August 11, 2010
Muscle Fatigue Key To Muscle Growth

The needed fatigue can be achieved by lifting lighter weights.

HAMILTON, ON. August 10, 2010 Current gym dogma holds that to build muscle size you need to lift heavy weights. However, a new study conducted at McMaster University has shown that a similar degree of muscle building can be achieved by using lighter weights. The secret is to pump iron until you reach muscle fatigue.

Pump it until you can't pump any longer. Lighter weights require more repetitions to reach fatigue. So one argument for heavier weights is speed of the work-out. Though you can go thru each repetition with lighter weights more rapidly.

"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 anymore," says Stuart Phillips, associate professor of kinesiology at McMaster University. "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."

You can read the full study on Plos One.

What do any intense weight-lifters think of this result?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 August 11 10:56 PM  Aging Exercise Studies

Chris Highcock said at August 11, 2010 11:25 PM:

Intense lifters have been chewing this over for a while :

Chris Highcock said at August 11, 2010 11:27 PM:

Intense lifters have been chewing this over for a while :

Basil Ransom said at August 11, 2010 11:41 PM:

Randall, the problem with many of these weight lifting studies is that the samples are novices. Doing any sort of program is going to effect results in a novice, and what effects results for someone in the novice stage may well cease to be optimal 6 or 12 weeks into training. And the sample sizes are small, and the range of rep schemes and exercises small as well.

See , and for meta-analytical studies of the most effective strength training schemes.

Matthew said at August 12, 2010 7:14 AM:

I second Basil's opinion about novices. One factor in fatigue is how many sets is performed. It appears novices need less sets than experienced bodybuilders (6 months to a 1 yr of training). It gets more complicated, however, though genetic factors. After all, we each have different responses to weightlifting yet these studies are the average results of different gene networks.

None the less, the major factor to increased strength and size is stamina not method. A novice that exercises intermittently will see much poorer results than someone who is committed. The primary factor is time spent lifting. Most novices stay novices. (I am such an example!)

Nat said at August 12, 2010 8:00 AM:

Most experienced and successful bodybuilders will incorporate both higher rep/less rest workouts while dieting down for bodybuilding shows. Super sets, giant sets, drop sets are all used for intensity and will contribute to muscle hypertrophy. Off/pre-competitive season usually includes heavier compound movements (bench, squat, dead lift) with less reps, more weight and more rest between sets.
Most successful bodybuilders/strength athletes report that heavy lifting will add muscle size,thickness and maximal strength that lighter weight/higher reps can't deliver.

Jim said at August 12, 2010 10:08 AM:

The Penn State workout (goes by other names now I understand) has promoted pretty much the same philosophy used for 20+ years (developed as a smarter way for football players to build muscle faster).
It's all about working to muscle failure, but in a smart way.

General rule being muscle failure at 8 or so repetitions (your muscle failure for that given weight should occur around 8), then drop down each set to a lower weight, still trying to keep around 8 reps for a given lesser weight, until you are down to around 5 pounds causing muscle failure.

Pretty much the same concept though you still need to be smart at what is light for you relatively speaking. Lifting 1 pound 1000 times would be a bit counter productive...

I think this particularly study just dumbs down what Penn Stated did for football decades ago, making it even easier for the newbie lifter to comprehend. Heaven forbid we ask people to "think" about their method--- instead this study just says, "pump, pump, pump that light weight till you drop--- no thinking necessary."

Zach said at August 12, 2010 1:33 PM:

Well blimey. Chris from Conditioning Research is a fan of Future Pundit, as well. Awesome, I'm glad I'm in good company along with Randall. Good dig, too, Chris, of that Bass article, sums it up nicely to go along with this post.

bbartlog said at August 12, 2010 8:05 PM:

Makes some sense. However if I felt like I was going to actually need to use the full strength of the muscles I was building - say, I'm a UFC competitor and not just trying to look buff - then I'd lean towards using as heavy a weight as practical. The reasoning is that other parts of the body (tendons, ligaments, bone) also need to hold up under the strain, and they may need higher levels of stress (microtrauma or what have you) in order to strengthen in response to training. Also efficiency of the workout really is a pretty big deal if you're doing a whole-body workout; it does take multiple hours per week and cutting down on that when possible will free up a lot of hours over time.

Anonymous said at August 13, 2010 7:55 AM:

High-intensity training might still be necessary to build bone density. Bones can be remarkably treacherous, especially to females and old people, but most of the time they respond best to explosive high stresses just below the limit of causing too many microscopic fractures.

Brett Bellmore said at August 13, 2010 7:32 PM:

It occurs to me that the higher reps, lower weight approach *might* be better for gaining some aerobic benefit at the same time. Getting tired out at the same time the muscle gets tired...

What I'd like an answer to is this: At the moment I've got a testosterone level of about 40, and that isn't allowed to change until this fall. (Prostate cancer surgery last year, no testosterone until I've gone a year with zero PSA.) What should I be doing *now* in the way of exercise? Aside from spending a couple hours a day walking...

Mthson said at August 13, 2010 9:34 PM:

Interesting discussion. BTW, does anybody recommend any safe performance enhancers for putting on muscle? I'd be interested in the opinion of FuturePundit readers.

caballarius said at August 15, 2010 8:30 PM:

Aerobics are a waste of time and even Cooper says guys over 50 need to lift. Start lifting using HIT protocols, such as set forth in "Body by Science" by Doug McGuff MD. He advocates lifting heavy and slow, but this McMaster study shows it doesn't matter; I actually vary the lifting cadence and the load from workout to workout. Just go balls to the wall failure on each set. One set is all you need of each exercise, once a week. Takes 10-20 minutes. I'm 54, have PCa, and I've got a better physique than 90% of the 30 year olds out there. Don't wait on getting off the T scavengers, start now.

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