Article last updated: March 2019 by Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer
Since 2013 I’ve recommended training with lighter weights and higher reps to induce muscle hypertrophy.
This stirred up a lot of negative comments from people in the heavy barbell strength training camp (starting strength, stronglifts 5×5 etc) who believe that you need to lift heavy to gain muscle mass.
Recently, I came across a 2016 study that supports what I’ve been saying for years.
Here’s the link to the study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4967245/
49 men who trained consistently for over 2 years performed 4 full body training sessions per week.
Each training session consisted of 5 exercises performed for 3 sets to muscular failure.
Subjects were randomly allocated into a higher-repetition (HR) group who lifted loads of ∼30-50% of their maximal strength (1RM) for 20–25 repetitions/set (n = 24) or a lower-repetition (LR) group (∼75–90% 1RM, 8–12 repetitions/set, n = 25), with all sets being performed to volitional failure.
DEXA body-composition scans and 1 rep max strength tests were performed after 12 weeks of training.
Our data show that in resistance-trained individuals, load, when exercises are performed to volitional failure, does not dictate hypertrophy or, for the most part, strength gains.
Here are the implications of this study:
- As long as you train with a load that’s 30% of your max or higher and go to muscular failure, you will achieve optimal muscle gains.
- Since lower weights put much less wear on your joints, you should base most of your training around lower loads and higher reps. (Why High Volume Training Is The Best Training System For Skinny-Fat Guys)
- To achieve maximum size you need to train across a variety of rep ranges. I have my clients train all the way from 6-20 reps.
Be proud but stay hungry!
Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer