Recommendations about the “best” strength training program for runners change all the time. Should you be lifting light weights many times to increase your muscular endurance or is it better hoisting heavy barbells to maximize neuromuscular recruitment?
Different recommendations can make you confused, but new study from McMaster University suggests that you don’t need to sweat the details. At a conference at York University, researchers presented findings from 49 volunteers who completed 12 weeks of full-body resistance training, four days a week.
Half of the participants did three sets of each exercise with relatively heavy weights that they could lift 8 to 12 times per set before reaching failure; the other half lifted lighter weights 20 to 25 times.
At the end of the study, the gains in strength and muscle mass were almost indistinguishable between the two groups. The key to inducing the gains, researchers emphasized, was that they all lifted to failure in each set.
There might still be specific advantages to heavier weights in some contexts, but the overall message is that building muscle is easier than most of us thought. Older runners usually prefer to use lighter weights to minimize the stress on injury-prone joints. And the findings also suggest that you can get good results exercising at home with a few dumbbells and bodyweight exercises – as long as you workout to failure.
It’s that simple, but it’s definitely not easy.