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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 July 18, 2019

      11 Best Core Strengthening Exercises to Do At Home

      11 Best Core Strengthening Exercises to Do At Home

      No matter where you are in your fitness journey, chances are you wouldn’t mind a little more definition in your midsection.

      Whether you have a six pack or a beer belly, those abs could probably be a little bit sharper. Not to mention developing better core strength is hugely important when it comes to improving your overall strength and athleticism, as well as protecting you from injuries.[1]

      The good news? Your abs and core muscles can handle a lot of training.

      While most of your muscle groups do best with just two training sessions per week,[2] you can hit your abs every other day to great effect. You don’t even have to leave the house!

      Here’s my guide to the 11 best core strengthening exercises you can do at home with no equipment.

      1. Planks

      Let’s start with the mother of all core-strengtheners, the plank.

      Planks not only work your abs and obliques, they challenge those core muscles deep inside your body that help promote stability and power. They can also reduce back pain and improve your balance and posture.

      Get down into pushup position, feet behind you, hands under your shoulders. Lock out your arms and legs, squeeze your core muscles, and hold your body stiff (like a plank!) for as long as you can.

      For a more challenging variation, try a forearm plank with your arms out in front you. Lay your forearms on the ground for support, with your elbows under your face rather than aligned with your shoulders.

      2. Side Planks

      To hit your obliques even harder, try this challenging variation: the side plank.

      From plank position, rotate onto one side. Prop yourself up on your elbow and one foot with your body straight and stiff.

      Don’t forget to squeeze your core as you hold this position for as long as you can.

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      Switch sides and repeat to avoid creating muscle imbalances.

      3. Reverse Crunches

      The regular stomach crunch is a fine exercise, but when it comes to abs and core strength, you’ll want to opt for moves that are a lot more challenging.

      When you can crank out 50 crunches without a problem, it’s probably time for something new.

      The reverse crunch packs a wallop for your lower abs and can be done anywhere, anytime, just like the standard crunch.

      Lay on your back with knees bent in crunch position. Place your hands flat on the ground by your side and lift your pelvis, bringing your knees up toward your face, then back down again.

      Engage your lower ab muscles to do the work, not your back. Repeat for a few sets of 12-20 reps.

      4. Flutter Kicks

      The lower abs are a problem area for a lot of people, so we’ll want to work them hard.

      If that sounds like you, flutter kicks are just what the doctor ordered.

      Lay flat on your back in leg raise position, hands at your sides or pressed into the floor. Raise your legs together about 6 inches off the floor, then alternate lowering one and raising one a few inches in rapid succession.

      It should look like you’re kicking the air, and it should give you quite a burn in your abdominal area.

      5. Arms High Sit-Ups

      Imagine a crunch, but way harder!

      Lay down on the ground in sit-up position, knees bent, feet flat on the floor in front of you.

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      Raise your arms up to the sky and keep them elevated as you perform a few sets of sit-ups.

      Engaging your arms in this way makes the move extraordinarily difficult and taxing. You’ll get a lot more mileage out of this move versus traditional crunches.

      6. L-Sits

      The L-Sit is outrageously difficult to perform well, but if you can build your strength here, the benefits are phenomenal.

      To perform an L-Sit, you’ll need a stable surface to press off of. You can do them on the floor, but it’s a little easier if you can elevate yourself on a pair of dumbbells, two sturdy chairs, or a similar apparatus.

      Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you. Lock your arms in place at your sides, palms on the ground or surface, and press. Bring your legs into the air, perpendicular to your upper body, using the tension from your locked arms.

      Hold this position as long as possible for an intense strength building workout.

      7. Stomach Vacuums

      And now for something different!

      It’s easy to work your front-facing abdominal muscles, but there is another muscle group in your core that’s frequently overlooked: The transverse abdominis.

      This muscle isn’t visible through your skin, but it’s incredibly important in stabilizing your body, creating good posture, and holding your belly in tight to your spine.

      To strengthen this muscle and get a flatter stomach, try stomach vacuums.[3]

      Standing straight and tall. Exhale all of the air out of your body and simultaneously pull your belly in tight. Imagine sucking your belly button back into your spine.

      You’ll feel the transverse abdominis engage. Hold as long as possible, rest and then repeat.

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      8. Star Planks

      Planks are too effective to not utilize multiple variations of them in your routine.

      The star plank engaged similar muscles to the traditional plank, but is a lot harder to hold for time.

      From the push-up or standard plank position, walk your feet out wide and your hands, as well.

      Your body should form an X position. Elevate your core off the ground, squeeze tight, and hold for as long as possible.

      9. Boat Pose

      Yogis know all about core strength, so if you want a tighter tummy, you should take a page out of their playbook.

      Boat pose is an extremely difficult isometric hold that builds exceptional balance and core power.

      Star in sit-up position. Crunch yourself up toward your knees, then lift your feet off the floor until they’re about level with your face. Balance on your butt, squeeze your core, and hold this position as long as you can.

      Your body should form a V with the only point of contact being your butt on the ground. Holding boat pose should be extraordinarily challenging!

      10. Mountain Climbers

      Ab work alone won’t shred stomach fat. But when you combine abs and cardio, that’s when you’re onto something magical.

      Mountain climbers fit the bill if you’re looking to blast your core and also work up a good sweat.

      Get down into plank position. With your arms locked and your body tight, drive one knee at a time off the floor, up toward your chest, and then back to its original position. Repeat in quick succession.

      It should look like you’re climbing a hill, and it should exhaust you in a matter of seconds!

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      11. Russian Twists

      Finally, let’s give the obliques a little more love.

      Get down into sit-up position and perform a crunch toward your knees. From here, lean back so your torso is at a 45 degree angle to the floor, clasp your hands in front of you, and twist side to side in rapid succession.

      You’ll feel your obliques engage after just a few reps.

      For a more difficult variation, lift your feet off the floor similar to boat pose while perform the move, or perform the twist using a heavy medicine ball for added resistance.

      The Bottom Line

      The biggest piece of the puzzle when it comes to six-pack abs is a low body fat percentage. That’s best accomplished by sticking to a smart diet and building your fully body strength.

      However, if you want to improve your athleticism, overall strength, or even your longevity, you can afford to work your abs a bit more frequently — 3-4 times per week is perfect.

      If you hit them hard enough, you’ll probably see some great improvement in definition as well!

      Cranking out endless crunches is one way to go about core training, but there are so many better and more challenging moves you can try without ever having to leave your living room.

      Give them a shot!

      Featured photo credit: Luis Quintero via unsplash.com

      Reference

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