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Heavy Resistance Vs. Light Resistance In Building Muscle

It’s one of the most controversial questions in the gym, which is better: lifting very heavy weights a few times, or lifting lighter weights longer?
In other words, which is better for building muscle – heavy resistance or light resistance? First of all the terminology needs to be defined.

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Resistance Training – This is where muscle is built up by subjecting them to resistance. The weights actually cause microscopic damage to the muscles. This is called “catabolism.” When the muscles repair themselves, the muscles are regenerated and grow stronger. This is termed as “anabolism.” This is where the term “anabolic steroids” comes from.

Heavy Resistance Training – Heavy resistance training is lifting weights so heavy that the maximum amount of times this can be done is 6-10 times before the ‘fail’, i.e. when you can’t lift any more.

Low Resistance Training – This is where the weights are lighter and therefore cause less resistance. These can be lifted for a much longer time before the fail. A general rule would be that the fail occurs around 90 seconds after the first lift.

Which Is More Effective – Heavy Resistance Or Low Resistance? 

There are different schools on which is better. In the last few years there have been various studies into which is more effective in building muscle – heavy resistance training and low resistance training. These studies indicate that low resistance training can be more effective in building muscle mass than heavy resistance training.  The key is in how resistance training affects protein synthesis, anabolic signaling, and gene expression. The participants were asked to engage in sessions of heavy resistance and then in low resistance exercises.

In the heavy resistance training, participants were asked to lift 80kg for as much as they could do. The average was 5 times. The other group had to lift around 28kg for as much as they could do. The average was around 24 times. What the study showed was that, in total, the ones who had the low resistance program lifted a total of 1073kg as opposed to 710kg in the heavy resistance program.  Another factor was protein synthesis. This is what causes muscles to grow and the process continues after resistance training. Therefore, what happens in the muscles after resistance training is just as important as the actual amount of lifting. The study showed that just after the training, the protein synthesis was similar. However, it showed that 4 hours after training the protein synthesis in those who engaged in low resistance training was higher and after 12 hours significantly higher.  These results suggest that low resistance training is more effective in building muscle than high resistance training.

Heavy Resistance Training And Low Resistance Training

Although low resistance training has shown to be a very effective way of building muscle, it should be remembered that heavy resistance training does have its place. However, overall there are many benefits of low resistance training.  It has to be noted that that weight and length of time are mutually exclusive. That means that the heavier the weight, the less time you are able to lift. The lighter the weight, then the longer you can train with these.

Resistance Training Works

There are multiple benefits to resistance training – whether that is low resistance or high resistance. It has been proved that resistance training can help lower blood pressure, improve the body’s metabolism and build bone strength – even in the elderly.  The amount of lifting is determined by each individual and should be gradually increased over time if muscle gain is the goal.

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