Schoenfeld BJ et. al. Effects of Low Versus High Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men.J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Apr 3. [Epub ahead of print]
The purpose of this study was to compare the effect of low- versus high-load resistance training (RT) on muscular adaptations in well-trained subjects. Eighteen young men experienced in RT were matched according to baseline strength, and then randomly assigned to 1 of 2 experimental groups: a low-load RT routine (LL) where 25-35 repetitions were performed per set per exercise (n = 9), or a high-load RT routine (HL) where 8-12 repetitions were performed per set per exercise (n = 9). During each session, subjects in both groups performed 3 sets of 7 different exercises representing all major muscles. Training was carried out 3 times per week on non-consecutive days, for 8 total weeks. Both HL and LL conditions produced significant increases in thickness of the elbow flexors (5.3 vs. 8.6%, respectively), elbow extensors (6.0 vs. 5.2%, respectively), and quadriceps femoris (9.3 vs. 9.5%, respectively), with no significant differences noted between groups. Improvements in back squat strength were significantly greater for HL compared to LL (19.6 vs. 8.8%, respectively) and there was a trend for greater increases in 1RM bench press (6.5 vs. 2.0%, respectively). Upper body muscle endurance (assessed by the bench press at 50% 1RM to failure) improved to a greater extent in LL compared to HL (16.6% vs. -1.2%, respectively). These findings indicate that both HL and LL training to failure can elicit significant increases in muscle hypertrophy among well-trained young men; however, HL training is superior for maximizing strength adaptations.
For years, it’s been taken basically as an article of faith that the best way to stimulate muscle growth is with relatively heavy loads for lower repetitions. The hypertrophy zone is usually defined as 8-12 (5-15 is better) repetitions per set with heavy weights. Muscle fibers are recruited in an order according to the size principle with only the high threshold Type II muscle fibers (the ones most responsible for growth requiring heavy loads of 80-85% for maximal recruitment.