Pump vs. Growth Stimulus
There is a big difference between getting a pump and stimulating muscular growth. The pump is nothing more than blood rushing into the muscles – an effect that can be achieved with extremely light weights. However, the light weights will never promote growth because the stress on the body is too little.
When you are training, you are essentially breaking down tissue. Once the muscle is “damaged” it naturally wants to go back to where it was. That could only happen through repair of the broken components which on a muscular level means increased synthesis of protein. Therefore, the amino acid uptake has no choice but to go higher. The result? A thicker muscle.
How heavy should I lift?
If your goal is to build muscle, you should lift between 60%-85% of your 1RM. If you can squat 300lbs, you will not get much from sets with anything below 180lbs. At the same time, heavy sets over 85% of your 1RM will eat your nervous system and limit your volume.
Maxing out gets you nowhere
Constantly maxing out on different exercises will get you nowhere. All out singles don’t build your strength when you are natural. That’s why performing 1RMs frequently is not recommended and not needed for growth. It’s dangerous, and if your goal is to build muscle, you don’t benefit much from maxing out. It’s essentially a wasted day.
When you are performing max attempts, the weight is certainly heavy enough for the muscle to break down, but the opening window is too short since you are only doing one repetition. What do you think would produce more growth – 1 rep with a super heavy weight or 5 sets of 6-8 reps with a challenging weight? The latter will give you both – a stimulus to grow and a higher amino acid uptake.
Ultimately, to achieve a complete stimulus, you need more than a heavy weight – you need to get tired too. The only way to get there is through volume (larger workload).
Why is volume so important?
Let’s say that somebody hits you in the head with one super hard punch that could knock you out cold. The damage that you will suffer could be severe, and you may even die depending on how conditioned you are.
Now imagine a situation when you are hit 10 times with a punch that’s about 65- 85% of the super knockout punch. That will also be very unpleasant, but if the hits are spaced, you probably won’t fall down as easily. However, in the second case, the damage to your face would be higher.
Scenario 1 (knockout) is the equivalent of maxing out whereas scenario 2 is more like a volume workout. More hits (sets) just equal more damage to the face (tissue).
In short, a 1RM technically damages less tissue than sets of 5 with 80% of your 1RM, for example. As a result, more volume is desirable when growth is the goal.
So, can you grow by lifting light weights?
If you are natural, you cannot get away with lifting really light weights. You need more to stimulate growth.
If your plans are to get “swol” by messing around with the pink plastic dumbbells, it’s not going to happen. Growth requires pain.