Do you need to lift heavy to build muscle? The simple answer is, yes. The longer answer is, if you’re smart about it. 'In health and fitness, there’s often an obsession with hard rules,’ says Laura Hoggins, a personal trainer, brand and marketing director at The Foundry gyms and Fiit app coach. ‘But few things are black and white. If any PT tells you there is only one right way of doing something, I suggest you get a new one because there are many routes to every goal.’
When it comes to building muscle, she says, there are some basic principles: you need to create an adequate stimulus through training to stress the muscles, fuel your body properly to ensure it rebuilds stronger and allow for sufficient recovery.
As for the lifting part? Gym lore has it that rep ranges of one to five are best for developing strength, six to 12 for muscle growth and 12+ for muscular endurance (working to your max in each instance).
However, Hoggins points to a meta-analysis by exercise scientist Brad Schoenfeld in the Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research, which shows that, while lifting heavier weights will boost your max strength, muscle gain can be achieved across all rep ranges. That is to say, pushing through more reps with lighter weights can work just as well as doing fewer reps with, say, 80% of your one-rep max – so long as you’re challenging yourself and making consistent progress.
Hoggins recommends ‘undulating periodisation’, which is a fancy way of saying ‘mixing things up’. Some days you might do three sets of 10 reps; on others, you can bring out the big guns with five sets of three. ‘But it really depends on what suits you best,’ she says.
After all, the only ‘correct’ training plan is the one you’re going to stick to.
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