Well according to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, you don’t have to lift heavy weights to build muscle strength – that light weights can be just as effective at building muscle if you do it correctly. Plus, you’re much less prone to injury that way. So you might be able to lighten your load after all.
This is important news for people seeking to remain healthy and active we’ll into their later years because it makes the task of maintaining muscle tone far less daunting. While cardiovascular exercise is important, it’s simply not enough to maintain muscle mass – some resistance training is required.
So just how much light lifting do you have to do to meet the goal? Based on prior studies, about 30 percent of your maximum effort until you reach fatigue.
What preliminary research within McMaster University in Ontario showed was that conventional 80-percent-of-maximum, low-rep lifting verses 30-percent-of-maximum, high-rep lifting yielded the same amount of new proteins in muscles.
To prove this theory, researchers at McMaster University – including professor Stuart Phillips – took a group of 21-year-old men who considered themselves weight lifting ‘novices.’ And three times a week the men did knee extensions on a weight machine, since the quadriceps and front thigh were considered the most important muscles for standing up and getting out of a chair by researchers.
The group performed the conventional 80-percent-of-maximum lifts for about 8-10 reps on one leg. And with the other leg, they performed 30-percent-of-maximum lifts for closer to 25 reps.
Before and after the 10 week study, the researchers took MRI scans of all of the volunteers to measure their quadriceps, and there was essentially no difference between the heavy and light lifting legs.
Phillips said one of the major advantages of light weight lifting is that it’s easier on the joints, making it far less hazardous for elderly people. “Lifting lighter weights is one great way around that,” he says. Confident of the study’s results, Phillips has even modified his own exercise routine to accommodate lighter weights and higher reps.
This is good news for everyone in my opinion, not just the older population. Being a person who enjoys working out myself, heavy weight lifting has always been intimidating to me, and the cause for most of the injuries I’ve experienced as an athlete. But I think it’s important to reiterate that you still need to work out hard – just with lighter weights. Hopefully people who have formerly been put off from weight lifting find this study comforting, and are encouraged to get in the weight room and start experiencing the amazing benefits of weight training.