August 16th, 2010
04:35 PM ET

What builds more muscles – weight or repetitions?

Straining and groaning under a heavy weight to pump those muscles might be unnecessary, according to a study released from a Canadian university.

While body builders and muscle fanatics may load up their weights, it could be just as useful to use a lighter load, but do more repetitions until the muscle becomes tired, kinesiologists at McMaster University suggested.

The findings are published in PLoS ONE.In the study, the authors had 15 men perform leg extensions by kicking their knees against a weight while seated. They were randomly assigned to either lifting their legs using a weight that was 90 percent of their best lift or 30 percent.

The participants with the heavier load could lift about five to 10 times. Those who lifted at 30 percent of the load could lift about 24 times. A sample of their muscle was taken.

While both exercises produced proteins that help build muscles, the people who lifted at 30 percent to the point of fatigue (where the limbs start to jiggle and tremble) produced slightly more muscle than those who lifted at 90 percent, said Stuart Phillips, associate professor of kinesiology at McMaster University.

“We had a strong idea based on the understanding on basic muscle physiology that your muscle can’t tell the difference between 30 percent or 90 percent of the load- all it knows is there is a load or fatigue,” said Phillips.

This small, initial study showed that even at a lesser weight, the muscle-building proteins developed at a slightly faster rate. These proteins stack likes bricks, to produce muscles - the more proteins there are, the larger and more pronounced those muscles become.

This doesn’t mean that pumping a two-pound barbell a thousand times would give you guns of steel.

“Clearly, there’s a threshold of fatigue you need to achieve,” Phillips said. “With very low loads, we have yet to see how low you can go.”

This could benefit people who might be older, who are not able to pick up heavy weight. It could save the wear and tear and relieve muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and bones.  Longer-term studies will be conducted to test these initial results, Phillips said.

“Instead of going to the gym, working and lifting some heavy weight that you grunt and groan to get off the ground, you can pick a lighter weight until the last repetition is still hard,” he said. “It’s still hard work.”

soundoff (121 Responses)
  1. Lincoln Brigham

    God I hate studies like these. They are all so cookie cutter and useless. A very small group of untrained college age men studied for a very short period of time are examined to predict which protocol might work better. Yawn.
    The problem is two fold. One, this particular population has been overstudied, especially when talking about short-term training phase. College age men who are only going to train for a short amount of time are not particularly interesting. What is needed is long-term studies that examine a broader population, including non-college age women.
    The second problem with this study is that it puts the cart before the horse. Rather than measuring a marker of muscle building such as short-term protein synthesis, it would be much more useful to actually measure muscle. Of course, this would take more time and effort than the 24 hours these researchers spent on this study.
    What is clear from other studies that measure the RESULTS of these training protocols is that in the long run, 30% loads do not build muscle nearly as well as 90% loads. The conclusion of this study SHOULD have been that short-term (24 hour) measures of protein synthesis are NOT good predictors of long term muscle building results.

    August 16, 2010 at 17:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • J Doogey


      August 16, 2010 at 19:11 | Report abuse |
    • Charles Chen

      @J Doogey

      For older people, as one particular example identified, strength or size is of secondary importance to maintaining muscle tone and physical activity in general as it can help with a host of health problems. Not all people are meatheads lifting to GET HUUUGE and drink PROTEEEEIIIN!1!!11 Accept the fact that people exercise for different reasons.

      August 17, 2010 at 10:42 | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      To Charles: Most people who are body builders are NOT meat heads. It shows they have discipline, character, and care about their health. It shows a pride in their appearance which everyone should have and it builds confidence which which extends to all areas of life. Their eating habits are also far superior to the average person. EVERYONE should be living the body building lifestyle! No excuses............It 's just lazy not to. period.

      August 17, 2010 at 12:48 | Report abuse |
    • Noocrat


      I guess my running 60-70 miles a week, biking 100-150 miles a week, and running 3-4 marathons a year is just plain laziness... my bad.

      August 17, 2010 at 14:45 | Report abuse |
    • Leah (TXanimal)

      @Noocrat: I'm going out on a limb here, but I'm pretty sure Dave's comments can be applied to just about anyone who's a serious competitive athlete. Bodybuilders, distance runners, cyclists, fighters, etc. I'm a competitive bodybuilder and I certainly envy your capabilities! I was not blessed with many slow-twitch muscle fibers, I'm afraid. ;)

      August 17, 2010 at 16:42 | Report abuse |
    • Calder

      Lifting heavy weights with low reps produces bigger, stronger muscles. Lighter weights with more reps builds endurance and a leaner muscle. This is based on decades worth of numerous research studies.

      September 29, 2010 at 09:00 | Report abuse |
    • Ron Long

      Amen to that !!!!

      June 17, 2011 at 14:44 | Report abuse |
    • mike walkins

      Can't say I agree with you there

      July 31, 2013 at 10:17 | Report abuse |
  2. V Saxena

    I've tried everything and I still have A-Cup man boobs. I've tried heavy weights, low reps; low weights, high reps; incline, decline; EVERYTHING! I truly believe genetics plays a part in it. I believe I can and will get stronger in due time, but I think it's going to take just that... time! I load up on protein, work out religiously, and try different methods, but still see very slow results. It took two whole months for my deadlift to go from 6 reps of 255 to 6 reps of 275!!!

