Is the optimal training high weight with low sets or low weight with high sets
In a study conducted on 23 cyclists (Jackson et al., 2007), the cyclists were divided into three groups that performed different training programs for 10 weeks: training with high working weights and low repetitions, training with low working weights and high repetitions, and a training program that included only bicycle riding.
At the end of the study, an improvement in the strength component was observed in all the strength training groups, while the group that lifted high weights with a low repetition dose showed a significant improvement in performing the leg press exercise on the machine. The improvement in muscle mass and muscle endurance was almost the same in all groups tested.
The study, like many other similar studies, emphasizes the advantage of training with high weights with a relatively low amount of repetitions in each work set. This is consistent with the common training method of weightlifters and powerlifters who train in the same way to achieve greater muscle control by improving the nervous system - an important factor for increasing muscle strength.
And what about the optimal number of repetitions for fat percentage reduction? The popular belief in the public is that training with a high number of repetitions has a magical ability to reduce fat tissue, but such training has no advantage over heavy training with a lower dose of repetitions.
A study (Geliebter et al., 1997) that examined the issue found that weightlifters who lifted heavy weights lost weight in the same way as those who performed aerobic activity, but at the micro level - the weightlifting group decreased more in fat percentage compared to the aerobic group, which lost muscle mass along with losing fat.
But not only the amount of repetitions performed and the weight lifted is the only parameters that will determine the percentage of fat burning in the weight loss process, but also the intensity of the training performed. Studies have even found that more intense training, with less rest time between sets and exercises and reaching failure, creates an effect at the hormonal, metabolic, and caloric levels that is also manifested in fat mass loss. Beyond that, of course, the most important component in losing weight and fat was and will remain a caloric deficit alongside personal genetics.
The goal of the training is the one that will determine the number of repetitions in the central part of the training. For example, in training whose main goal is increasing muscle strength, about 80% of the training exercises will be in the form of work of six repetitions or less (a number that is more aimed at muscle strength), and only 20% of all the training exercises will be aimed at other goals such as endurance and achieving hypertrophy by performing a higher dose of repetitions ( 6-15 repetitions for hypertrophy, and over 15 repetitions for another sub-goal of muscle endurance). Alternatively, if the goal of the training is a decrease in fat percentage, greater emphasis will be placed on the hypertrophy and endurance components and less on the muscle strength component.
As a rule of thumb, it can be stated that for most trainees it is recommended to perform a significant part of the training exercises in a repetition range of 6-15 repetitions, where the advantages are good stimulation for the muscle with a lower risk of injury compared to lifting higher weights with a lower repetition dose. The rule applies all the more to beginner trainees, to allow them a learning curve and a more gradual exposure to lifting weights.
In conclusion, training that combines a high number of repetitions with low weights is effective for increasing muscle endurance, but for most people muscle endurance is not the main goal. To maximize the training results, it is necessary to combine in a controlled and safe manner work with high lifting weights (according to personal ability) and concentrate on creating a basis for building strength components and muscle mass over time.