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I am 100% sure that you have heard the moto: “Go heavy or Go home’’. Or that you have to lift heavy in order to gain muscle mass. Many people tend to follow these ‘‘ground’’ rules resulting in getting injured or in poor forms. If that was the only way people could increase muscle mass, should all everyone that trains for overall health and general conditioning quit other types of exercise and any other activities? Or risking themselves picking an unpleasant injury from only lifting heavy?

Let’s clear things out! Research supports that particularly beginners who lift lighter weights can benefit as much as lifting heavier loads for fewer reps, and that the key lies in performing the reps to ‘‘exhaustion’’. In simple words, it is not about the load you lift but the volume and intensity.

In a recent study, a team of researchers tested 49 healthy men at a college with at least four years of weightlifting experience. They were assigned a 12-week total-body training programme were they trained 4 days per week with the following exercises: barbell bench press, incline leg press, machine shoulder press and machine leg extension.

Half of the participants were lifting (lighter) weights at 30-50% 1RM max for 20-25 reps. The other half lifted (heavier) weights at 75-90% 1 RM, for 8-12 reps. Both teams performed each exercise until total exhaustion. At the end of the experiment, researchers measured the muscle fiber size of all participants and analysed their blood samples. The results? Gains in muscle mass, fiber size and strength were practically identical in both groups.

Female fitness enthusiasts?

Training to failure gains had nothing to do with growth hormone or testosterone! This should be encouraging for women as they could experience these strength improvements just like men by “lifting to failure” training style.

Rookies at the gyms?

As a fitness coach and a weightlifter, I can understand that weight rooms can be frightening for beginners as they feel like they are going to be eaten by the huge dudes there. However, as there is no point of thinking any of that, if you, for any reason want to train somewhere else, you can still train to failure with lighter dumbbells or even using the machines.

Take home points:

Training to failure is not as easy as it sounds. When the muscles are burning, poor technique follows. It is important to note that muscular exhaustion increases the chances of poor technique which can lead to injury. Train smart, and when you start noticing the first sign of breaking form, take a break, get hydrated and then, move on.

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