Effects of resistance training with moderate vs heavy loads on muscle mass and strength in the elderly: A meta-analysis

Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2016 Sep;26(9):995-1006. doi: 10.1111/sms.12536. Epub 2015 Aug 24.


The purpose of the present study was to perform a meta-analysis to compare the efficacy of heavy (∼80% of one repetition maximum, 1RM) vs light-moderate load (∼45% 1RM) resistance training (RT) programs in inducing strength gains and skeletal muscle hypertrophy in elderly people. To assess the role of training volumes, studies in which training protocols were matched for mechanical work were independently analyzed. In all 15 studies included (448 subjects, age 67.8 years), when comparing heavy with light-moderate loads, strength gains tended to be larger following RT with higher intensities of load, with the resulting total population effect being μ = 0.430 (P = 0.060). Effect sizes were substantially smaller in "work-matched" studies (μ = 0.297, P = 0.003). Training with higher loads also provoked marginally larger gains in muscle size, although the degree of training-induced muscle hypertrophy was generally small (0.056 < μ < 0.136). To conclude, provided a sufficient number of repetitions is performed, RT at lower than traditionally recommended intensities of load may suffice to induce substantial gains in muscle strength in elderly cohorts.

Keywords: Low-load exercise; hypertrophy; muscular adaptations; resistance exercise; sarcopenia.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Strength*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / anatomy & histology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Organ Size
  • Physical Exertion
  • Resistance Training / methods*
  • Weight-Bearing