By Charles Poliquin
Lift heavy loads with the intent to move the weight as fast as possible to gain maximal strength. It’s easy to get caught up in lifting lighter loads for more volume and short rest periods with all the focus on body composition, fat loss, and “fitness” training. However, everyone can benefit from training for performance and strength. This tip will tell you how to do so.
A recent study from Norway used active men to compare the effect of a lower body “conventional” weight training program that used 3 sets of a 10 RM load using a controlled tempo with a heavy program that used 5 sets of a 5RM load lifted as fast as possible for 8 weeks. Results showed that the heavy load program produced much better results in all measured variables:
• Leg extension 1RM improved by 50 percent and rate of force development (RFD) by 155 percent and in the heavy load group compared to 35 percent strength and 83 percent RFD gains in the conventional group.
• Work economy, which is an endurance measure that is a factor of both strength and force generation, improved by 30 percent in the heavy load group compared to 17 percent in the conventional group.
• Hypertrophy was nearly equal in both groups with small increases in quadriceps cross-sectional area and muscle mass.
This study shows that you will get more return on your effort by doing heavy load training cycles whether you are a strength, power, or endurance athlete. Increased strength with faster RFD indicates the participants were able to generate higher explosive force. This is noteworthy because it reminds us that power can be trained with heavy loads as long as the intent to move the load as quickly as possible is there. Naturally, lighter power training in which you switch from a fast eccentric to a fast concentric contraction can be included for more advanced power development.
In addition, there’s value for recreational trainees to lift heavy, whether the goal is fat loss or hypertrophy. Heavy load training recruits more high threshold motor units in the muscle that you would not have access to otherwise. More motor units, specifically those associated with the high power and force generating type II muscle fibers, will lead to greater muscle development and the potential for more metabolic stress.
For example, research suggests that type II fibers require a greater metabolic cost, whereas type I fibers are more energy efficient, leading to a slightly slower metabolism. In one study, mice that had been genetically “reprogrammed” to build the type II fibers did not gain weight on a high-fat, high-energy diet compared to normal mice that got fat.
Take away the understanding that true strength development requires you to lift heavy loads—light load training for high reps just won’t do it. Heavy training has carryover for power as long as you focus on intentional explosive force. It’s worth putting in the effort because you will get stronger, faster, and improve your endurance and body composition.
Heggelund, J., et al. Maximal Strength Training Improves Work Economy, Rate of Force Development and Maximal Strength more than Conventional Strength Training. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2013. Published Ahead of Print.