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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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      Last Updated on September 4, 2018

      How to Get Rid of Sore Muscles Fast (What Works And What Doesn’t)

      How to Get Rid of Sore Muscles Fast (What Works And What Doesn’t)

      Avoiding sore muscles requires several commitments to your overall health and well-being. We’re going to examine several aspects of how to recover from workouts, and how to avoid sore muscles.

      Avoiding sore muscles isn’t something you merely achieve through dietary habits; it requires dedication to the full recovery of your body by way of sleep, and pre-habilitation – the primitive rehabilitation of your body which is typically done as post workout stretching and mobility.

      I would like to preface this article by saying that I’m an Ambassador for MobilityWOD – health and fitness organization founded by Dr. Kelly Starrett,[1] the author of NY Times Best Seller Becoming A Supple Leopard. That means I promote mobility and an overall top to bottom healthy lifestyle. I partnered with MobilityWOD because we share a common goal of helping people move better and live healthier, longer.

      Sore muscles can occur in several ways that aren’t just exercise, such as illness or injury. We’re going to just focus on sore muscle recovery from exercise, however some of these remedies are applicable to the other aforementioned causes of sore muscles.

      We’re going to cover quick fix remedies for sore muscles that you can apply immediately, as well as preventative things you can do to avoid sore muscles in the future. So let’s get to it!

      What are sore muscles?

      Sore muscles as a result of exercise, occur due to delayed-onset muscle soreness (or DOMS), which begins hours afterward and peaks (on average) around one to two days.

      Generally, exercise scientists agree that people who experience muscle soreness are doing so as a result of muscle damage and rebuilding. Proteins exit the injured cells while fluid and white blood cells rush to rebuild.

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      Over time, muscle cells are repaired and new cells are developed – all being injected with contractile proteins. Some or all of this process may be inexorably linked with muscle soreness.

      How do muscles get sore?

      There’s many fitness experts that I’ve encountered who preach they do not experience muscle soreness, and contrary to that many still do.

      I’m of the belief that ‘newer lifters’ or those ‘new to exercise’ will experience soreness more dramatically when compared to those that have been working out for several years.

      Now if you’re reading this and thinking “c’mon Adam, I’m going to experience muscle soreness more because I’m new to exercise?!?”, I get it you!

      Here’s the upside, it’s because there’s SO much growth for you to do! Personally having been training for several years, I still notice sore muscles when working out muscle groups that I don’t normally, such as doing a day of just shoulder raises and presses (bodybuilding style) – I’ll feel the DOMs for sure.

      However, if I do a heavy deadlift workout, generally I’ll avoid DOMs due to my recovery regimen (which I’ll share below) and because its an exercise I perform often.

      Those that have been exercising for several years, and of course not including those that use steroids or other recovery substances, are close to/approaching their genetic potential in terms of muscle mass.

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      There’s several online calculators for Lean Body Mass which can come close to revealing your genetic potential by measuring limb length, and bone density. I suggest a quick google search and use several to compare as they may vary slightly in result, however you can try Drug Free Muscle & Strength Potential calculator created by ‘Stronger by Science ‘.

      Myths about sore muscles

      There’re many myths to cover, but let’s quickly hit a few:

      Myth #1: Leaving sore muscles to heal on their own is the best thing to do?

      Common misconception! In fact it’s often a good idea to perform light exercise to aid in recovery by way of promoting blood and oxygen circulation to the muscles, and Synovial fluid within the joints.

      Synovial Fluid – also known as synovia, is a viscous, non-Newtonian fluid found in the cavities of synovial joints. The principal purpose of synovial fluid is to reduce friction between the articular cartilage of synovial joints during movement.

      Often if you leave sore muscles without doing mobility or stretching after training, you’ll end up shortening your range of motion (due to tightness) and healing those muscles in less than optimal positions (end-ranges of motion) and circumstances.

      Myth #2: It’s a bad idea to workout with sore muscles?

      Light exercise can actually help in recovery, but don’t go heavy or over-exert yourself as it can be counter productive.

      Myth #3: Eating or protein shake immediately after a workout will prevent sore muscles?

