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Gaining Muscle: Challenging the Training Norm

The department of Kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada recently concluded a study on muscle hypertrophy and resistance training. A senior Ph.D. student, Michael Burd, masterminded the research project on this popular topic, aiming to determine if hypertrophy could be achieved by lifting lighter weights.

The typical resistance training program for hypertrophy would include lifting between 80 and 90% of maximum weight capacity, an intensity which would allow for up to 10 repetitions of a particular exercise. The study examined the results of a program which used an intensity of just 30%, performing the exercise "to fail", a term used to describe the highest number of repetitions possible, until the participant can no longer do the exercise. It was found that the participants lifting light weights could do at least 24 repetitions before feeling fatigue, compared to the 5 to 10 reps for heavy weight.

The muscle mass that was gained during this period was considered comparable to the mass gained during high intensity sets, proving that in order to increase muscle size you don't necessarily have to lift heavy weights. The critical factor is to actually lift until fatigue to achieve results. Over time, taking the muscle to fatigue is what triggers an adaptation to the exercise, building muscle to adapt to the demands being placed on it.

This study means a lot for those who love hitting the gym; workout routines can have more variance for desired results. The most important groups that can benefit from this type of research are the elderly and individuals who suffer from conditions which require muscle growth as a part of treatment, such as cancer. The simplicity of being able to lift lighter weights to recruit new proteins can make exercise more effective and accessible.

The results found in this study do contradict the norm, and it is likely that more studies will need to find similar results for it to receive more credibility, and more popular influence.

Burd et al. Low-Load High Volume Resistance Exercise Stimulates Muscle Protein Synthesis More Than High-Load Low Volume Resistance Exercise in Young Men. PLoS ONE, 2010; 5 (8)

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