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Want to Build Muscle? Light Weights Will Do

Straining to Lift Heavy Weights Isn't Necessary to Put on Muscle, Researchers Say
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 13, 2010 -- Building muscle doesn’t require a lot of heavy lifting, just a lot of light weight lifting, a new study indicates.

Straining to lift very heavy weights isn’t the only way to pump up muscles, say researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Similar results can be achieved, they say, by lifting light weights a greater number of times.

The secret is simply to pump iron until muscle fatigue sets in, says Stuart Phillips, PhD, associate professor of kinesiology at McMaster.

“Rather than grunting and straining to lift heavy weights, you can grab something much lighter but you have to lift it until you can’t lift it any more,” Phillips says in a news release.

The Study Method

Researchers recruited 15 healthy men with an average age of 21. Each was told to lift light weights and heavy weights with varying repetitions.

The weights represented a percentage of their best or heaviest lift. Heavier weights were set to 90% of a man’s best lift, and light weights at 30%.

Phillips says weights set to 80% to 90% of a person’s best lift required five to 10 repetitions before fatigue set in. At 30%, it took at least 24 lifts before similar fatigue developed.

The researchers measured fatigue at the cellular level by examining results of muscle biopsies done 4 hours and 24 hours after workouts.

Similar amounts of protein used in muscle building were produced whether volunteers lifted at 90% of their maximums until they ran out of steam and when they lifted only 30% of their best until they could lift no more, the researchers say.

 

Straining Not Necessary

In short, the authors say, similar muscle mass can be built by using light weights as with heavier ones.

“We’re convinced that growing muscle means stimulating your muscle to make new muscle proteins, a process in the body that over time accumulates into bigger muscles,” Phillips says. “We’re excited to see where this new paradigm will lead.”

 

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