    August 16, 2010 at 18:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Glenn Cinca

      There is a "secret" to moob reduction which I have learned. While weights will gradually strengthen and shape the pecs, workouts alone will not eliminate the offending fatty and/or mammary tissue. What WILL eliminate most of the unwanted tissue is a reduction of your overall body fat. That means eating fewer calories and increasing your cardio workouts. Via this path, my moobs FINALLY began to shrink at about 15% body fat, and are now almost completely gone at 12%. And since I have been doing the chest workouts, pec muscles now dominate my chest area!

      August 16, 2010 at 18:43 | Report abuse |
    • healthcheck

      Saxena Sahab, YOGA kiji ye YOGA. :)

      August 16, 2010 at 20:13 | Report abuse |
    • SouthShore

      you need to increase the load more frequently just because it sucks and is hard to get six reps at 275 get four then two days later get 5 increase the weight more frequently but remember a drastic increase over a short period of time when not trained properly can result in a injury...just my two cents

      August 16, 2010 at 22:38 | Report abuse |
    • Carl Daniel

      I agree with Glenn on the man boobs–it has to be a combination of diet (and cardio exercise) and lifting. I would say that with the chest area, do not do decline presses or dips (unless you are doing upright dips) if you are concerned about man boobs–these exercises build more muscle in the lower pecs. Also, I would recommend doing incline presses before flat/bench presses at least half of the time.

      I used to do incline barbell presses followed by incline db presses, with lowering the bench to something like 15 degrees; I quit bench b/c of my worry about man boobs. This was too extreme for me, though, so I added bench back in and just always did it after my incline barbell press.

      August 17, 2010 at 08:07 | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      V, you are right, there is a genetic component present. some are blessed with the ability to develop massive pecs, deltoids, biceps, and pretty much every muscle in their body. Some... just arent. also people respond differently to different weight regimens but on the whole, hypertrophy (building size in muscles moreso than strength) is best achieved lifting a weight that causes failure at about the 6-8 rep range. To increase strength for a specific lift where your primary goal is to lift more weight rather than have beach worthy size then do sets with heavy weight where you will fail at 4 to 5 reps (and use a spotter!). For definition and shred, do higher reps in the 10-15 range. if you really want to develop your chest start with these tips but ultimately find what gives you the best results quickest. Focus on multiple angles (i.e flat bench, decline, incline and also varying hand placement on the barbell) and always hit your compound lifts before single joint exercises. or even better superset the single joint exercises after doing a compound lift to really tax the muscle and keep the pace of the workout going to keep your heart rate up.

      August 17, 2010 at 09:25 | Report abuse |
    • trichards

      You may have a condition known as gynecomastia. All men have the same type of breast tissue as woman, in fact some male babies produce milk at birth because of the hormones from the mother. In your case, you may have more breast tissue than the average male. If that is the case, training and dieting may show some improvement, but you may not ever hit your goals. Some people with this condition have had success with a the prescription drug Tamoxifen. It is an estrogen inhibitor. You will need to see a specialist for that. Unfortunately, the only sure fire way to remove the tissue is with surgery. Best of luck.

      August 17, 2010 at 09:55 | Report abuse |
    • Colby

      Crossfit – it will get rid of them. And you will see huge gains in everything.

      August 17, 2010 at 09:56 | Report abuse |
    • dude

      V Saxena
      You need to educate yourself on what needs to be done to get yourself in shape. If you are too lazy to do that, which you probably are since you've had no gains, then hire a trainer. But that probably wont work either because you'll probably overeat the other 23 hours your trainer doesnt see you. You still have man boobs and a weak deadlift because you dont work hard enough and dont eat right- its science.

      August 17, 2010 at 11:06 | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      @ Mike: I have a smaller frame, but am very fit. I don't need massive muscles, and to be frank, when I fight others that have stacked, they get in the way of themselves more often than not. There is a point when fitness becomes an obsession, and a point where it becomes self-destructive. I bet I can deliver more PSI with my right hook than you can!

      August 17, 2010 at 13:00 | Report abuse |
    • Pamma

      hey i m gym trainer,pls keep doing your workout on regular basis,you will definitely feel change and dont measure yourself every week

      October 24, 2012 at 09:36 | Report abuse |
  3. pathduy

    who funded this stupid study? i go to gym regularly and i can tell you the big muscle guys all list heavy weights. i have never seen any big body build doing low weight with increased reps.

    August 16, 2010 at 19:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • pathduy

      the person who conducted this study most likely is trying to convince people that there are short cuts. kinda like weight loss diets which never works unless you can make it a permanent lifestyle.

      August 16, 2010 at 19:18 | Report abuse |
    • EL

      Shortcuts? Where does the article talk about taking shortcuts? Doing more reps takes time and effort. The article is not describing a magic bullet.

      August 16, 2010 at 19:59 | Report abuse |
    • James I. Mealy

      The study is talking about muscle not vascularization. At the highest level of weights the process of fatigue is strongly associated with the interruption of blood flow. The muscle adapts by increasing blood flow. That is why body builders need to use the highest weight possible. However, puffy muscles do not necessarily mean strong resilient muscles with good endurance. In fact, a muscle that is larger due to excessive vascularization will be weaker than a smaller muscle that has the same amount of muscle tissue. It's simple mechanics. Imagine that you have ten guys with ropes pulling a heavy object. The best way to do that is to put them as close together so that their ropes are as close to parallel as possible. If you splay them out at a wider angle, there is less force devoted to pulling in the direction of travel. Have you ever seen pictures of Paul Anderson. He is big but not really a model for a body builder. Paul Anderson is generally regarded as the strongest man who ever lived. As big as he was, he was not as puffy as extreme body builders of today. For normal people, the best workout is at moderately high weight levels combined with stretching to keep the muscles long and flexible. I also don't agree that higher reps can't produce strong muscles. In my youth I was a bicycle racer. I didn't do much at all in the way of weight training. When I was training, by riding my bike I did thousands of reps. My legs were big and thick but not puffy. I could leg press well over a thousand pounds.

