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The Benefits of Lifting Lighter Loads
It's a well-known fact: to see serious gains in strength, you have to lift heavy! Many trainers will recommend lifting VERY heavy loads--up to 90% of your 1-Rep Max weight--as the best way to improve your muscular power. But is that the only way to build strength? According to a meta-analysis of multiple studies from the journal Sports Medicine, lifting lighter loads can work as well...
The meta-analysis examined the results of 13 different studies, all of which looked at the effects of light weight resistance training on muscle strength and hypertrophy. Interestingly enough, the results of light resistance training were similar to heavy resistance training. Those who performed sets using 60% of their 1-Rep Max weight (the most amount of weight they can lift for one rep) saw overall strength gains similar to those who used 75 to 90% 1-Rep Max weight (heavy weight, low volume).
This comes as a big surprise, as most trainers agree that lifting heavy loads is the key to improving muscular strength, while lighter loads are the key to endurance. But, according to this meta-analysis, the two types of workouts can have similar results.
Brad Schoenfeld, author of the study, believes it has a lot to do with your fast twitch muscle fibers. These are the muscle fibers that are recruited when you lift heavy or perform explosive lifts, while lighter lifts engage the slow twitch muscle fibers. However, the more time your muscles are spent under tension (supporting the weight), the more ALL of the muscle fibers have to work together. This means that endurance training may focus more on the slow twitch muscle fibers, but they give the fast twitch muscle fibers a solid workout as well.
How does this benefit you? Simple: don't sweat it if you can't lift heavy loads! Lighter loads will do just fine.
Many people are unable to lift very heavy weights due to injuries, medical reasons, or musculoskeletal problems (joint pain, limited mobility, etc.). But even lifting light weight can benefit them, helping to increase their overall strength as well as their endurance. By lifting lighter weight, they can improve their fitness and still see gains in strength and muscle size. This is a wondrous discovery for those who have despaired at their inability to lift heavy weights, but who still want to get in good shape.
Even for those who are able to lift very heavy weights, this meta-analysis is an indication that it may be time to switch things up. If you only lift heavy weights, you will only work the fast twitch muscle fibers. Your slow twitch muscle fibers will not be developed, meaning you will have a lot of power but very little stamina. And you don't have to worry that switching over to light weight training is going to set back all the hard work you've invested into building raw power. As you can see, the training will keep improving your strength and building muscle mass.
Endurance training is definitely the key to improving your fitness overall. Not only does it help to build strength, but it forces your heart and lungs to work. It is excellent for your cardiovascular system, and will help you to last longer as you run, lift, and train. If you truly want to be an all-around fit person, endurance training is a vital component to mix into your workout. Even if you only perform a day or two of endurance training each week, you'll find that it can do wonders to help you get in much better shape. It can't hurt to try!