Using progressive overload, is it possible to get the same muscle building effect by using less weight?


Ok, on the face of it, the question seems preposterous and the answer to it obvious. Why should anyone waste time answering it, let alone read it? Ok, but just hold on a minute, things aren’t as they may seem.

I mean, right, wouldn’t it nice to get twice the benefit from doing half the work? A little like a muscle-making perpetual motion machine or a miracle? Yeah cool sure, dream on angel, dream on.

Give me a minute of your time and allow me to explain. Let me begin by first bringing out my old whipping boy, The Gene Card, to deal with a question of this sort. Why? Because I always like to pull out the genetic explanation for everything, it’s handy. Genes are almost Destiny,  yeah but not quite. As to the question of what the best method of lifting for you is, the answer to this will quite likely depend on certain combinations of your genes and the protein factors that they express. Yeah, many things in life seem to be a lottery ticket or a crapshoot, but not everything.

I can see right now that more than a few people will try to be clever and pipe up with: “Ok, I have the combination that says ‘the best method of lifting for me is going to be the NONE method.” Ha, ha funny. Good one! Pat yourself on the back, you’re a real comedian.

When pumping iron, it’s a good idea to contemplate the following important variables and how they affect building muscle:

  1. Time (under tension) this will include tempo as well as total time (coffee breaks and babe chat-ups don’t count) that you spend actually lifting weights;
  2. Volume (let’s also include the distribution of sets/reps here to save ourselves unnecessary hassle);
  3. Weight (not much to say about weight, unless you’re a science geek and want to resort to mass, and then you’ll probably speak in metric and not imperial) this will include bands, TRX and everything in between;
  4. Focus (not a scientific term, but one that I like) includes some intangible and subjective factors like intensity, desire, and other stuff.

No, you can’t get the same things by lifting half of the weight (as some other writers here have pointed out), all other things being equal. If all things are not equal, then and only then does some interesting shit starts to flutter its bedroom eyes at you.

For example, if I decide to halve the weight or the volume and double the time. Or, say, resort to a technique called kaatsu (basically blood flow restriction) training as a way to apply further mechanical stress on the muscle to increase damage on the cellular level then, by Geoffrey… the potential number of possibilities begins to multiply and different outcomes start to beckon to you.

If you don’t like the idea of using tourniquets, then by slowing down the movement so, for argument’s sake, you spend say twice the amount of time on a set, a similar effect is likely to occur.

So, as long as you make sure that all are things are not equal, it is quite feasible that by lifting (and lowering!) half the amount of weight, you could get similar effects, at least as far as hypertrophy goes.

You’ll just have to spend twice the amount of time-on-target doing it, or use some tie-downs.

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