Does Heavy Lifting Build Muscle – Garage Strength

Does Heavy Lifting Build Muscle

You need to have a sense of context around the loading. You want to first figure out what is considered heavy weight. You can think of heavyweights as anything that increases strength speed or absolute strength. If you are lifting over 80% of your 1 RM, you are lifting heavy. So training heavy means you need to focus on training with a weight that is 80% or higher.

Training the 60% weight range, you will be focusing more on dynamic strength and speed strength. If you do a lot of reps it will lead to large amounts of possible muscular damage and a lot of mechanical tension which can lead to sarcoplasmic hypertrophy for a big pump. 

Thinking about the above two examples, you can get a good understanding of comprehension and intensity.

Performance Goals

Do you want to get stronger? Meaning, do you want to increase your 1 rep max?

Or, do you want to be more hypertrophic? Meaning, do you want to gain more muscular size?

Think about Brad Schoenfeld and his research. Shoenfeld has put together a large group of researchers to look at the 1 RM of the elbow flexors and the leg press. Through that research, they created a weird experiment that helps identify what intensities are best for muscular size and muscular strength.

The researchers had 30 individuals. Everything was tested at the beginning of the experiment. The researchers would have the individuals train one limb at 20% of their tested 1 rep max. The contralateral limb, the other limb, would be selected to train at 40%, 60%, or 80% of their one rep max. The cool part is that the individuals matched the volume on each limb. The researchers did this with the elbow flexors and the leg press.

During the research, the experimenters measured cross-sectional areas (muscle size) and muscle strength. The training was done only twice a week.

You can visualize it using a bicep curl. Let’s say your 1 RM bicep hammer curl can be done with 100 lb dumbbells. In one arm you will do 3 sets to failure using 20 lbs dumbbells. Now let’s say those 3 sets to failure totaled 60 reps. With the other arm, you will do 60 total reps using 40 lbs, 60 lbs, or 80 lbs depending on which group you fell into within the experiment.

does heavy lifting build muscle

After 12 training sessions (6 weeks) and 24 training sessions (12 weeks), the experimenters retested the 1 rep maxes. For cross-sectional comparisons of the elbow flexors, the 80% intensity weight range showed a 25% increase versus the 20% intensity weight range showing only an 11% increase at the end of the 12 weeks of the experiment.

The most optimal rep ranges were 80% and 60% weight intensity weight range. They both showed a nice increase in cross-sectional area and the 1 rep max.

The big takeaway is that all intensities showed an increase in muscle mass, it is just that 60% and 80% are the most optimal for increasing cross-sectional area and strength.

What Does It Mean?

You need to understand that experiment tells us that if you are training for the size you can train to use intensity ranges across the board, like 40% and 60%, to increase cross-sectional muscle size. You can still achieve gains going light. 

It is really important information for you to hold onto if you are traveling, in-season, or injured. As an athlete, there are still ways for you to increase strength and size.  

Now you are thinking going light is okay (and it is), but you also need to know that 80% intensity shows the most optimal percentage for strength and size.


There are clear benefits to training with lighter weights and heavier weights. Both increase cross-sectional area, size of muscles, and strength. You see that 40-60% are good but not as optimal as 80%.

The study is cool; it is well executed and gives you as a coach a great perspective on how to train in-season, addressing injuries or a lagging muscle group, and enables you to be confident that athletes won’t get pathetically weak training in the 40-60% rep range. 


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