      August 16, 2010 at 21:11 | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Go big or go home!

      August 17, 2010 at 12:51 | Report abuse |
    • Meathead

      WE pay for these freaking studies. The government takes it from us and gives it to these Universities in the name of 'progress' and 'science'. They get a handful of dipsticks with massive egos and low brain capacity, tell them to come up with a sensational story but make it APPEAR scientific. They research maybe one or two articles on the subject, go OFF and then somehow manage to publish this feces for the entire nation to read. Only a complete clod would take this as useful.

      The rest of us have brains.

      August 17, 2010 at 14:59 | Report abuse |
    • Rick S.

      OK, I've got to put in my two cents worth.
      1. Exercising muscles to fatigue will increase endurance.
      2. They stated in the article that there is a gain in muscle protein (not vascular!).
      3. I've seen men lift lower weights with much more reps and get the massive muscles that other's get lifting heavy weights.
      4. Lifting heavy weights at low reps does not increase endurance, it only increases muscle mass. Low weights, high reps, quick (but proper technique) will give you more of a cardio workout than low reps, slow speed, high weights.
      5. Improper technique will cause more problems than it solves and using lower weights allows you to concentrate more on the technique than the lift.
      6. MOOBs can be gotten rid of with the proper mix of diet and exercise. Cut out those other extra calories when you drink the protein shakes. If you are going to continue to eat the same AND drink the shakes then increase your workout or add cardio to it.

      August 17, 2010 at 20:18 | Report abuse |
    • JS

      Really? My husband and I both do lower weight/high reps (100 reps). See if you can do half the weight that you usually do normally 100 times and then tell me how wussy it is. By the way he is ripped and so am I. You don't have to lift an ungodly amount 10 times to get buff. lower weight, higher reps is more challenging for sure. I used to work out the traditional way and now I can't even do 3 sets with high weight because it feels like I didn't even work out.

      August 17, 2010 at 22:34 | Report abuse |
    • Pamma

      yeh, rightt bro

      October 24, 2012 at 09:38 | Report abuse |
  4. Toman

    That study is idiotic. To get big you have to get strong. To get strong, you have to lift heavy weights.
    The article was clearly written by a guy with pipe cleaners for arms who has never been in a gym.

    August 16, 2010 at 19:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • C. O.

      Everyone is entitled to their opinion Toman but you should also know the facts.

      First off, I am a former student of Stu and can say for certain he does not have "pipe cleaner arms" as you have stated, oh and he has a PhD.

      Secondly, the study itself wasn't intended to to replace traditional weightlifting strategies with those of low weight – high rep. CNN's writer has taken the results and written an article that sells, if it didnt create controversy you wouldn't have read it and he/she would not have a job.

      Next, and no longer specific to Toman, where in the article does it say this method of exercise will eliminate man boobs? Someone please show me, I insist. It talks to the muscle building process, not the fat loss process; although intrinsicly related, these actually occur opposite to one another with one being anabolic and one catabolic.

      I don't argue that further research must be done, and neither does Stu. He even is quoted to say "Longer-term studies will be conducted to test these initial results."

      All in all this research isnt inteneded to change your workout, it is simply stating that for those people in this world who either were not blessed with a mesomorph's body type, simply aren't comfortable risking injury associated with lifting high weights, have heart or blood pressure issues, or as Stu has said are older individuals maybe unable to lift what they once could, this type of exercise may result in similar muscle stimulating potential.

      Know the facts before you abuse the researcher or the study, and take it for its intention not as a short-cut for exercise.

      August 17, 2010 at 10:15 | Report abuse |
    • HAHA

      Good one Toman! He also sounds like a guy who sits at home screaming at his one inch weiner trying to make it grow while watching anime.

      August 17, 2010 at 15:01 | Report abuse |
    • wobh2001

      C.O., You really don't expect CNN readers to do so with much comprehension do you? I've read the comments to numerous articles now and I'm always amazed at the wild conclusions some draw from these articles. Then they post their own reply that takes the discussion off on some wild tangent.

      What I want to know is how this study proves Obama wasn't born in the USA.... LOL

      August 17, 2010 at 15:29 | Report abuse |
  5. Vanilla Gorilla

    have over 45 years experience with strength training at all levels of competitive sports
    the study seems to over look the three basic body types
    and the sperm lotto that dictates certain types of fat/muscle density – in many cases Man Boobs are inherited
    what type of muscle mass/power is the goal of resistance training
    most researchers over look the genetic influence
    used to bench over 440 and curl over 160 with free weights while in college
    these and other extremely heavy weights were needed to develop the muscle mass desired to play defensive line in college
    the use of heavy weights in progressive resistance training has been proven over the centuries
    now I have a routine where I do 5 sets of 10-15 – depending on the range of motion for a particular lift
    the muscle is stressed until the burn is felt and a special effort is made to fight gravity
    the results are surprising as muscles have "memories" in some cases
    don't need a 20 inch neck anymore
    do yoga too and cardio work too
    I would have to agree with pathduty – sounds like a restaurant critic who doesn't know how to cook

    August 16, 2010 at 21:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Andrew

    This kind of exercise science is ridiculous and defeating. You are doing the public a great disservice by perpetuating this type of exercise as useful to the general population. Only geriatrics and trauma victims will benefit from this type of training. You guys are never going to learn anything doing this leg extension 24 rep crap. You'll be weak forever, by then doing osteoporosis studies wondering why you're falling apart even though you were "weightlifting" your whole life. Then you'll do another study about how weightlifting doesn't work.

