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You CAN Build Muscle with Lighter Weights

Well, another common workout myth has officially been debunked! For years, men were told they needed to lift heavier weights to rip apart more muscle fibers and cause explosive growth. However, researchers from McMaster University in Canada and the Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands have disproved this outdated theory. In fact, you can build considerable muscle by using light weights, so long as you are consistent in your efforts.

The McMaster study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology had men assigned to one of three groups: one where they did 3 sets to fatigue at 30 percent one-rep max (i.e., light) ; one where they did a single set to fatigue at 80 percent one-rep max (heavy, but low volume); and one where they did 3 sets to fatigue at 80 percent one-rep max (heavier, higher volume). After 10 weeks (3x/week) of working out, scientists found that all three groups saw significant gains in muscle volume and virtually no difference at all! What they did notice was that muscle protein synthesis was greater in the two groups that did 3 sets, versus just the single set, which means that higher volume is preferable for muscle growth.

The Maastricht University study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that more repetitions with lighter weights was just as effective as using heavier weights, as long as the reps are done to the point of muscle fatigue. To clarify, researchers said that the last two or three reps in a set should be difficult. “There is nothing wrong with lifting heavy weights,” explained lead researcher Nicholas Burd PhD. He added, “Our work simply highlights that heavy weights are not the only way to build bigger muscles.”

This research is great news for the frail, the elderly, and injured athletes. So, if you’re looking to put on a bit of muscle mass, researchers have the following tips for you:

  • Mix high reps and low reps to keep the muscles guessing.
  • Lift at 30 percent your one-rep max until you are fatigued (a lighter weight that you can lift for 15-25 reps until you can’t lift it any more).
  • Rest for a minute and repeat this workload for at least two more sets.
  • Use heavier weights in your workout periodically to maintain your strength.
  • Rather than isolating muscle groups (i.e., biceps curls, leg extensions), focus on more dynamic movements like chin-ups, squats or clean-and-press.
  • Pay close attention to what you eat before and after a workout, making sure to get enough recovery protein, and whole food carbohydrates.


“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by

the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.

So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor.

Catch the trade winds in your sails.

Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Mark Twain