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Which is Better for Muscle Gain and Fat Loss During a Caloric Deficit: Heavy Weights or High Reps?

The fitness community is divided over which training approach is ideal when in an energy deficit: heavier training or higher-rep training. A recent study by a team of researchers sheds some light on the debate. However, the results are far from definitive.


A Look at the Study

The study was conducted by a team of researchers and involved 130 middle-aged subjects with at least six months of training experience. The study used a randomized crossover design, with each subject completing both heavier and lighter resistance training periods, with an eight-week washout period in between.


The two resistance training periods were identical, except for the training loads employed.

The heavier training used ~80% of 1RM with <10 reps per set.
The lighter training used ~60% of 1RM with <20 reps per set.

Subjects performed a single set of each exercise, taken slightly past momentary concentric failure. Subjects logged their meals in MyFitnessPal, aiming for a 20% calorie reduction from their estimated maintenance needs, while consuming 1.5 grams of protein per kilo of body mass.


Results of the Study

The study produced nearly identical results for both approaches to training. Subjects lost a small amount of fat mass and gained a small amount of lean mass in both conditions. Heavier training showed a slightly better result in fat loss, while higher-rep training showed slightly better results in gaining/retaining lean mass, but the differences were not significant in practical terms.


The study showed that null results can be just as valuable as significant results showing large differences. If two approaches produce similar results, we can expand our options and make informed decisions about training. The study also illustrated the challenges of research with an intentional weight gain or weight loss component, as it is difficult to put subjects in a controlled energy deficit or surplus of a predictable magnitude.


Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the study by this team of researchers does not provide a definitive answer to the debate over heavier training or higher-rep training in an energy deficit. However, it does show that both approaches produce similar results. Therefore, we can use either approach when in an energy deficit, depending on our personal preferences and goals. This study is a valuable addition to the existing body of research, and it highlights the importance of continued research in this field.

For speed and power athletes, incorporating both heavy weight and high-rep training may be beneficial. Heavy weight training can help to increase maximal strength and power, while higher-rep training can improve muscular endurance and overall conditioning. It’s important to work with a qualified coach or trainer to design a training program that is specific to the individual athlete’s needs and goals. Additionally, proper nutrition and recovery strategies should be prioritized to support the demands of intense training.


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