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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 November 8, 2019

      What to Eat After a Workout (Revealed by Professional Trainer)

      What to Eat After a Workout (Revealed by Professional Trainer)

      With a workout plan in place, it’s important to stay consistent while slowly progressing each week. You don’t want your training to get stagnant because, over time, as your body will become used to doing the same thing. Workouts need to be intense and focused in order to drive your results.

      But the workout is just part of the equation. What you do after your workout is what will really help you to gain strength, build muscle, lose fat, and enhance your fitness. This is where rest, recovery, and most importantly, nutrition, are critical to achieving your goals.

      This article will look at what to eat after a workout but, before we look into that, let’s understand what actually happens inside your body when you workout.

      Why It Matters What You Eat After a Workout

      You may think that training in the gym is where you build strength and muscle, but that’s not the case. The gym and the workout are what sets the stage in order for you to improve your body. When you workout, you’re putting the body through a form of stress. Your body adapts to this stress in various ways; it gets bigger, stronger, fitter, and leaner.

      When you strength train, you are breaking down your muscle tissue on a microscopic level. The act of resistance training creates small tears in the muscle tissue. When these tears are repaired, they get a little bit bigger than they were before. This is the act of muscle gain happening on a micro level.

      However, you don’t just break down the muscle tissue and expect it to repair back bigger than before. It requires proper nutrition, hydration, and recovery. This is why it’s important to focus on what to eat after a workout.

      The same thing goes for enhancing your fitness and cardiovascular function. Engaging your muscles, and cardiovascular system allows them to push through plateaus and improve your fitness levels. This will also require proper nutrition to do so. The most important thing to remember from all of this is what you do at the end of one workout helps prepare you for the next one.

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      What to Eat After a Workout to Gain Muscle

      Protein is going to be one of the obvious choices here but it is only part of the equation. Protein does a lot of things in the body such as:

      • Building enzymes and hormones
      • Immune system function
      • Keeping hair and nails strong
      • The building block for skin, bones, ligament, and cartilage
      • Balancing fluids
      • Maintaining proper pH
      • Transporting and storing nutrients

      And in our interests in regards to fitness, it helps to build and repair muscle. Those microscopic tears in the muscle tissue require protein in order to build back larger and stronger than before.[1] When you are finished working out, your muscles are like a sponge and are wanting to absorb protein to replenish and repair.

      So after a workout, you want to make sure you get a serving of protein within 30 to 60 minutes. There’s varying information about how long you can wait and still get the benefits of protein, but why wait when you’re trying to structure your workouts and meals? It’s true you don’t need protein the second you’ve finished your last rep, but you want to consume some relatively soon after training.

      Since your muscles are a sponge, it makes sense to get some easily digestible nutrition in after a workout. This allows your body to make use of it quicker and not have to spend a long time digesting, absorbing, and transporting those nutrients. Protein shakes can be very helpful in this situation, but they’re not absolutely necessary. Think of protein shakes as convenience and time-saver for those situations when getting adequate protein intake may be more difficult.

      The Best Protein Sources and How Much You Need

      Some good post-workout protein sources include:[2]

      • Eggs
      • Tuna
      • Salmon
      • Grilled chicken
      • Oatmeal and whey or plant-based protein
      • Cottage cheese

      As far as how much you need to consume, the recommended amounts involve consuming 0.14 to 0.23 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight in that first meal 30 to 60 minutes after a workout.[3] If you weigh 150 pounds, your post-workout protein requirement would be 21 to 35 grams of protein.

      This will help decrease muscle protein breakdown and increase muscle protein synthesis. Muscle protein synthesis is basically just a way to say growth, but it’s where the hard work from the gym is created.

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      How Many Carbs Do You Need?

      Whereas protein is important for muscle recovery, carbohydrates help to refuel your body and muscles. When you work out, you use the glucose that is stored in the muscle and liver as glycogen. Intense workouts deplete these glycogen stores and your post-workout nutrition helps to restore them.

