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Men and Women Pick Weights Too Light for Results, Study Shows

Sept. 17, 2004 -- When it comes to weightlifting, beginners may need to pump up their load.

In a recent study, male and female beginners chose weights that were too light to do them much good.

Stephen Glass, PhD, EPC, FACSM, of Grand Valley State University, and Douglas Stanton of Wayne State College, studied 13 men and 17 women.

All were weightlifting novices in their late teens or early 20s.

The researchers turned participants loose in a weight room with little guidance, telling them to choose a load they thought would "be sufficient to improve your muscular strength."

Participants didn't know how much weight they were lifting, since the weights' markings were covered with tape.

The group tried bench press (chest), leg press, pull-down (back), military press (shoulder), and bicep curl exercises.

They were also instructed to provide an overall rating of their degree of effort during the weight lifting exercises.

A few days later, they repeated the test.

Lightweight Results

All participants chose weights that were below the optimum amount.

To build muscle size and strength, weightlifters must hoist at least 60% of the maximum amount they can possibly handle, say the researchers. But in this study, no one lifted that much.

Instead, participants chose weights closer to their comfort zones, ranging from 40%-60% of their maximum ability. Studies have shown that loads under 60% are generally ineffective at increasing muscle strength.

Fighting for Fatigue

In addition, participants didn't do as many repetitions of the exercises as the researchers had expected.

Lifting to the point of exertion -- where you can't lift any more -- is required to for maximal strength training, say the researchers.

There was no macho advantage.

Both male and female participants chose weights that were too light, and both genders did fewer repetitions than the researchers expected.

Learning the Ropes

Many beginners find it hard to make up their own effective weightlifting routines.

Without pumping enough weight and working to the point of exertion, novices might quit from discouragement after seeing little progress, say the researchers.

That's not to suggest that beginners overdo it.

Instead, new weightlifters may want to seek help from knowledgeable trainers.

"The client can then be trained to perceive the effort required for effective resistance training, and perhaps then they will be better able to self-regulate their training," write the researchers.

The study appears in the May edition of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

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