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Which Is More Important to Build Strength, High Weight or High Reps?

Which Is More Important to Build Strength, High Weight or High Reps?

It’s a gym argument that’s as old as gyms themselves. Which is the superior fitness training routine: high weight or high reps? Should you perform sets that consist of a relative few reps of high weight, or a greater amount of reps with a smaller amount of weight?

There’s been surprisingly little scientific study of this nature, which is part of the reason why the argument has raged on for so long! Many people end up picking a side in this debate based solely on the gym that they happen to go to, or the fitness guru that they happen to trust.

This article will examine the scientific studies that are available and try to get a better sense of which resistance training method is best for building muscle strength.

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    The Anecdotal Evidence

    There is some non-scientific (yet reliably repeatable) anecdotal evidence to be found in the results of another great gym debate: bodybuilding versus powerlifting or Olympic lifting.

    In general, people undergo bodybuilding programs to focus on aesthetics rather than raw strength. They’re looking to plump up the volume of the muscle cells as much as possible to create the most admirable physique possible. Though Olympic lifters also tend to have fairly impressive physiques, they are generally more wiry and have less overall muscle bulk than top-class bodybuilders. However, they’re also usually stronger and able to lift more raw weight.

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    Powerlifters also similarly focus on strength but tend to have larger physiques with more body fat. Both powerlift and Olympic lift training tend to focus on more repetitions at lower weight, while competitive bodybuilding stresses fewer reps that are generally done at the highest weight the muscles can handle.

    So at first glance, it would appear that Olympic lifting or powerlifting would clearly be better if you’re concerned only with building strength. In general, Olympic lift training is more limited in scope and involves much more complicated motions, however. And while powerlifting training engages all the major muscle groups, the squat and deadlift may also not be possible with many types of injuries. It’s very difficult to adapt these motions if you can’t perform them due to an injury, and they also require a lot of practice to perform correctly even if you’re fully healthy. So these circumstances may take that off the table as an option.

    But can the general concept of lower weight at more reps be carried over to other, more basic types of resistance exercises?

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    The Schoenfeld Studies

    The best direct studies of this idea to date come to us from research teams led by Dr. Brad Schoenfeld and were published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2014 and 2015.

    The first study assigned a group of 17 young men to one of two groups performing a biceps curl: three sets of 10 reps, or seven sets of three reps. After eight weeks of training, there was no significant difference in the muscle size gains of the two groups. The group that performed seven sets saw significant gains in the amount of weight that they could bench press and squat, however.

    The second study helped to confirm these results. This time out, 18 young men who were already regular weightlifters performed either 25 to 35 reps of low-load exercise or 8 to 12 reps of high-load exercise. The seven exercises included in the study employed all of the major muscle groups. After eight weeks, there was once again no significant difference in size, but this time, the high load group saw the greater increases in ability to squat and bench press for one rep. The low load group saw by far the greatest increases in muscular endurance when performing squats and bench presses to failure, however.

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      The Fink Study

      An even more recent study muddies the waters further. In this one, 21 non-weight-trained participants were similarly broken up between high load, low load and mixed load groups. They performed preacher curls with the left arm only, keeping the right arm dormant as a control. After eight weeks, there was little difference in muscle size, but the high load group saw significant improvements in strength over the other groups.

      Training To Failure

      The body of work thus far seems to indicate that high load work is actually superior for building muscular strength, but low load work may be superior for muscular endurance. With only a handful of studies of consequence at present, the scientific waters are definitely still muddied on this issue.

      But one thing is consistent within all of these studies: training to failure is absolutely key for both size and strength gains. Whatever exercise program you choose to build (or rebuild) your muscles, it’s important that your reps leave you unable to perform any further work without rest.

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      Published on March 8, 2019

      How Adding Flow Yoga to Your Workout Routine Boosts Your Gains

      How Adding Flow Yoga to Your Workout Routine Boosts Your Gains

      When we fall into a workout routine, our moves become automatic, and the body quickly adapts. This is called muscle memory.[1] While teaching your body how to properly execute squats, push-ups, or crunches is a benefit, overly relying on these moves to consistently grow gains won’t yield the kind of results you want. That’s because the muscles work in the same way every time.

      Simply put, they’re not being “surprised,” so they get lazy.

      Supplementing your routine with flow yoga is one way of surprising your muscles, especially if you are new to the yoga practice and have never tried the postures. It’s like taking a new road home when you drive, deviating from your usual route. Science has found that by doing so, you’re creating new neuropathways in your brain.[2] The same is done in your muscles when you try a new routine.

      How is this done? Let’s dive right into it.

      How Flow Yoga Boost Your Gains in Your Workout Routine

      Think about your current workouts:

      If you lift weights, you rely on external tools to engage your various muscle groups. Over time, your shoulders, legs, or biceps will come to expect the weighted plates or dumbbells, in the repetitive sequences that you remember.

      In flow yoga, we use the body as the weight. Add gravity and hundreds of different postures and combinations, and you have a workout that uses the same muscle groups, but in many different ways.

      A pose such as plank is a full-body workout, with every muscle engaged to keep the body in one long line. While it’s a stationary pose, it requires muscle control and activation, with no room for passivity.

        A Flow sequence, on the other hand, requires your muscle to switch from one pose to another swiftly, providing you with a more balanced and wholesome use of your major muscle groups.

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        Not only do these poses and routines re-energize the body in a refreshing way, they also allow you to learn something new, which is powerful for the mind.

        Bottom line? Complementing your exercise regimen with flow yoga is like hitting the shuffle button on your workouts, using your muscles in ways that “surprise” them, which in turn boost their growth and performance.

