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Don't Sweat It: Any Kind of Weightlifting Helps Build Muscle
  • Posted July 14, 2023

Don't Sweat It: Any Kind of Weightlifting Helps Build Muscle

Lifting weights regularly builds strength and muscle — and it doesn't matter if those weights are heavy or light.

It's the act itself, and being consistent, that pays off, according to a new study.

All forms of resistance training are beneficial, including body-weight exercises such as planks, lunges and push-ups, according to kinesiologists at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, who looked at weight, frequency and consistency.

“There are a dizzying number of factors and combinations to consider when creating a weightlifting program to maximize strength and muscle growth,” said kinesiology professor Stuart Phillips, who did the study with graduate students Bradley Currier and Jonathan Mcleod. “This is an age-old debate among athletes and strength and conditioning coaches: what combination leads to the best gains?”

For the study, the researchers reviewed 192 studies that included more than 5,000 people in all.

The work capped years of focus on three resistance-training variables: how much you lift; how often; and how many times, including one, two, three or more training sessions per week. The researchers collected and analyzed massive amounts of data.

Many fitness experts say lifting the heaviest weights three to five times is the best way to build strength and that using weights a person can lift eight to 10 times is best for building muscle size, the study authors noted.

McMaster researchers have spent the last decade pushing back on the idea that heavier is best. Their past research found significant gains from lifting lighter weights 20 to 30 times, toward the point of exhaustion.

In this review, the investigators found that lifting heavier weights was the best way to gain strength. To maximize muscle size, however, the weight was less important than repetitions.

“Our analysis shows that every resistance training prescription resulted in strength and muscle mass gains," Currier said in a university news release. "Complex prescriptions are sufficient but unnecessary to gain strength and muscle. Simple programs are extremely effective, and the most important result is that people can benefit from any weightlifting program."

He urged people to seek guidance if they don't know where to start and how to move forward. "It doesn't need to be complicated,” Currier emphasized.

The researchers called the findings good news for anyone interested in gaining strength and maintaining more muscle. This helps prevent injury, maximizes mobility and optimizes metabolism.

“The biggest variable to master is compliance,” Mcleod said. “Once you've got that down, then you can worry about all of the other subtle nuances, but our analysis clearly shows that many ostensibly important variables just aren't that essential for the vast majority of people.”

The findings were published online July 7 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more on strength training.

SOURCE: McMaster University, news release, July 7, 2023

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