      The type of activity you do will determine how much glycogen is required. High endurance activities like swimming, running, and cycling will require more than resistance training (though resistance training still will use it). After intense workouts that have more of a cardiovascular emphasis, you will want to consume 0.5 to 0.7 grams of carbs per pound of body weight. For the 150 pound person, this ends up being 75 to 105 grams of carbs.

      A good combination is consuming carbs and protein together after a workout as the combination of the two can lead to more insulin secretion. This insulin secretion allows for more protein and glycogen to be uptaken by the muscles and this results in better repair and replenishment.

      Your best carb choices after a workout will be the ones that are absorbed a bit faster and are easily digestible. Look for things like:

      • Oatmeal
      • Rice cakes
      • White rice
      • Chocolate milk
      • Regular and sweet potatoes
      • Fruit
      • Quinoa

      What Not to Eat After a Workout

      Since you have depleted your body from exercise, you want to restore as many nutrients as possible. Not only will this help nourish the body but, it’s clearly needed for improvements to fitness and physique. Consuming nutritionally devoid foods will not help to accomplish this.

      Manufactured, processed, and junk foods are the ones that are devoid of nutrients. They are full of artificial ingredients, additives, and chemicals and will not help to replenish the body. They are also full of calories that are more likely to end up stored as body fat. They will also not fill you up because your body will still be requiring the nutrients that it deserves.

      You will continue to be hungry for those nutrients your body craves and it will result in overeating. This is the opposite effect you want to have, especially after exercising in the hopes of getting fitter, leaner, and stronger.

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      What to Drink After a Workout

      Water is always going to be your best bet before, during, and after working out. Sports drinks are often consumed, but if the workout hasn’t been that intense, you are probably taking in more calories than needed – and often more than you burned.

      Sports drinks can have a place, especially if it’s intensely vigorous exercise outside in the heat. This type of training can cause your body to lose a lot of water along with electrolytes through sweat. A sports drink is the easiest way to replenish all of this in those conditions.

      However, water will still be a sufficient choice. Water does a lot of things besides keeping you hydrated, such as:

      • Regulating body temperature
      • Transport of nutrients
      • Circulation
      • Digestion and absorption
      • Cognitive functions

      Water also helps with performance and recovery. If you are playing a competitive sport, and allow yourself to become dehydrated, this can affect your decision making and thought process. This is when you start to make plays and decisions you normally wouldn’t. This is why you want to make sure to drink through your exercise consuming 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes.

      After your workout, you want to consume at least 8 ounces of water. When drinking water in relation to exercise, you don’t want to chug it but sip it.

      Drinking water too fast can lead to cramping. You want to think of it the same way you would water a plant. When you water a plant you sprinkle on the water. If you dump it all on it just floods and pools and this is a similar impact that happens in your body.

      Another tip is to drink water that is room temperature, so it’s not a shock to the body – like ice water is – when consumed.

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      How Long Should I Wait to Eat After a Workout to Lose Weight?

      Even if weight loss is your goal, you still need to replenish your body with carbs and protein. These are both important in the healing and recovery process, and will also prepare your body for its next workout. However, you may be able to wait a bit longer to consume them.

      If you’ve been doing any form of cardio, fasted cardio, or high-intensity interval training, your body gets to a state where it’s still able to burn calories and body fat after the workout is done. The act of burning fat is called lipolysis and you want to ride this wave after your workout.[4] If you eat immediately following training, you can interrupt this process. But you also do n’t want to wait too long as your body still requires nutrition.

      Waiting the same amount of time –30 to 60 minutes after a workout to eat – will allow your body to get the most fat-burning benefits from the workout. It’s also important not to go more than 2 hours after a workout without eating as you’ll start to undo the progress you made from the workout.

      Final Thoughts

      Exercise and nutrition need to go hand-in-hand if you’re looking for results. Whether it’s muscle gain, fat loss, improved fitness, or all of these things, it’s vitally important to pay attention to what you eat after a workout.

      A priority needs to be made on protein and carbohydrates and the timing of these things will help determine your success. Avoiding the things that will set you back in your progress is also critical. Consistency and discipline with training and nutrition will be the magical combination to get the most out of your workouts.

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      Featured photo credit: Ryan Pouncy via unsplash.com

      Reference

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