For the average bodybuilder, it’s a well-known fact that lifting heavier weights is the way to gain strength and size. The heavier you lift, the more raw power you build, and the more muscle mass you develop as a result. But what do you do if you’ve been lifting heavy weights and you’ve reached a plateau, when you’re no longer seeing gains in strength and size? How can you overcome it? We’ve got a simple secret: lift lighter weights.
The Science Behind It
In a new study, it was discovered that the amount of weight you lift will not affect either strength gains or muscle growth differently. Lifting light weights yielded the same overall results as lifting heavier weights.
Over the course of a 12-week training period, almost 50 men were divided into two groups. One group lifted heavy, while the other lifted light. They all trained to volitional failure, meaning they pushed their muscles as hard as they could before they reached muscular fatigue.
At the end of the study, the researchers examined the men to determine what differences there were between the two groups. The only noticeable difference was in their bench press ability–the heavy-lifting group’s Bench Press increased about 30% more than the light-lifting group. But, other than that, there were no significant differences in their muscle size, electrical activity, and hormone concentrations. Lean body mass increased equally in both groups, meaning both groups saw the same benefits in terms of fat loss and muscle building. Both groups gained 2.4 pounds of muscle over the 12-week study. The result: lifting heavy and light can lead to the same outcome.
What Does This Mean For You?
If your goal is to build strength and muscle, you don’t always have to lift at your maximum possible weight. In fact, it’s recommended that you lighten your load every once in a while to give your body a break. Now, thanks to this study, we know that even those lighter loads can lead to the same results in terms of strength and size as you would see lifting heavy.
Not only will the lighter loads give your joints and bones a break, but they will help you to hit the muscle fibers you don’t recruit when lifting very heavy weights for sets of very few reps. You can enhance your endurance effectively, all while building strength. You’ll find that the results will be the same, just with less burden on your bones and joints.
But remember: you MUST train to failure! That is the key to seeing the same results you would achieve lifting heavier weights. That means you need to push yourself to hit those 20 to 25 reps, even if your muscles are burning. You have to keep lifting until your muscles reach failure, and that’s when you know it’s time to pause and rest for a minute or two. If you have to raise the weight slightly, so be it. Just make sure you’re reaching muscular failure–and even pushing one or two sets more, if possible.
Isn’t it comforting to know you don’t always have to be lifting 75 to 90% of your 1-Rep Max weight? If your body is telling you it needs a break from very heavy lifting, give it a break. Lower your weight to 30 to 50% of your 1-Rep Max, but perform sets of 20 to 25 reps. It will still give your muscles the same effective workout, but you’ll change up the way your muscle fibers are recruited, thus making you fitter overall!