Hamilton, ON, July 7, 2023 – Whether you use heavy or light weights, lifting them as many times as you can builds strength and muscle. The details of how you go about it are less important than simply making a habit of it, researchers have determined.
After studying the most popular variables among resistance training programs – how much you lift, how often, and how many times – kinesiologists at McMaster University have found all forms of resistance training are beneficial, including body-weight exercises such as planks, lunges and push-ups.
“There are a dizzying number of factors and combinations to consider when creating a weightlifting program to maximize strength and muscle growth,” says Stuart Phillips, a Kinesiology professor who conducted the work with graduate students Bradley Currier and Jonathan Mcleod.
“This is an age-old debate among athletes and strength and conditioning coaches: what combination leads to the best gains?”
For the study, published today in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers reviewed 192 randomized, controlled studies with a total sample size of more than 5,000 people evenly split between women and men, making it the single largest project of its kind.
The work is the culmination of years of planning, collecting and analyzing massive amounts of data revolving around three key resistance-training variables: higher versus lower loads, single versus multiple sets, and training frequency: whether one, two or three (or more) sessions per week.
Most fitness experts have come to believe that using the heaviest weights – which can only be lifted three to five times – works best for building strength while using weights that can be lifted eight to 10 times works best for building muscle size.
Based on their original research, McMaster researchers have spent the last decade or more pushing back against the idea that heavier weights are the only option.
Phillips and his team have published several papers showing significant gains are possible when lifting lighter weights toward the point of exhaustion. That can mean 20 to 30 repetitions, sometimes more.
In this comprehensive review of research from across their field, the researchers found that to maximize muscle strength, lifting heavier weights is most effective, while to maximize muscle size, one should do each exercise several times and the weight lifted is less important.
“Our analysis shows that every resistance training prescription resulted in strength and muscle mass gains. Complex prescriptions are sufficient but unnecessary to gain strength and muscle. Simple programs are extremely effective, and the most important result is that people can benefit from any weightlifting program,” says Currier. “Seek guidance if you are unsure where to begin and how to progress, but it doesn’t need to be complicated.”
Researchers say the analysis is good news for anyone, regardless of age, interested in gaining strength and maintaining more muscle, which are important to preventing injury, maximizing mobility and optimizing metabolism.
“The biggest variable to master is compliance,” said Mcleod, “Once you’ve got that down, then you can worry about all of the other subtle nuances, but our analysis clearly shows that many ostensibly important variables just aren’t that essential for the vast majority of people.”
Attention editors: High resolution photos and video related to this study can be found at:
British Journal of Sports Medicine
METHOD OF RESEARCH
SUBJECT OF RESEARCH
Resistance training prescription for muscle strength and hypertrophy in healthy adults: a systematic review and Bayesian network meta-analysis
ARTICLE PUBLICATION DATE
Funding No funding was received for this review. BSC is supported by an Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship-Doctoral. JCM is supported by an Ontario Graduate Scholarship. NJW was supported by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Bristol. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care. ACD and JAJK are supported by a Canadian Graduate Scholarship – Master’s Program offered by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. SMP is supported by the Canada Research Chairs programme. Competing interests SMP reports grants or research contracts from the US National Dairy Council, Canadian Institutes for Health Research, Dairy Farmers of Canada, Roquette Freres, Ontario Centre of Innovation, Nestle Health Sciences, Myos, National Science and Engineering Research Council and the US NIH during the conduct of the study; personal fees from Nestle Health Sciences, non-financial support from Enhanced Recovery, outside the submitted work. SMP has patents licensed to Exerkine but reports no financial gains from any patent or related work. The remaining authors report no competing interests