McMaster University researchers seeking to answer the age-old question of what weight training is best for building muscle and strength say it depends on which you want most.
A review of some 192 controlled studies with a sample size of around 5,000, evenly split between women and men, generally suggests making resistance training “a habit” is simply better for your overall health than not doing any at all.
Kinesiology professor Stuart Phillips, who conducted the work with graduate students Bradley Currier and Jonathan Mcleod, says most forms of resistance training, including body-weight exercises such as planks, lunges and push-ups, will work.
“For muscular hypertrophy or growth, really the thing that mattered was lifting multiple sets,” Phillips explained.
“It does appear that somewhere around twice a week … maybe three times a week is a good number or frequency, but outside of that, really nothing really revolutionary.”
The project, with results published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, focused on what it took to get people stronger and to experience ‘muscular hypertrophy’ — a signal one is having growth in muscle cells.
Results appear to support past theories that the heaviest weights work best for building strength and lighter weights work best for building muscle size.
Phillips says fatigue appears to be beneficial in both strength building and muscular growth, but does say age factors into the workouts as results may be “muted” for older people.
“In other words, they might not get the same benefits,” Philips said.
“But relatively speaking, we actually found that age wasn’t a big modifier of the response. So the recommendations that we’re giving hold true for younger people versus older people.”
Phillips says the university’s study on weight training is ongoing and when asked whether resistance training or cardio is better for general health, he believes “you need to do both.”
“You’ve really got to focus a little bit more on the strength angle as you get a little bit older,” he says.
“I think you can take that one to the bank. We’re going to get some good work on that soon.”
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