Does Lifting Heavier Weights Build More Muscle?

The myth: Lifting heavier weights builds more muscle. True or false? Mike Dawson has the answer.

12 Jan 1965 --- Boy exercising with dumbbell at mirror in bedroom --- Image by © B. TAYLOR/ClassicStock/Corbis

Photo: Corbis

There's good news for the majority of us who have, at one time or another, suffered that pang of insecurity when reaching for those lighter dumbbells at the gym.

When it comes to growing muscle (and looking better), those easier weights build as much bulk as heavier weights, according to researchers. The catch is, no matter what the load, you need to lift until you run out of gas (known as lifting to failure).

Kinesiology researchers at McMaster University studied a group of healthy, athletic young men for 10 weeks. They asked some to lift lighter weights (30 percent of their maximum) and others to lift heavier weights (80 percent of their maximum). Both groups lifted to failure for three sets. At the end of the 10 weeks, both groups gained the same amount of muscle. The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology.

There was, however, one difference between the two groups. While both increased in overall strength, the group that lifted heavier iron grew marginally stronger than those who went lighter. Again, the difference was slight.

Of course, there is a downside to all this. If you're avoiding the weight racks—embarrassed about how little you can handle compared to the no-neck dudes who normally dominate that space—there's no excuse now. March in there, head held high, and get to lifting, son.

— Dawson is a magazine writer and editor and a regular contributor to Details.

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