If you’ve noticed the weight room at your gym getting busier, it’s not just your imagination. More women are taking up weightlifting, and the fitness industry is adapting to meet their interest, with boutique studios offering strength classes and Nike launching a strength equipment line.
The benefits of resistance training are numerous and well proven: it extends longevity, increases bone mass, reduces stress, and improves cardiovascular health.
When it comes to the “best” strength training plan, things can get confusing. Should you lift heavier weights, or aim to do more reps and sets? Different influencers give conflicting advice, and various ads claim to offer the next greatest thing. For a long time, even science seemed to offer unclear answers.
A new research paper has reviewed over 1000 studies, providing increased insight into the matter. The findings confirmed that almost any combination of sets and reps, regardless of weight or frequency, will lead to increases in muscle strength and size compared to no exercise.
For increasing muscle strength, training programs that involved multiple sets or heavier weights were found to be most effective. Those programs that included both multiple sets and heavier weights were rated the highest. However, when the goal was to build bigger muscles, how much weight you’re lifting wasn’t as important as multiple sets and multiple days of training per week. The concept of “training to failure,” or doing as many reps as you can until you can’t do any more, typically made no significant difference for building muscle size, except for potentially more advanced lifters.
The “minimum effective dose” for gaining strength was found to be resistance training for at least two sets or sessions per week, while for muscle size, it was resistance training for at least two sets and sessions per week.
To sum it all up:
If your goal is to get stronger, focus on lifting heavier weights for multiple sets, at least two sets or sessions per week.
If your goal is to get bigger, focus on lifting weights more frequently, at least two sets and two sessions per week.
If you’re a beginning lifter, “training to failure” isn’t necessary, but for more advanced individuals, it could potentially kickstart more muscle growth.
It’s not necessary to overthink it! Focus on moves you enjoy, and you’ll see the gains follow.