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The Best Way to Build Muscle Mass

Heavy weight and low reps or light weight and high reps?

If you’re looking to build muscle mass, you may want to change your training routine! The legendary Milo of Croton was said to have incredible strength and was known to be able to carry a full-sized bull on his shoulders. Milo was said to have achieved his great strength by progressively adding weight as a young child. As a child, he started lifting and carrying a newborn calf, and repeating the feat daily. As the calf grew in size and Milo grew in maturity, he was able to increase his muscle strength and muscle mass steadily. In modern times, this would be equivalent as a child gradually increasing the weight he’s lifting by half a pound until reaching full maturity. Could the man be able to squat 1,000 pounds? We don’t know for sure, but what we do know based on new research is that training heavy every day is not the best way to pack on maximum muscle mass. Some of the most recent studies show that a combination of heavy and light training is best for increasing muscle mass and strength. If shown to be accurate, training with both high and low loads could be optimal for maximal hypertrophy. In the latest study in Medicine in Sports Science and Exercise, researchers assigned subjects to either high-volume, moderate load training group (bodybuilding type routine (HV-ML)) or a low-volume, high load training group (powerlifting type routine (LV-HL)).

The routines looked like this:

– HV-ML group performed 4 sets of 8-12RM to failure with each exercise, with 1.5-second concentric and eccentric phases, and 90 seconds of rest between sets.
– LV-HL group did up to 5 attempts to reach a 1RM on each exercise, with 90 seconds of rest between attempts.

If heavy weights were the only thing that stimulated increases in muscle mass, then the LV-HL group (powerlifting protocol) which increased the weight each set to reach their 1-RM should have resulted in more strength and size, but that’s not exactlyt what happened. The researchers concluded that the HV-ML (bodybuilding routine) group and the LV-HL group (powerlifting routine) attained similar gains in maximum strength, but the HV-ML group (bodybuilding protocol) achieved greater gains in repetition strength and muscle mass. The powerlifting type protocol did not observe any changes in muscle thickness indicating that some training volume is needed to induce muscle mass.

Mattocks KT, Buckner SL, Jessee MB, Dankel SJ, Mouser JG, Loenneke JP. Practicing the Test Produces Strength Equivalent To Higher Volume Training. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2017 May 2.