    If you want to do a study about strength, go to a D1 weight room. Notice how they're all doing squats, deadlifts, and cleans–heavy–and between 3-8 reps. That's how people get strong. The strength community has figured this out, when are you guys going to poke your heads in and learn something?

    August 16, 2010 at 21:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Vanilla Gorilla

    there are benefits for bone density issues for the geriatric set and of course there is always the need to rehab after an injury
    research the resistive training used by Mark Spitz when he set all the Olympic swimming records – modified iso-metrics maximizing resistance through out a full range of motion
    few understand the difference between toning and building muscle mass – including 99% of physicians
    nutrition and physical conditioning beyond the basics are not taught in med school just look at the gut on your doc the next time you go in for a physical
    not everyone has the physicality to be a power lifter or a NFL tackle – but there is a need to have well toned muscles to be healthy – remember the heart is a muscle
    a lot can be learned from studying Paul Anderson as he was the pioneer in using heavy weights for strength development – he was not into building mass – his natural biology did that for him
    right now a lot of the body building freaks are the result of better living through chemistry – not just getting big by working out and eating right remember Lyle Alzado??

    August 16, 2010 at 22:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Rick

    What a ridiculous article. Avoiding the "wear and tear" on your muscles will prove to be a mistake when you get in a fight with a guy who knows how to workout and reads real sources of fitness advice like Flex and Muscle and Fitness – not this garbage written by someone who probably cant even bench half their body weight.

    August 16, 2010 at 22:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Flex Muscle and Fitness

      Flex and Muscle and Fitness... Great resources!
      Those publications are about making money through advertisements and subscriptions, not about 'real' fitness based on 'real' scientific methods.

      August 17, 2010 at 09:47 | Report abuse |
    • Kimberly

      Why on earth would you be fighting in the first place? To prove your manliness? That's super cool. You must be on Jersey Shore.

      August 17, 2010 at 15:07 | Report abuse |
  9. Lincoln Brigham

    Umm, Rick... magazines like "Flex" and "Muscle and Fiction" are not real sources of fitness either.

    August 16, 2010 at 22:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • NY2VA

      Magazines such as 'Flex', and 'Muscle and Fitness' display 'workout routines' that can be used to assist
      the rookie, intermediate or advanced fitness individual with differences so that the workout DOES NOT
      become stale! By changing the routine you are 'confusing' the muscles and by using moderate to heavy
      weights you get the results!!!
      I'm 56 yo, 6'2" tall, weight 185. I bench 225, curl 140, and squat 375...any questions!!!

      August 17, 2010 at 10:01 | Report abuse |
    • Leah (TXanimal)

      @NY2VA: I think the point is, rookie lifters take these publications as gospel. The indermediate and advanced trainers know that while these magazines can offer a new exercise now and again to spice up a workout, but are mostly on the shelves to sell Muscle Tech supplements that don't work. While most of us DID go the "well, I read this in Musclemag" route for the first few months, those of us who have excelled sought assistance from more reputable sources.

      I'm 5'6", 185lbs & 17% BF, bench 250, squat 375, deadlift 430 (all raw). Oh, and I'm female. Any questions? ;)

      August 17, 2010 at 11:17 | Report abuse |
    • dude

      lincoln i am a personal trainer and those magazines are great and real sources for bodybuilders...maybe not for triatheletes or figure skaters.
      they pull studies from the NIH and other sources and the small studies they publish are a lot more legit than this one!

      August 17, 2010 at 11:28 | Report abuse |
    • Leah (TXanimal)

      @dude: I can assure you serious bodybuilders don't view those magazines as legitimate sources of information. We might have taken them as gospel the first few months of training before we got a clue, but anyone who's a national-level or professional competitor will tell you they're pretty worthless. And by the time those studies that are actually informative make their way into the corner of the next-to-last page of some muscle mag, it's old news to us.

      August 17, 2010 at 11:48 | Report abuse |
    • Leah (TXanimal)

      HAHAH. I'm kidding you guys. I don't lift weights. Quite the opposite actually. Im actually technically obese but I would love to be a weight lifter. My friends tell me I 'lift' donuts .. hahahah but Im good natured about it. Round and proud baby!

      August 17, 2010 at 15:22 | Report abuse |
    • Leah (TXanimal)

      @Leah (TXanimal)

      dude, is that you? Sorry you feel the need to be such a troll, whomever you are. Take your little pink plastic weights and bother someone else.

      August 17, 2010 at 15:39 | Report abuse |
  10. SouthShore

    if any of you do just a week of these exercises eat accordingly you will see immediate results guaranteed

    August 16, 2010 at 22:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. mark

    This really flies in the face of all that is obvious. The classic example is why do long distance runners not have huge muscles then? The get to the point that their muscles are shaking and failing all the time and never really grow. From what I've read heavy weights causes the fast twitch muscles to grow while high reps of light weights causes sslow twitch muscles to grown. The slow twitch are the fibres that never get bulky. They may grown but they don't get huge. If this is the case (which it may not be because I'm pretty freakin' far from being a doctor) and they were just measuring the proteins in slow twitch fibres then the study is really a huge joke and these people should be flipping burgers.

    August 16, 2010 at 22:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ron

      Wow!! How did you get slow-twicth and fast-twitch muscle fibers reversed??? Stick to reading and stop posting!!!

