Reducing the amount of weight lifted can increase muscle strength

Researchers have shown that they can improve their performance by reducing the amount of weight people lift during training.

Weight lifting
New research confirms that exercise based on velocity improves performance while reducing fatigue in the muscles.

The researchers, from the University of Lincoln, UK, have shown that weightlifters can increase their performance across a range of measurements by varying the amount of weight they lift in their training sessions.

These results, which appear in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, may help athletes retain or improve their performance while reducing their muscle fatigue.

Two types of strength training

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults perform exercises for muscle strengthening on at least 2 days of the week.

For example, these exercises could include press-ups, situps, or lifting weights — ideally, as many as a person can manage before they find it difficult to do another repetition.

These forms of exercise are even more important for athletes, especially for those who play sports that rely on muscular strength.

When performing muscle-strengthening exercises is important, the ability to heal is also important for an athlete. Recovering fully means less time injured and hence more time maximizing each workout’s effectiveness.

Weightlifters typically perform muscle-strengthening exercises by lifting a proportion of the maximum amount of weight they can lift. This percentage-based training (PBT) builds muscle strength as they repeat the exercise over days or weeks.

Velocity Based Training (VBT) is an alternative method of weightlift training. Here, the trainer measures the time it takes for the weightlifter to lift the weight at each session. The trainer can then customize the amount of weight the weightlifter is using accordingly.

Varying the amount lifted

The researchers recruited 16 men aged between 18 and 29, all of whom had weightlifting experience of at least 2 years.

Each participant they assigned to one of two groups. The first group had completed 6 weeks of PBT preparation, while the second group was using VBT.

The researchers determined the maximum weight which could be lifted by each participant.

The PBT group then did training based on a percentage of this weight being lifted.

In the meantime, the VBT group conducted a series of warm-ups that allowed the researchers to assess their performance against their predicted maximum and their warm-up measurements of previous days.

The researchers then adjusted the amount of weightlifting the members of the VBT community had done. If that day, a weightlifter was less able to lift weights, the team cut back on the amount they needed them to lift. Conversely, they got heavier weights to lift if the weightlifter was able to lift the weights as quickly as it did on previous days.

Overall, the VBT group ended up lifting less weight than the PBT group over the course of the training.

According to Dr. Harry Dorrell of the School of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Lincoln, “There are a lot of factors that can contribute to the performance of an athlete on a particular day, such as how much sleep they had, nutrition or motivational factors, but with traditional percentage-based methods, we would have no insight into how these effects[ sic] their strength.”

“The velocity-based training allowed us to see if they were up or down on their normal performance and thus adjust the load accordingly.”

“It’s about making sure that on that particular day the athlete lifts the optimal load for them,” he continues. “When you lift too little, you’re not going to stimulate the body as you wish, but if you lift too much, you’re going to get exhausted, which increases the risk of injury.”

“This tiredness doesn’t necessarily happen instantly either. You may lift up too much daily, and this will catch up with you 3 weeks down the line, and you’ll find the muscles are too tired to do what you think should be in your capacity.”

Higher performance, lower muscle fatigue

The weightlifters performed a bench press, traditional deadlift, strict overhead press, counter-movement jump, and squat press at the beginning of the 6 week training programme.

At the end of the study, they then repeated those exercises to determine how effective the two different training regimes had been.

The researchers found that the weightlifters using VBT increased their performance more than the group using PBT, despite the overall lifting less weight.

While the discrepancies between PBT and VBT performance changes were not very big — varying from 1% to 6%, depending on the exercise— the study’s important finding is that the weightlifters were able to achieve such results although lifting less overall weight.

“While some of these modifications could be viewed as only’ small improvements’ and were similar to the group using the traditional training process, the velocity group lifted considerably less to see the progress they achieved,” according to Dr. Dorrell.

“The idea of velocity-based training has been around for a while, but until now, there hasn’t been any science to prove that it actually works; the science has finally caught up.”

– Dr. Harry Dorrell

A considerable finding for athletes is being able to train less but improve overall performance. They can reduce their muscle fatigue and therefore their recovery times by reducing the amount of weight they lift in some sessions, while also avoiding injury.

However, given the recent proliferation of smartphones and other personal training tools, these results may also be of benefit to people performing their regular strength training exercises to stay healthy.

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Ray John

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