Heavy or light, both weightlifting methods increase strength and muscle mass.

Fast Facts:

  • New research shows that both heavy weightlifting with fewer reps and lighter weights with more reps can boost muscle strength and mass.
  • The study authors emphasize that the results are applicable to the general population, especially those who are inactive and have ample room to improve their strength.
  • The study aims to encourage people to begin weightlifting or participating in various forms of resistance training.


Researchers have found that even minimal effort in resistance training can yield muscle and strength gains. Analyzing nearly 200 studies on the effects of resistance training, the team concluded that it promotes muscle strength and mass regardless of workout intensity or frequency, though greater benefits are observed with increased exercise.

The meta-analysis was published in June in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Researchers are optimistic that the study's message will encourage individuals to begin weightlifting or participating in other forms of resistance training, as positive outcomes can be achieved regardless of workout intensity. Byron H. Washington II, a registered kinesiologist specializing in geriatrics, emphasizes the importance of applying this approach to the wider population, particularly those who are inactive and have significant potential for strength improvement. Despite evidence suggesting the benefits of resistance exercises, such as squats, push-ups, and bicep curls, a 2018 study indicates that only 40% of adults engage in muscle-strengthening activities. These exercises not only enhance physical function but also reduce the risk of various chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke, and obesity.


Examining Weight, Reps, and Frequency

According to Stuart Phillips, a kinesiologist at McMaster University and one of the study's authors, research on strength training has trailed behind that of aerobic exercise by several decades. He noted that many personal trainers base their recommendations on outdated practices from training athletes, rather than the general population.

Despite this delay, Phillips's team believed there was enough data on resistance training to create what he called an "optimal prescription." Their analysis, which examined 192 previous studies involving over 5,000 adults without chronic disease, aimed to determine the most effective resistance training methods.


Their findings showed that various forms of resistance training, including heavy or light weights, sets ranging from one to three, and workouts conducted once to three times weekly, all increased strength and muscle mass. However, using heavier weights and performing multiple sets led to even greater improvements.

The researchers concluded that regularly engaging in any form of resistance training is more important than trying to optimize strength and muscle mass. While the study emphasized that some exercise is better than none, it also supported existing guidelines recommending muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week for healthy adults.

Exercise doesn't have to be complicated.

The study highlights the accessibility of muscle-strengthening exercises, noting that you don't need to spend much money or have fancy equipment. Bodyweight exercises at home and free online workout videos on platforms like YouTube offer numerous benefits. Additionally, resistance bands provide another option for at-home workouts.

Washington echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the benefits of a simple strength routine for seniors and the general population seeking to improve their overall health and activity levels.

In summary, whether you choose weightlifting, daily activities like carrying groceries, or bodyweight exercises like lunges or squats, even small efforts can significantly strengthen muscles.


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