      August 17, 2010 at 17:11 | Report abuse |
  12. Billy

    I just started doing 20 reps on bench for 5 sets, every other day. First time I did 20, 20, 15, 15, 10, 10... then a few push ups. 2 days later I did the full 20 x 5 and a few extra reps. I obviously gained strength and muscular endurance. Now I just need to add 5lbs each time I complete 20 x 5. I used to do 6 x 3 and that seemed to incorporate my arms more, my arms aren't hit as hard with the lower reps, mostly the outer chest near my arm pit.

    Either way will work, as long as you are lifting.

    August 16, 2010 at 23:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Billy

      I mean higher reps on the last part.

      August 16, 2010 at 23:02 | Report abuse |
  13. Joe

    Seems like this guy who wrote this article and the individuals who did this study don't know what they are talking about. If you want to get big you have to go heavy and eat right, the latter is why people never see results. As Ronnie Coleman once said, everyone wants to be superman but no one wants to lift the heavy ass weights.

    August 16, 2010 at 23:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Leah (TXanimal)

      Yeah buddy! ;)

      August 17, 2010 at 11:06 | Report abuse |
  14. Underground

    You need a mix of exercise. Cardio, repetitious light weight, and some heavier weight. Light weights alone may be really good for someone that has other limitations.

    But there is a lot more going on there than just building muscle. Bone, nervous system, and connective tissues need time to keep up. To be strong and healthy, you really need to do a lot of compound exercises, things that don't just target one specific muscle group.

    If you want to be really strong though, there is no replacement for moving a lot of weight. That doesn't mean that's all you do though.

    August 17, 2010 at 00:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Leah (TXanimal)

      Does lifting my fat rolls count ?

      August 17, 2010 at 17:23 | Report abuse |
    • Leah (TXanimal)

      @dude pretending to be Leah:

      You're a personal trainer and you're fat? Not a very good example, are you, dude?

      Dude, grow up.

      August 17, 2010 at 21:15 | Report abuse |
    • Wildblue

      @Fake Leah: Did your mommy not pay enough attention to you as a child? You're not fooling anyone...Leah (TXanimal) has been around here for a long time. Not to mention the fact that we've trained at the same gym for the last 3 years...and she is definitely NOT fat. Get over your self-esteem issues and find a new hobby.

      August 17, 2010 at 21:21 | Report abuse |
  15. Mark

    I've found over the 32 years of training, that a combination of reps and load will get you strong and thick, slow strict form is also important (what's the point of lifting at 100 mph, slow your rep down and work the muscle). I found that if I did 3-4 sets with a weight of 200 lbs on the bench I could get 10 reps on my first set by the forth set only 5 reps. I would use this weight until 4 sets 10 reps could be completed the up my weight 10 lbs and start again. In less than three months I was up to 250 lbs. Obviously dieting and cardio make a difference if you want to be cut. Just remember everyone is different, what works for me may not work for you.

    August 17, 2010 at 02:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • boom

      Your style/method of lifting may be good for overall fitness (or for those getting older), but not for explosive athletic muscle building. Sports and competitions like Football, Rugby, sprinting, and shot put (to name a few) require rapid muscle contraction, which you can't get by slow training. Train like you are going to play... The right style for the right application. As long as the lift is 'controlled' then there's no worry of injury.
      As physics goes, as long as the weight goes from point A to point B the same amount of 'work' is done whether done slowly or rapidly.

      August 17, 2010 at 09:56 | Report abuse |
    • Vickers

      I agree, I have been doing the same for about 5 years now, and a good combo of reps plus weight produces the best results for me, but it will take time so one need not expect a years worth of results in one week......

      August 17, 2010 at 10:44 | Report abuse |
  16. Dr Bill Toth

    small study, college age men, short time frame....I would NOT change my training regime based on this study.

    August 17, 2010 at 06:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. gman

    ok so I have been liften half my life, and I have always remained bruce lee-ish. i'll never be arnold. but i have since found shaolin kung fu, and things have been put in perspective. to all you big guys out there, you really think your healthy? being fit doesn't mean your healthy. and being healthy doesnt mean your fit. also, i'd like to see arnold play soccer like me, or wipe his own but for that matter, lol.
    I am now working out harder again, eating not 35g of protein afterwards, but doing the 4:1 carb protein thingy i read about. last night after working out i made 3 organic eggs/organic green pepper and onion, on wheat itilian multigrain. i washed that down with organic spagethi/green pepper/onion with some unroasted, unsalted organic almonds. i'm not feeling the soreness at all yet, today. funny thing is (most wont know what i'm talking about here) whenever I do chi kung after a workout, it relaxes my muscles so much that i hardly get sore from working out. you want health? flowingzen dot com; imagine all the stress on your being when you life.... you gotta keep the balance ;)

    August 17, 2010 at 08:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dude

      dont hate because you lack testosterone

      August 17, 2010 at 11:22 | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      @Dude: Dude, STFU. I really don't care how macho you think you are, you sound like a douche.

      August 17, 2010 at 13:22 | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      dman... hahahah you do sound bitter. Lifting weights and still a lil stringbean.. hahahaaha. hilarious.

      August 17, 2010 at 15:24 | Report abuse |
  18. gman

    *when you lift

    August 17, 2010 at 08:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Dennis

    All I have done the last ten years is workout using my total gym, run at a pace where I can talk with a friend, and eat a well balanced diet. My girlfriend says I look great and I am in my early 60's.
    A retired US Army veteran

    August 17, 2010 at 09:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Guinness

    Surprising so many scoff at this study because it does not involve throwing up big weights on the bench press. I used to do that for years but my rotator cuffs no longer can handle it. I'm sure there are many who want to stay fit but whose joints can no longer handle the heavy weight they used to do in their youth. Although not as bulky, push-up, pull-ups and swimming have me looking more toned and fit than most other 45 year olds. Pushing around heavy weights is not a necessity for staying fit.

