Differential Effects of Heavy Versus Moderate Loads on Measures of Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men

J Sports Sci Med. 2016 Dec 1;15(4):715-722. eCollection 2016 Dec.


The purpose of the present study was to evaluate muscular adaptations between heavy- and moderate-load resistance training (RT) with all other variables controlled between conditions. Nineteen resistance-trained men were randomly assigned to either a strength-type RT routine (HEAVY) that trained in a loading range of 2-4 repetitions per set (n = 10) or a hypertrophy-type RT routine (MODERATE) that trained in a loading range of 8-12 repetitions per set (n = 9). Training was carried out 3 days a week for 8 weeks. Both groups performed 3 sets of 7 exercises for the major muscle groups of the upper and lower body. Subjects were tested pre- and post-study for: 1 repetition maximum (RM) strength in the bench press and squat, upper body muscle endurance, and muscle thickness of the elbow flexors, elbow extensors, and lateral thigh. Results showed statistically greater increases in 1RM squat strength favoring HEAVY compared to MODERATE. Alternatively, statistically greater increases in lateral thigh muscle thickness were noted for MODERATE versus HEAVY. These findings indicate that heavy load training is superior for maximal strength goals while moderate load training is more suited to hypertrophy-related goals when an equal number of sets are performed between conditions.

Keywords: Loading strategies; heavy loads; muscular adaptations; repetition range; skeletal muscle hypertrophy.