Do You Need to Lift Heavy to Gain Muscle Mass?

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lift slower, infinite_labs

You Can Still Get Big Without Heavy Weight, But Lift Slower

by: Robbie Durand

Most people look at a bodybuilder and by the sheer size of their muscle, would assume that person is extremely strong.  If you have watched many of the top ranked bodybuilders in the world train, they all train with high-volume exercise, but they don’t train very heavy.  Heavier weight is associated with a greater risk of injury.  There were amazing bodybuilders such as Lee Haney and Jay Cutler who advocated high volume exercise whereas others such as Ronnie Coleman and Dorian Yates who advocated extremely heavy weight.  For those who don’t like to train heavy, there is new research to support that lifting a lighter weight slower can result in similar increases in muscle mass.

Researchers from Brazil reported that lowering the weight slowly instead of fast can result in a greater GH burst during exercise.  GH can be increased by high-intensity exercise that increases blood lactate levels, also rest intervals between sets, volume lifted, intensity and the velocity or speed of movements.  Researchers wanted to examine the GH responses when men bench press with a weight that was lowered slowly and the when the weight was lowered rapidly.

lift slower, infinite_labs
These results demonstrate the influence of eccentric lowering speed on metabolic stress and acute hormonal responses.

-The men in one group took half a second to lower the weight [fast eccentric velocity; FEV];

-the men in the other group took three seconds to lower the weight [slow eccentric velocity; SEV].

The experimental protocol consisted of only the eccentric phase of movement in the bench press exercise (free weight), which was performed with four sets of eight repetitions at 70% of 1RM and 2-minute rest intervals between sets.

The results were quite shocking, the slow eccentric lowering bench press group (i.e. 3 seconds to lower the weight) resulted in a greater metabolic stress to perform the exercise, resulting in increased 17 times greater GH secretion after an eccentric exercise bout (~ 1700% higher).  The slow lowering eccentric group also had greater blood lactate responses compared to the fast lowering group. These results demonstrate the influence of eccentric lowering speed on metabolic stress and acute hormonal responses. What’s interesting is that we have two identical groups performing the same weight yet the GH responses were much lower in the fast eccentric lowering group. In conclusion, slow velocity eccentric muscle actions influence acute responses after bench press exercise performed by resistance-trained men, resulting in a greater metabolic stress and hormone response. These results suggest that slow eccentric bench press exercise prescribed by a specific muscular strength test is an effective way to induce a significantly greater GH release.

New research published from the International Journal of Sports Medicine published a new study titled, “Low-Load Slow Movement Squat Training Increases Muscle Size and Strength but not Power. “

Researchers tested a hypothesis that low-load squat training with slow movement force generation would increase muscle size and strength but not necessarily power. Healthy young men were assigned to:

  • light weight training group [50% one-repetition maximum (1-RM) load, 3 seconds for lowering/lifting without pause] or
  • low-load normal speed (50% 1-RM load, 1 s for lowering/lifting with 1-s pause) groups.
lift slower, infinite_labs
he 3 second group increased their quadriceps muscle size by 6-10% and their 1 RM squat by 10%.

Both groups underwent an 8-week squat training program (10 repetitions/set, 3 sets/day, and 3 days/week) using the assigned methods. Before and after the intervention, leg muscle thickness, maximal strength testing were measured. At the conclusion of the 8 weeks the 1 second up and down group saw no improvement in any of the measured variables. The 3 second group increased their quadriceps muscle size by 6-10% and their 1 RM squat by 10%. These results suggest that 3 seconds for lowering/lifting without pause can increase muscle size and task-related strength, but has little effect on power production during dynamic explosive movements.  The really interesting finding of this paper was that if you want to take a break from heavy lifting, you can lighten the weight and still make gains in muscle size if you slow down the lifting pace.

Usui S, Maeo, S, Tayashiki, K, Nakatani,M, Kanehisa, H. Low-Load Slow Movement Squat Training Increases Muscle Size and Strength but not Power. International Journal of Sports Medicine. Published online 14 December 2015.

Calixto R, Verlengia R, Crisp A, et al. ACUTE EFFECTS OF MOVEMENT VELOCITY ON BLOOD LACTATE AND GROWTH HORMONE RESPONSES AFTER ECCENTRIC BENCH PRESS EXERCISE IN RESISTANCE-TRAINED MEN. Biology of Sport. 2014;31(4):289-294. doi:10.5604/20831862.1127287.

Goto K, Ishii N, Kizuka T, Kraemer RR, Honda Y, Takamatsu K. Hormonal and metabolic responses to slow movement resistance exercise with different durations of concentric and eccentric actions. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2009;106:731–739.

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