    August 17, 2010 at 09:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Strong like Gumby

    Did any of you bother to actually read the study? It makes perfect sense actually. The most sensible, and factual reply was that of James I. Mealy. There is a definite limit as to how little resistance remains effective, but the fact is, that above that threshold, the accumulation of proteins and muscle rebuilding occurs at an even faster and more sustainable rate.

    With that said, this study wasn't aimed at the body builder...so most of these comments are beyond the scope of this article.

    August 17, 2010 at 09:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dave

      Thanks for taking the time to actually read, unlike these freaking imbeciles. I've been in a regimen for years using only my own body as resistance; and I feel great, and I'm not swollen like those freaks.

      August 17, 2010 at 13:25 | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      I did, and that brings up the question... did you bother to read the responses? A few comments have been spot on. Read what The_Mick wrote above- very accurate. The markers used in no way present enough information to draw a firm conclusion, and the loading protocols used (30% and 90% of 1RM) seem to ignore the fact that the majority of weight lifters use loading protocols that encompass percentages precisely between those (55-75% of 1RM for 8-12 repetitions is most common).

      Study design in this case was very rookie.

      August 17, 2010 at 14:37 | Report abuse |
  22. Susie

    After the workout eat some Gudernoobs made by WooHoo Foods. They have omega-3s.

    August 17, 2010 at 10:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Leah (TXanimal)

    Everyone is different and responds to different types of training. The key is finding what rep/weight schemes work for YOU...not what works for a male college athlete. Put down that issue of Flex magazine and start building your own workouts. If you don't know where to start, talk to a trainer, physique competitor or athlete with your goals. My legs respond to heavy weight/high rep, but my chest & delts respond better to heavy weight/low rep. My arms are somewhere in between. There is no one-size-fits-all workout plan.

    And to get "buff"? DIET is what plays the biggest role outside of genetics in how much lean muscle you have, maintain and gain. You can lift super-heavy all you want, but if you only eat once a day, you're not going to gain any lean muscle! The next important factor is consistency & intensity in the weight room...if you want to get "buff", you can't be a slacker! And of course, you have to get decent rest.

    August 17, 2010 at 11:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Gymnastics guy

    Weight training is better than nothing, but I'm not convinced. I'm a 40 plus year old male gymnast and horseback trick rider. I can do things that would leave the typical "hunk" writhing in pain if not near death. I hate weight rooms and it's not the weights that bother me. I have no idea how much I can press or squat and quite frankly I could care less. It's a lot more exciting to be able to swing around bars, pop a cross on the rings, and do mind bending stunts on a horse than just grunt like a gorilla in a weight room. Sure I'm bragging a little here, but it's not about me, it's about how much I believe in the true fitness that comes from gymnastics type training and when that's coupled with a dose of strong, regular aerobic exercise, you've got a winning combination. I also believe it's a program that will work for virtually anyone.

    August 17, 2010 at 11:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dude

      gymnastics guy................but what can straight guys do??

      August 17, 2010 at 11:19 | Report abuse |
    • Gymnastics guy

      Yep, "Dude" would you like to meet my children and my wife that's part of what straight guys do. Sounds like you're the one with the hormone problem.

      August 17, 2010 at 12:11 | Report abuse |
    • bootjack

      Most gymnasts are stronger than the average guy because of all the explosive work you do. If you compare it to this "study" there is no way you can do 30% of an iron cross or those explosive flips.

      August 17, 2010 at 13:54 | Report abuse |
  25. dude

    hey @ chinese Charles Chen. get educated on the subject.
    you do need PROTTEEEEIN! for ALL fitness goals. at the other end of the spectrum from "meatheads" are the elderly. guess what they are trying to accomplish with exercise??? bone density, stronger joints, and guess what..... "huger" muscles!! which need what??? yes PROTEEEEIN!

    August 17, 2010 at 11:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. j


    August 17, 2010 at 11:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. clark1b

    we have all known for years ... that lots of reps with lower weight gives the individual the "cut" look. while doing fewer reps with heavy weight gives bulk.

    but if you want true strength ... look to the midwest farmboy who has been working hard all his life .... he may not be "cut" but he is a lot stronger than most body builders.

    August 17, 2010 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • That is a myth

      You don't get the "cut look" from doing high reps. You get it from losing fat through decreased calorie consumption and cardio.

      August 17, 2010 at 11:57 | Report abuse |
    • Leah (TXanimal)

      Farmboys may have *functional* strength, which is simply different from "gym strength", and not necessarily and indication of "true" strength. Real, serious bodybuilders ARE strong! And by bodybuilder, I mean people who actually train & diet to compete, not people who read Flex magazine and call themselves bodybuilders because they use Jay Cutler's arm workout.

      August 17, 2010 at 12:00 | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      @ Leah: I'll put it this way: when I see a juicehead or meathead staring back at me from the other side of the ring, I smirk to myself. When it's a Redneck farm boy, I take a deep breath. Those meatheads are going through life trying to prove something to themselves or someone else, and their body shape gets in the way...the farm boy is a hard worker, heavy lifter, and has the endurance to go the distance.

      August 17, 2010 at 13:30 | Report abuse |
    • Leah (TXanimal)

      @Dave... obviously you aren't dealing with serious bodybuilders, which is who I was talking about. I don't know why you felt the need to direct your irrelevant comment toward me, but I do share your opinion. I don't like juiceheads or meatheads who have something to prove either. Serious competitive bodybuilders generally don't fall into that category.

