A Brazilian study may have found the answer to a common dilemma in the fitness world. Here’s what to know
The dilemma is ancient and afflicts all fans of bodybuilding and strength training: it is more effective to train with a load less and make a greater number of repetitionsor is a heavier load and fewer reps preferable? A recent study may have an answer that will satisfy both sides…
Some Brazilian scientists have discovered that different approaches to training of muscle strengtheningFocusing on high loads and low reps or low loads and high reps both lead to the same muscle growth.
Weight versus reps
A team of researchers from the State University of Campinas in Brazil divided 18 volunteers into two groups, each of which followed a regimen of training different resistant. The first group performed high-load exercises with fewer repetitions, lifting up to 80% of their body weight. The second group they performed low-load exercises with higher repetitions, lifting a maximum of 30% of their body weight, but repeating the exercises until their muscles could take no more.
After 8 weeks, the researchers measured changes in the body composition of the participants. They collected blood samples before, during and after each training session, looking for any metabolites that would indicate muscle growth. Subsequently they measured how much muscle each person had were activated by surface electromyography. The result? Despite different training regimes, both groups showed no difference in performance muscle growth or in metabolic stress. “It’s still not entirely clear whether the key to muscle hypertrophy is the load or the number of repetitions. Our study shows that both types have the same effect,” he explains Renato Barroso, professor at the School of Physical Education of the University of Campinas (Brazil). Although muscle activation was greater in the group that lifted heavier weights, metabolic stress was in fact similar in the two groups. “The resemblance of metabolic responses suggests that both types of training may act on the same pathways to induce hypertrophy.”
The researchers also analyzed the changes in the metabolites in the participants’ blood, both during and after exercise. But they found few differences between groups. Some correlation probably arose from the muscle fibers activated by both training protocols and the metabolic demands required by each exercise. “Some of the metabolites studied come from anaerobic energy systems and are produced by glycolysis (breakdown of glucose) in the muscles or from the breakdown of creatine and phosphocreatine, which provide enough energy to maintain exercise intensity for a few seconds. Asparagine and acetoacetate are mainly associated with Krebs cyclewhich uses oxygen and nutrients such as fats, proteins and carbohydrates to produce energy for the muscles and lasts much longer,” comments Barroso.
differences between weight and repetitions
According to Brazilian researchers, the high load in the first training group it mainly activated type 2 muscle fibers, because these fibers have “low oxidative activity but high glycolytic activity and may be more responsive to hypertrophy than type 1 fibers. On the other hand, low-load training, which has more repetitions, mainly activates type 1 fiberswhich have low glycolytic capacity and high oxidative capacity, and are highly resistant to fatigue.”
In short, if the goal of a muscle-strengthening program is hypertrophy, research shows that it is high loads with fewer reps than low loads with many repetitions they can be equally effective. Although they activate muscles differently, both approaches produce the same gains in muscle mass. And while more research is needed to confirm the Brazilian researchers’ deductions, the study could shed new light on the usefulness of including variations in volume and intensity when designing a strength-training program.
03 June 2023
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