The Argument for Lower-Weight, Higher-Rep Workouts
Lifting very heavy weights can be dangerous. Nobody has to tell you twice that if you decided to lift a horse, you are gonna wake up hurting in the morning... and many mornings to come. But we are not talking about farm animals here, we are talking about lifting weights in the gym to stay healthy.
Bench pressing, squatting, curling etc at a very heavy weigh makes it more likely that you will be susceptible to injury. This is because technique will likely deteriorate thus raising the risk of injury from bad form and increasing the likelihood of sudden adjustments - with nothing to say of actually dropping weights on body parts. This is double trouble if you're new to weight training.
For seniors, it's often even worse, since older joints are often less capable of taking additional strain. However, working out with lighter weights while increasing the number of repetitions can be just as beneficial as using the heavy ones.
The results of a 2016 study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, comes as good news to beginners, seniors, and those needing to recover from injury. Though the study worked only with 21-year-old weight-lifting novices, the results suggest that people of all ages can profit from these research findings as well.
Each participant received an MRI scan before the workouts began. For the study, the young men did knee extensions on a weight machine. One leg was given higher weight and fewer reps while the other leg was given lower weight and more reps. Each leg performed the knee extensions until exhaustion. After 10 weeks, another MRI scan was performed. The scans showed that right and left legs were essentially the same at the start, and both legs gained the same amount of muscle mass by the end of the 10-week period.
The researchers have begun to train other individuals including senior citizens and although the results are not yet published the early indications are that the phenomenon holds across all adult age groups. What this means is that people who don't intend to become elite athletes or bodybuilders also benefit from the high repetition and low weight workout.
This includes, but is not limited to
- Middle-aged people trying to get back in shape
- Senior citizens
- Stroke victims trying to recover lost strength
- Injury victims going through rehabilitation
- and yes... YOU!
Since publication of the study, the team of scientists has received numerous emails from professional coaches and trainers questioning the results. This is not at all surprising since the study's findings seem to run contrary to conventional wisdom and popular approaches to weight training. But after the dust settles, it may turn out that coaches, trainers and therapists have more flexibility in designing weightlifting programs than they had previously believed.
In particular, this fresh look at lower-weight, higher-rep workouts may open up new doors of opportunity for segments of the population looking to maintain or build muscle mass while also reducing the risk of injury.