      August 17, 2010 at 14:58 | Report abuse |
    • Wildblue

      @Dave: Sounds like you're the one who thinks he has something to prove, seeing as how you just jumped down someone's throat for no reason. Leah made a really good point: there's a BIG difference between a gym rat "meathead" and a competitive bodybuilder.

      August 17, 2010 at 15:09 | Report abuse |
    • Ron Long

      You're damn right....nothing is stronger than the tendins and ligaments of a man who has down right worked vigorously for most of his life...... I have been known to outlift the largest of bodybuilders... and only have half of the mass that they have aquired through working the sets at the gym. while my strength has come from mostly manual labor.

      June 17, 2011 at 15:07 | Report abuse |
  28. Oversimplification

    Many body builders incorporate drop sets and pyramids into their routines in order to build strength through low rep/high weight sets AND build mass by acheiving maximum fatigue through high volume sets. I think the problem with this study is that it oversimplifies the issue and will provide an excuse for people who don't like to exert themselves much to piddle around with too light of a weight for high reps, which is a common reason people fail at strength training/body building.

    August 17, 2010 at 11:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. The_Mick

    As a scientist and science teacher with three decades as a high school sports coach, this study seems to touch too little to make any long-term predictions. In general, the RESULTS over many decades of athletic training strongly show that more repetitions/lighter weights produces more endurance, less strength increase, while fewer reps (to a point)/heavier weights produces more strength increase. The claim that “We had a strong idea based on the understanding on basic muscle physiology that your muscle can’t tell the difference between 30 percent or 90 percent of the load- all it knows is there is a load or fatigue,” ignores the fact that somehow the body recognizes MORE than load (otherwise where does the endurance come in?) so the statement "all it knows is there is a load" is a naive oversimplification. Additionally, there's no look into methods of strength building and why they work like the "Iowa Method", where a set of maxes for the desired types of lifts are measured, and then the athlete begins his workout with 10 or more reps of 50-60% of the max weight, increasing by 5% per week so that at the end of 8-10 weeks he/she is doing 10 or more reps at his/her original one-lift max. A new max. is then measured for each lift, and a new 8-10 week cycle is done. WHY is it that TEN reps works so well but 5 or 25 doesn't? I don't like the blinders they wore while doing this study ("all it knows is there is a load").

    August 17, 2010 at 12:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Strong like Gumby

      You pretty much re-emphasized the following:

      'This doesn’t mean that pumping a two-pound barbell a thousand times would give you guns of steel.

      “Clearly, there’s a threshold of fatigue you need to achieve,” Phillips said. “With very low loads, we have yet to see how low you can go.”'

      August 17, 2010 at 13:23 | Report abuse |
  30. Nick

    I think the better test would have been maybe a working out with those weights for a month and then testing for an increase in the max weight

    August 17, 2010 at 13:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. DN3

    Obviously, this wouldn't work if you want the muscles of a body builder, but I think the researchers are trying to get at bang for your buck. You don't have to kill yourself with weights to get results, just go less weight and more reps. By less weight, I don't think they mean replace 25 lbs with 5 lbs. And you have to work the weights until your muscles fatigue, not just do more reps.

    August 17, 2010 at 13:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Strong like Gumby


      August 17, 2010 at 13:56 | Report abuse |
  32. Bob

    Calisthenics (body weight training) is the best type of muscle building workout. A person who trains using their body weight is a better all-around athlete than someone who is huge from using free weights. Calisthenics wont make you nearly as swollen as a gym rat, but at least you'll have full range of motion in your arms and legs.
    I have nothing against buff folk, but when I see one, I see a fat person. They're slow, always hungry and fatigued.
    No offense to fat people either, I used to be one.

    August 17, 2010 at 13:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. dgfg

    eat less run more and you'll just fine my friends

    August 17, 2010 at 13:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Kimberly

    Here's a question to the guys out there.... why do some of y'all insist on getting so huge and bulky anyway?

    August 17, 2010 at 15:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DN3

      Because it makes them feel more manly and they think it attracts more chicks.

      August 17, 2010 at 15:23 | Report abuse |
    • Leah (TXanimal)

      Why not? ;)

      For me (I'm a woman, so I can't speak for guys), I was always athletic and always gained muscle easily. While in a particularly boring military assignment, I was looking for something to do, and got interested in bodybuilding. It's just like any other pursuit...it's about pushing myself to be the best I can be on my chosen path. It's about the challenge. It's about working hard and seeing results. It's about setting goals and striving to surpass them. Can I hit 22 plates on the leg press today? What would happen if I change my grip on this exercise? Can I do 20 reps with that weight today?

      Sure, being a female bodybuilder draws stares and criticism...most people think I'm a freak, but I don't really care. There are many reasons I pursue bodybuilding, and not one of them involves what other people think of me!

      August 17, 2010 at 15:36 | Report abuse |
    • James

      For some it is an addiction. Especially people with ADD. Certain chemicals are released during intense work-outs and they make you feel "normal" or good. Also working out helps you sleep better. Also some people are very competitive and want to be bigger or better than the next guy. It's a silly question with many varied answers. Personally I feel better with my own body when I am in shape. It makes me feel good.

      August 17, 2010 at 19:28 | Report abuse |
  35. TT

    Kimberly – they need o get huge so they don't look out of proportion with their gigantic truck, which they drive to compensate for their really tiny...squirt gun.

