emphasize that their subjects were untrained when the trial began.
J Strength Cond Res. 2019 Dec 27. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003454. Online ahead of print.
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