        Energizing Flow Yoga with Added Cardio

        Flow yoga is also known as “Vinyasa.”[3] In Sanskrit – the sacred language of the practice and its Indian roots – Vinyasa is roughly translated to “one breath, one movement.”

        This guideline, first and foremost, enhances your breathing, and teaches you how to go from our typical shallow, chest-only breathing, to a more deeper, belly-chest breath that uses the entire lung system.

        Not only is this beneficial for a myriad of healthcare reasons (combat allergies, eliminate toxins, reduce stress, ease anxiety), it also greatly impacts our muscles,[4] and therefore our workout.

        Flooding your muscles with rich oxygen will only keep them healthy, while the cardio benefit will get you warmed up to take on the more challenging postures in a flow yoga class. This prevents injuries and cramping.

        The best example of energizing cardio in flow yoga is the Sun Salutation sequence. Each pose is completed on an inhale or an exhale, until the sequence is finished. One full sequence may be repeated several times, encouraging you to take fuller and deeper breaths. The cycles warm up and loosen the body and prepare the muscles for stationary poses that are held longer.

        Here’s how to do a Sun Salutation Flow:

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        Due to the Sun Salutations, the muscles are not thrown into a challenging workout, but rather primed and prepared with energizing breath.

        Why is this important, you ask? Because happy muscles are warmed-up muscles.

        The Best Thing About Flow Yoga

        The best thing about practicing flow yoga? You’re building strength and flexibility.

        Strength and flexibility are like the Mecca of a wholesome workout routine. Before we get into why this is important, let’s break these two down individually to see how they stand up on their own:

        Meet Strong Stan

        Strong Stan is at the gym, doing bicep curls with massive dumbbells. His muscles have peaked in size, and he proudly displays them.

        While he loves to lift weights, Strong Stan often skips stretching or warm-ups. He just doesn’t see how that could help him continue his muscle gains, so he jumps right into a heavy workout.

        While it’s not evident to a passerby, Stan’s muscles are hurting. Without sufficient flexibility or deliberate stretching, Stan’s muscles are shortening and getting tighter. This eventually leads to joint injuries,[5] because un-stretched muscles have limited range of motion.

        Big muscles are a sure indicator of strength, but here’s the kicker – choosing not to prioritize flexibility will keep them inherently at risk.

        Meet Flexible Fiona

        Flexible Fiona is in a flow yoga class, easing herself into a backbend.[6] She effortlessly gets into the pose, and “hangs” out there for a few breaths while the teacher cues the class.

        Even though the teacher instructs the students to engage their glutes and be mindful that this is an active pose, Flexible Fiona opts otherwise, and relaxes into the posture by sacrificing the strength she ought to be building.

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        To many in the class, Fiona’s execution of the backbend would be a success – maybe even something to envy. However, what Fiona doesn’t realize is that her excessive flexibility is actually a detriment to her joints.[7]

        Flexibility has been defined as the “absolute range of motion” by Tony Gummerson, Martial Arts instructor. For people who are naturally flexible, that line of absolute range is often blurry and, in practice, overlooked.

        It’s very easy for Fiona to go above and beyond her range of motion, since her flexibility parameters are much wider than what Strong Stan may experience in a similar pose.

        Because she doesn’t feel the stretch in the same degree of motion as other students in class, Fiona has to push the envelope of her flexibility. This puts too much pressure on the joints that are already overworked, and it overstretches the muscles that are now prone to tearing.

        Your goal is to create muscle and joint balance and wholeness.

        What Strong Stan and Flexible Fiona have in common is that they’re both missing vital pieces of muscle awareness.

        In Stan’s case, heavy and tight muscles crave flexibility. Without it, not only would Stan hit a plateau in his gains because of a sure injury, but he would miss out on having the lean and toned muscles that we all want to have.

        In Fiona’s case, her overstretched muscles are not getting a workout at all. Rather, her excessive flexibility is resting on her joints, which leads to definite injury.

        So what can you do? It’s quite simple.

        You have to give your muscles the opposite of what they’re used to.

        If you’re a Stan and hate stretching, focusing on your flexibility is key. You will lengthen your tight muscles, and you’ll create new muscle memory by practicing routines that are new to you and your muscle groups.

        If you’re a Fiona and hate strengthening, focusing on this priority is vital. Your muscles are used to being passive as you stretch, so shaking up the usual and putting them to work will not only keep you injury-free, but that much closer to the muscle gains you’ve been looking for.

        Fortunately, flow yoga is the whole package, and can be the one-stop-shop for both Stan and Fiona.

          Final Thoughts

          If you’re serious about using flow yoga to supplement your workout routine to boost gains, sign up for a class at your local gym or yoga studio. There are a number of styles of yoga to try, but as we’ve discussed in this article, the Vinyasa style is your best bet to complement a moderate exercise regimen.

          Many studios offer beginner-style Vinyasa classes, where the instructor will explain the basics, and break down the sequences in a pace that is suitable for entry-level students. From here, the student can build upon their practice, and opt for more challenging, fast-paced classes, such as Power Flow or Ashtanga.

          Working out is a lesson in teaching your muscles. The gains that we grow are the result of that experience, and it all comes down to conditioning our body in a way that is healthy, efficient, and balanced.

          With a practice like flow yoga, we can offer supplemental training to our current regimen that will work our muscles in ways that are new, refreshing, and “surprising.” This method will keep our muscles toned and lean, as long as we prioritize the balance between strength and flexibility to ensure that we’re meeting both of these needs. Our muscle gains and body health depend on it.

          More Resources About Yoga and Fitness

          Featured photo credit: Edit Sztazics via unsplash.com

          Reference

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