    August 17, 2010 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Leah (TXanimal)

    @Leah (TXanimal)

    dude, is that you? Sorry you feel the need to be such a troll. Take your little pink plastic weights and bother someone else.

    August 17, 2010 at 15:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Wildblue

      Oops, posted it wrong the first time...

      When's your next powerlifting meet?

      August 17, 2010 at 16:12 | Report abuse |
    • Leah (TXanimal)

      Not sure I'm going to PL anymore. I injured my shoulder training for the last meet (stupid bench press), and I really don't want to push it. I prefer bodybuilding and actually missed not dieting this summer for a show. Plus, I don't have to bench press and the training is much more intense. So...I'll probably opt out of PL and shoot for the North Americans (bodybuilding) this time next year.

      August 17, 2010 at 16:28 | Report abuse |
  37. Wildblue

    LOL, what a moron, whoever that is!

    When's your next powerlifting meet?

    August 17, 2010 at 16:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. LC Hobbs

    I'm disappointed that such a large media information source like CNN, provides research like this. The small sample size produces results that are not applicable to the general population. This misleads the general public.

    August 17, 2010 at 17:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Joe

    @Dave'e Earlier comments,

    Most bodybuilders I know do NOT eat healthier. They tend to consume massive amounts of protein and calories. Even if you have a great deal of muscle this is not healthy. Largely because many of those calories come from artificial shakes, large amounts of meat or animal related products. Instead of pounding the heaviest weights you can, one should mix lots of cardio with weight training and lots of fruits and vegetables.

    Sure you might not eat McDonald's or fast food all the time like the average american, but many bodybuilding magazines, articles, and trainers focus on the wrong things.

    Also, a side note that I thought was pretty scary. According to Jon Robbins in his book Diet for a New America, the average doctor only receives 1 hour of Nutrition training throughout all of med school. Weird.

    August 17, 2010 at 18:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Leah (TXanimal)

      Why would a serious bodybuilder use light weight, eat less protein and do lots of cardio? We would no longer be bodybuilders...

      August 18, 2010 at 10:06 | Report abuse |
    • Leah (TXanimal)

      I lift weights but I also eat McDonalds. I am what you call muscular fat. I have a huge pot belly but strong arms. It may not look good, but at least I can toss people who make fun of me for being huge and ugly.

      August 18, 2010 at 15:40 | Report abuse |
  40. James

    I always found the use of both light and heavy to be best. A longer term study looking at bone mass would have been good too. If your goal is to train your muscles to lift heavier weights going light may not help.

    August 17, 2010 at 19:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Vipz

    Am I reading this correctly? Increase my workout time at least threefold to achieve "muscle-building proteins at a slightly faster rate"? Great study and article.

    August 18, 2010 at 08:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Brerlou

    I've overheard a former Mr Universe, Earl Maynard, explaining to a protege in the gym that it was not just the weight or the reps that made the difference for him but the duration of each rep. The lighter weight could also make a huge difference in allowing the individual lifter to slow down and control the duration of each rep more so than with the heavier weight. This would be even more noticeable if they were using people who had never worked under a trainer before.

    August 18, 2010 at 11:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Wet Wolf

      If he was Mr. Universe then he took steroids. I wouldn't listen to a thing a steroid user says.

      August 18, 2010 at 12:37 | Report abuse |
    • Brerlou

      I seriously doubt if steroid taking was much in vogue when this gentleman, from the island of Rihanna, won his competitions, probably more than 50 years ago. These were the days before the impossible hugeness of today's champions was in vogue:
      "Earl Maynard was the first Barbadian to win the Mr. Universe Bodybuilding title, and the only Bajan to win it three times. He has featured in seventeen Hollywood films, including blockbusters The Deep, starring Nick Nolte, and The Brawl, starring Jacki Chan.
      He has been inducted into Fitness Halls of Fame around the world; was the first Black Mr. Britain; has written dozens of articles for the world's top fitness magazines; trained the legendary Mohammed Ali and the Kansas City Chief's American football team; and was also crowned Mr. World – to name just a few of his achievements."

      August 18, 2010 at 13:42 | Report abuse |
    • Leah (TXanimal)

      @Wet Wolf: Do you think that those who take steroids just sit back, eat Cheetos & watch TV all day? Supplementation aside, top-level national competitors and pros have amazing genetics, they eat right for their chosen sport and they train their tails off. Drugs or no drugs, few people can handle the lifestyle of a competitive bodybuilder...

      August 18, 2010 at 14:54 | Report abuse |
  43. kyle

    i would also like to see a study done for people who are pretty experienced in the gym and already have a strong base to work with. I know there are too many conflicting reports on how to build muscle and lose weight. this site has more http://www.diet-myths.com

    September 9, 2010 at 11:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Thomas

    I agree that this article is useful for older people who can't safely lift a lot of weight. For younger people, I think there should be a balance of high repetition and low repetitions of exercises, depending on your goals.


    September 17, 2010 at 11:09 | Report abuse | Reply
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  49. 6 pac man

    I am totally confused . I thought building muscle was done buy stressing n damaging muscle tissue and then resting and feeding the body with a high protein low fat diet to fix and reinforce the muscle. 25 to 30 rep weight can damage n stress muscle tissue better and more thoroughly then heavy 5 to 10 rep weights. Why is Heavy weight such a big thing with some people. Big weights are not needed for a good toned physique. Most power lifters and strong man athletes look like crap and most boxers n cage fighters look awesome . Boxers and cage fighters are known for high rep endurance training not low rep power lifting so stick your heavy weight is a must mentality up your ### .

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