Do heavy weights with low reps build as much muscle as lower weights with higher reps?
The answer is that it depends.
The problem is that no one wants to hear that it depends.
Because it depends is not an answer that the average person is looking for; it is a type of answer that is commonly referred to as a non sequitur. A non sequitur may be a non sequitur because it doesn’t appear to make much sense, this is the standard case. But it may also be that the answer (or perhaps even the nature of the question itself) has been misapprehended, is not actually a non sequitur at all, only appears to be one.
If the above statement seems a little muddled or confusing, Knowing Yourself will come in very handy here. By knowing ourselves, all things will become crystal. This sort of knowledge tends to calm things down, making crooked paths more straightforward and thus this sort of answer easier for us to handle.
And for our purposes, here today, knowing yourself means the following:
- Being familiar with your genetics, perhaps through some good quality genetic testing in the past.
- Having spent some quality time in the gym and owning a relatively long and/or intense history of lifting weights, you have a reasonably solid feel for what works and what doesn’t.
- Both of the above.
As you are here on Quora asking this question, we may assume that nothing in this list applies to you.
Let us imagine that we have recently been on the Internet. We have found that on the .Net people are in the habit of saying all sorts of silly, unbelievable, idiotic and less often, reasonable and sensible things.
Sometimes these things turn out to be true, but more often they turn out not to be, even if they should appear at first blush sensible and reasonable.
Let us imagine further that we have come across two guys arguing in a forum and decide to listen in an attempt to get the sense of it:
.Net Expert Guru (A) is telling us one thing, while .Net Expert Guru (B) says that (A)’s idiotic method won’t work at all. (A) gets upset, doesn’t know WTF (B) is talking about, is a complete dolt and that the opposite is obviously true.
Who’s full of sh*t and who are we to believe?
- Maybe neither
- Maybe (A)
- Maybe (B)
- Maybe both.
Let’s go a bit further and suppose both (A) & (B) are are sincere in their belief that each is right and their counterpart is dead wrong. Let us assume additionally that in fact both have strong expertise and deep knowledge on the topic which interests us and that both are being as honest as they know how to be and are telling us, at least what they believe, to be true.
Here is what (A) says:
High volume training works! For large muscle groups you do 20 sets minimum, 20 reps minimum per set. Smaller muscle groups get less sets, while still maintaining a high rep scheme.. Train with a fast training tempo, little rest between sets. You want beef? This is where you find it!
Here’s (B)’s POV:
Just lift heavy, man! Heavy works! Lifting slow & heavy, you get strong and the stronger you get, the heavier you can lift. You need a good rest between sets, so you are ready for the next one! The more weight you lift, the bigger you get! Any fool can get that!
Here is a simple example. The stimuli are identified here as dumbbells and barbells, in other cases we may use different stimuli as our tools:
- The First Group: Some of us will lift heavy weights, 4–8 reps and get big and strong.
- The Second Group: Others will try to lift heavy weights and they won’t get either big or strong. If these unfortunates are very unlucky, they may also get injured;
- The Third Group: this group will lift lighter weights more intensely, not so heavy, but in a high volume scenario. They will get nice and muscular, maybe not get as strong as the first group, but appreciably stronger than the second group…
The above example is ridiculously simple, perhaps a little too simple. I could go on and on without shedding any more light on this question, but the idea that I am attempting to get across hopefully shines through.
What it all comes down to basically what it has always come down to:
One man’s meat, is another man’s poison.
The right way to train? It’s the way that works, the one that produces the best results.
In order to determine what works, you need to find out, one way or another, by trial & error, by hook or by crook, by design or chance or luck…
…what actually does, ipso facto, work.