Conventional thinking tells us that adding weight, not reps, is always the way to build muscle, but a new study suggests that’s not the case.
My name is Milo. You know the story, the one about the man with the bull? Something is wrong.
As you may know, Milo is known as the “Father of Progressive Resistance Training.” In Greece as early as the 6th century BC, Milo picked up a newborn calf, carried it on his shoulders, and walked it around until it was time to clean the leaves from the Corinthian pillars in front of his aunt’s house her temple.
The next day, Milo picked up the calf and walked around again. The same goes for the next day and the next. He must have thought it would make him a stronger wrestler, so he continued to do it. Meanwhile, the calf was gaining weight. In no time, it was a full-grown bull, and Milo was still walking around like Bob Cratchit carrying a big, no longer skinny Tim on his back.
Yes, that’s it – progressive overload at work.
Modern man marvels at this story, especially when we consider that bulls weighed between 1,100 and 2,200 pounds.
This is what makes me suspicious. Not even “World’s Strongest” Tom Stoltman could lift a piece of meat this size over his shoulders without a crane, let alone transport it to the Acropolis.
I did some research and it turns out that before 1790, at least in the US, the average beef cattle weight was only 350 lbs. Hell, it only takes a little extrapolation to figure out that Milo’s bull probably doesn’t weigh more than Mrs. Papadopoulos’ poodle, Dimitri.
Well, I’m exaggerating a bit. Milo’s bulls were probably nowhere near as heavy as today’s bulls, though. This means that by the time the bull reaches his relatively meager adult weight, Milo has largely plateaued.
Maybe he decided he needed to do more “representation” with the Bulls. You know, take a little bit, let it go, rest, and do it again. However, he may wonder if doing more reps with the same weight is as beneficial to the body as constantly adding weight.
Unfortunately, he was unable to consult a group of researchers, including Brad Schoenfeld, who compared the effects of the two progressions on their own. Milo will realize that the two methods seem to be quite similar in terms of building muscle.
No doubt Schoenfeld and his colleagues had an epiphany while drinking lab-brewed beer from a 1,000-milliliter beaker: They realized that no one had ever conducted a study “designed to directly compare the effects of gradual repetition and loading on muscle adaptation.” Sexual Effects” study. “
They predicted that “…gradual loading would produce better maximal strength, and progressive repetition would produce better muscular endurance.” But it’s a good thing they went ahead with the study anyway, because it turns out they were dead wrong.
Here’s how they came to their conclusion: They recruited 43 participants (27 men, 16 women) who had undergone continuous lower-body resistance training for at least a year and divided them into two groups. The first set will increase the load while keeping the reps constant (LOAD set), while the second set will increase the reps while keeping the load constant (REP set).
All participants are poked, prodded and tested. They assessed their 1RM on the Smith machine, recorded their endurance in leg extensions, determined their reverse jump height, and measured their thigh and calf muscle thickness.
Subjects performed 4 sets of 4 lower body exercises per week for 8 weeks:
- back squat
- leg stretch
- straight leg calf raise
- sitting calf raise
Both sets started with participants attempting to maintain a maximum of 8-12 repetitions per set. As the workout progressed, the LOAD group kept increasing the load while maintaining the target repetition range. Meanwhile, the REP group attempted to increase repetitions while maintaining the initial load.
All trainees performed repetitions in a controlled manner while spending 1 second performing concentric movements and 2 seconds performing eccentric movements. Groups are performed to the point of momentary concentric failure.
After eight weeks of training, the researchers repeated all the same poking, prodding and testing they had done before the study began.
Who’da thunk, but the results of REPS training are usually similar to LOAD training:
Both groups gained considerable muscle mass during the 8-week training period. Muscle thickness increased in the soleus, gastrocnemius, and all three vastus lateralis measurements. However, there was one notable exception: REPS showed a modest advantage over LOAD in rectus femoris thickness.
The 1RM squat gained an average of 20 kg across all participants, but LOAD showed results that were about 10% higher than REPS.
In terms of leg extension endurance, there was no significant difference between the groups, as both groups increased by approximately 7 repetitions.
Neither group improved on this measure, nor did there be any difference in performance between the two groups.
I’ll let the research team say it themselves:
“Across the 8-week training cycle, progressive loading and repetitions produced similar gains in muscle size in most muscles and lower body regions. This suggests that both may be sufficient to maximize hypertrophy, at least in the short to medium term However, we found that a moderately favorable measure of total muscle thickness favored rectus femoris growth in REPS… load progression was slightly more effective for maximal strength and equally effective for muscular endurance performance.”
Many of you should be excited about these discoveries. Let’s say you’re injured or have bad joints, or maybe you’ve just reached a steady state where you’re stuck with something heavy. It could be that you’re an old jerk who gave up on heavy weight training. Maybe you work out at home and just use up the weights to slap the bar.
Regardless, this study tells you that increasing your reps rather than adding weight is a viable strategy for getting bigger and stronger, at least for a while.
i feel late Charles Polykin These findings were long suspected to be true. I recall the bicep workouts he sometimes used to build strength and promote hypertrophy, which somewhat mirrored the findings of the research. It involves using the same load in an exercise while increasing the number of repetitions in each subsequent exercise. Here is an example:
- the first week: 4 sets of 4 reps
- the second week: (same load) 4 sets of 5 reps
- The third week: (same load) 4 sets of 6 reps
- the fourth week: (increasing load) 4 sets of 4 reps
- fifth week: (same load as week 4) 4 sets of 5 reps
- Sixth week: (same load as week 5) 4 sets of 6 reps
Unfortunately, there’s no absolute way (yet) to know if these findings apply to the biceps, or upper body in general, as well, but it wouldn’t be too crazy to assume they do.
But even if you’re a sucker for weights, it seems like a good idea to mix it up and let yourself focus on putting that bull down, taking a break, and then picking it up again for reps. rather than a load of slaves.
- Plotkin D, Schoenfeld BJ et al., Progressive overload without progressive load? Effects of loading or repetition on muscle adaptation. Peer J. 2022 Sep 30;10:e14142. PubMed.