Although not the end goal for everyone, many individuals who attend the gym to undertake resistance training look to develop muscular mass and size.
Previously, there was a commonly held notion amongst many individuals that the more you lifted in terms of resistance, the more your muscles benefitted and ultimately the bigger you became in that target muscle region. Lifting big and heavy has always been and will always be vital to achieve strength gains but it might not be necessary for muscular size.
This article considers whether you really have to load up your resistance to enhance muscular hypertrophy or whether there are alternate methods to achieving size.
For those of you sat reading this and thinking, why not just lift as much as you possibly can for as many repetitions as you can, there is reasoning around this research. Lifting heavy weights can negatively impact on an individual. It places your muscles and joints under enormous amounts of stress and over a period of time can take its toll. It can also result in bad form and injury where you have to compromise the actual exercise action because the resistance is simply too heavy to maintain.
These are just a few consideration factors and limitations of lifting heavy, not to mention the safety aspect and the requirement for a spotter. Now if you could remove all of these limitations and still maintain the same size, by lifting lighter weights, wouldn’t you consider that as an alternative?
Previous research has revealed that this is a real possibility. During an investigation which compared groups lifting 90% of their 1 repetition maximum (RM) against those lifting just 30% of their 1RM revealed that muscular growth was dependant on lifting to failure not how heavy the resistance was.
The key it appears is working to complete failure with each set. The hypothesis behind this is no matter whether you lift light or heavy, as long as you reach a point where you simply can’t lift anymore then you can rest assured that full muscle fibre recruitment has taken place.
Maximal protein synthesis is achieved through working to failure and it doesn’t appear to matter how you get there, whether it be with a resistance of 90% or 30% of your 1RM.
It should be noted that although gains in size were similar between study groups, gains in strength were not. If you’re looking to develop pure strength then unfortunately you’re going to have to lift the big weights! For everyone else, it seems a viable alternative.
So what are your thoughts? Will your ego allow you to significantly drop the resistance to as little as 30%? Or is going to the gym and being seen to lift the most important to you?
If nothing else, this research has provided you with an alternative. If you’re currently injured or struggle with your form at a heavier resistance or simply can’t find someone to spot you then why not consider this and switch up your training methods today.
As long as you remember to lift to failure, then not a lot else really matters.