      This is ultimate bro-science, and though consuming a fast acting carb may help with muscle discomfort/aches after a workout, there’s nothing which directly proves that immediately consuming a protein shake after a workout will reduce muscle soreness or DOMs.

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      Myth #4: DOMs have nothing to do with sleep?

      The majority of muscle repair is done during REM sleep.

      Myth #5: DOMs have nothing to do with gut health?

      During deep sleep/REM sleep, the body heals and recovers muscles through the gastrointestinal tract, which directly correlates with GUT Health.

      How to get rid of sore muscles fast

      Here’s how you get rid of sore muscles quickly after exercise…

      1. Refine what you eat

      One important aspect of muscle recovery is quality protein.

      Don’t go reaching for your synthetic, or all natural protein powders and expect to avoid sore muscles entirely. Aim high for quality sources of protein, and amino acid complexes that will put you on the path to muscle repair, rebuilding, and recovery.

      Here’s some suggestions below for sources of protein.

      • Meat – Various types of beef steaks
      • Poltry – Chicken, pheasant, goose, turkey..etc
      • Fish – Salmon, tilapia, cod, halibut, haddock..etc
      • Hemp or pea protein – If you are deficient of hitting your macro nutrient requirements (typically 1g – 2g of protein per lb of body weight while recovering from exercise), then add a bit of these protein powder sources to your diet. Avoid whey protein, or isolate if you can, however if that’s all you have access to, it will suffice.

      Checkout my recent article on Healthy Food to Gain Muscle.

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      Try these anti inflammatory remedies:

      • Krill Oil (suggested) or wild Alaskan salmon fish oil – The natural fatty acids and antioxidants are known to aid in pain relief. Krill oil will naturally help reduce inflammation and decrease pain within your joints, and in turn help recover muscles by improving overall circulation.
      • Probiotic (supplement or natural plain greek yogurt such as kefir). Your gut health is important and reducing inflammation means less soreness!
      • Hemp oil or CBD oil (non psychoactive). Excellent way to reduce potential inflammation and recover from muscle soreness quickly.
      • Pain relief topical creams – There’s loads of options to choose from, and though many are not 100% proven, some have been said to be quite effective at temporarily mitigating pain from muscle soreness. These are a great quick fix if you want to reduce discomfort and ‘turn down’ before bed.[2]

      2. Treat your body well

      Besides refining your diet, you should do something about your body and muscle:

      • Epsom salt bath with essential oils if you have them available.
      • Compression lightly applied to promote warmth and blood flow – Don’t overdue it because you can stop circulation, which is the opposite of what we’re going for!
      • Massage or acupuncture is something I’ve tried many times over and it has proven results by improving circulation and blood flow to the muscles to aid in recovery.
      • Stretching and mobility is an absolute must! Pre-workout active mobility and foam rolling, followed by post workout static stretching. When you perform stretching and mobility you’re improving circulation and the end-range of those muscle groups by elongating them to their fullest. When your muscles are sore and tight, it’s often because they have been strained, damaged from training, and shortened as a result. We need to open up your range and elongate the muscles with stretching for optimal recovery.
      • Light exercise and walking can be extremely effective for aiding in recovery by promoting circulation.

      3. Have sufficient sleep

      Sleeping is an absolute must for muscle recovery and to avoid muscle soreness! I cannot stress this enough! Please do yourself a favor and get at least 7 hours of sleep per night, and 8-9 hours as needed on days when the workout was extra strenuous.

      You do the majority of your muscle repair when the muscles shut down during heavy deep sleep states. Protein synthesis occurs under conditions of sleep but it occurs in the gastrointestinal tract, not the muscles. Research suggests that it’s during REM (Rapid Eye Movement: explained later) sleep that the body is able to: restore organs, bones, and tissue; replenish immune cells; and circulate human growth hormone.

      Conclusion

      Thought sore muscles aren’t something you can do away with entirely, and honestly who would want to? It tells you that your exercise efforts are not in vein!

      If your muscles are sore, it means you’re putting them to work and they’re rebuilding and growing as we examined earlier.

      No one wants to be completely frozen in soreness the day after training, so if you use these quick remedies for muscle soreness and preventative modalities, I’m confident you’ll be on track for sore muscle pain alleviation along with muscle and strength gains in no time!

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

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