|It turns out, the biceps may even benefit from higher rep, lower weight training.|
The purpose of the study, and that should be obvious considering what I already gave away, was to compare the effect of low- versus high-load resistance training (RT) on muscular adaptations in well-trained subjects.
Schoenfeld et al. recruited eighteen young men who were - important fact! - "experienced in RT". More specifically, ...
"[s]ubjects were between the ages of 18-35, did not have any existing musculoskeletal disorders, were free from consumption of anabolic steroids or any other illegal agents known to increase muscle size for the previous year, and were experienced lifters (i.e., defined as consistently lifting weights at least 3 times per week for a minimum of 1 year, and regularly performing the bench press and squat). The range of lifting experience for all subjects was between 1.5 and 9 years of consistent training" (Schoenfeld. 2015).The subjects were matched according to baseline strength, and then randomly assigned to 1 of 2
- a low-load + high rep resistance training routine (LL) where 25-35 repetitions were performed per set per exercise (n = 9), or
- a high-load RT + normal rep routine (HL) where 8-12 repetitions were performed per set per exercise (n = 9).
|The results of the study at hand put a question mark behind some, but not all of the recommendations in Kramer's paper. The ones on exercise order and workout structure (see above) are still valuable (Kramer. 2004)|
Since even light load exercises can recruit a maximum amount of motor units if they are performed to failure, this argument is yet only relevant if we are talking about light load + no-failure training. It is thus not surprising that previous studies comparing the muscular adaptations in low- versus high-load training programs yielded conflicting results. Results that were mostly generated in untrained subjects and are thus, much in contrast to the study at hand, pretty irrelevant for most of you.
|Figure 1: Overview of all relevant study results. Only the changes in squat strength and strength endurance as measure by 50% bench presses were statistical significant, there was a trend for greater increases in 1RM BP (Schoenfeld. 2015)|
For the triceps, the quadriceps (9.5% vs. 9.3%) and the biceps' antagonist, the triceps (5.2% vs. 6.0%) the differences were marginal and likewise non-significant. Now, it would be revealing, but boring if the results of high rep + low load and low rep + high load training were identical, right? Well, luckily, Schoenfeld et al. did find differences, as well. More specifically, they observed that the
"[i]mprovements 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)" (Schoenfeld. 2015).In addition, and not much to your surprise, I guess, the upper body muscle endurance (assessed by the bench press at 50% 1RM to failure) improved to a greater extent in the low load (LL) compared to high load (HL) group (16.6% vs. -1.2%, respectively).
- Aragon, Alan Albert, and Brad Jon Schoenfeld. "Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window." J Int Soc Sports Nutr 10.1 (2013): 5.
- Kraemer, William J., and Nicholas A. Ratamess. "Fundamentals of resistance training: progression and exercise prescription." Medicine and science in sports and exercise 36.4 (2004): 674-688.
- Schoenfeld, et al. "Effects of Low- Versus High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research Publish Ahead of Print. DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000958