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Low Load Training is Effective for Muscle and Strength Gains

For effective muscle growth and strength gains, incorporating resistance training into your routine is essential. While heavy weights are often seen as the go-to, recent studies suggest that low load resistance training, using weights under 50% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM), can yield comparable results. This approach is beneficial for both healthy individuals and those managing chronic conditions.

Despite skepticism around the effectiveness of lifting lighter weights, ample evidence supports its efficacy. Further research is needed to fully grasp the cellular responses to different weight ranges and their practical implications.

To optimize results with lighter weights, aim for high effort and train to near failure, maintaining a high rate of perceived exertion (RPE) through more reps. Recommended frequency is 2–3 times weekly, with 3–4 sets per exercise using weights no lighter than 30% of your maximum strength.

You can complement low-load training with heavier weights based on your goals, offering flexibility and sustainability in your workout regimen.

Low-load training doesn't necessarily require equipment; variations of common exercises can be performed at lower intensity. For instance:

  • Sit and stand from a chair instead of squats

  • Step up and down a step instead of lunges

  • Lift weights from a low surface instead of deadlifts (rack pulls)

  • Wall or knee pushups instead of full pushups

  • Incorporate resistance bands for a versatile, low-load workout option.

Similar research supports the efficacy of low-intensity cardiovascular training, such as polarized training favored by elite endurance athletes. This approach emphasizes low-intensity aerobic work (about 80% of total training volume), providing a solid aerobic foundation without excessive strain.

Low-intensity running typically falls within zone 2 intensity, where conversation is possible but slightly challenging. While measuring intensity via METs can be complex, it's a valuable metric for understanding effort levels during different activities.

Moderate-intensity exercises range from 4–6 METs, including brisk walking and light cycling. Vigorous intensity surpasses 6 METs, as seen in high-intensity interval training and running.

While wearables may not directly measure METs, tracking heart rate and referring to intensity charts can estimate exercise intensity levels accurately.

Consistency and variation in intensity are key for both resistance and aerobic training, ensuring progressive and balanced fitness outcomes.

For a deeper dive, check out my full article on Medium (free link)


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