T Nation

CT's Article, Achieving Hypertrophy with 30% Load


Today’s article by CT ( https://www.t-nation.com/training/single-best-muscle-building-method ) cites a 2012 article suggesting that equivalent hypertrophy can be achieved with a 30% or 80% load, as long as “fatigue” was achieved. CT himself was surprised at the findings, but he did give useful advice based on the assumption that the research findings are credible. However, I’m not so convinced of the underlying research. There were two points that caught my attention:

  1. The study was conducted on men in their early 20s who “were recreationally active with no formal weightlifting experience or regular weightlifting activity over the last year.” I can think of very few breeding grounds for newbie gains which could hypothetically affect those doing low and high loads to the same extent.

  2. I could probably make this critique about most studies of this nature, but the sample sizes are simply too small to draw any firm conclusions. 18 subjects were assigned to complete 2 of the 3 protocol, leaving me to conclude that on average, 12 subjects completed each of the 3 protocols. My experience as a PhD empirical researcher (granted in a non-health related field) suggest that anything can happen when the sample size is too low (despite low standard errors). This is why we have so many contradictory research findings in health and medical studies: each study is simply to small. When samples are this small, at the very least, researchers should not be conducting analysis with means (which are heavily influenced by outliers). Medians would be far more appropriate.

I’d like to hear other people’s opinions on this research? Is anyone here going to consider dropping loads down to 30%?


I don’t think that the point of the article is to fixate on the 30% figure, just to point out that you don’t need to destroy yourself hitting a new 5RM every workout; hitting failure with light weights will make you grow, too.

It’s hardly a new concept, and comes back to the basic principle that you need two things to grow:

  1. Lift a weight heavy enough to cause serious mechanical stress
  2. Lift a light weight enough times to burn like hellfire

If you do both of those in a workout, your bases are covered and you’ll grow provided you take care of nutrition, recovery, blah blah blah


Any theoretical argument will eventually be based on other studies which are equally flawed or, even worse, regurgitations of articles from dubious authors with equally dubious interpretations of such studies. I anticipate personal experience will be shot down and attempted to be nullified by cries of drugs or genetics by some who have turned all this into some sort of dogma without the experience nor results.

The best thing to do would be to try it out yourself and evaluate results based on the very sound principles laid out by Thibs in the article because Thibs has the strength, size and results from so many trainees over the years to base his conclusions on. Let us not forget that Thibs is Da Beast. He keeps what he kills.

Btw, to those who have been giving me crap over similar things I have written(none were based on this study), just go argue with Thibs next time. :grimacing:


It is hard to draw conclusions from this study (besides the sample size) is that there are so many variables that need to be controlled. For example: age, experience lifting, types of lifts, duration of training protocol, natural build (endo/etco/meso morph), gender, lifestyle, and nutrition should be taken into account. With that said, from person experience I have seen gains in size and strength-endurance using 20 reps on upper and lower body workouts. Then there is the issue of calculating percentages - it probably changes as the trainee continues to lift.


And with regards to publishing. There is some serious bullshit going on with financial and job security incentives by researchers to publish crap (I think 3 a year is good) regardless of the quality of the work.


Instead of wanting to be convinced by the research, I’d suggest implementing the advice into your own training for six weeks and seeing what happens.

Brad Schoenfeld wrote Light Weights for Big Gains a few years ago, looking at the same study and others. Chad Waterbury has written about the benefits of high rep training (though not really to true muscular failure). Plenty of other coaches and, like, pro bodybuilders have spoken about the benefits of working in all rep ranges - low, moderate, and high. It’s out of style, recently, but it works.

Not really. And Thib was very clear in the article that going that light most likely isn’t necessary or efficient for health, experienced lifters. 30%RM is probably close to 50 reps per set. While it may be useful as an occasional finisher or something similar, training just in that range isn’t going to be a great bodybuilding plan for any extended period of time.

I will say, though, Watertbury’s SOB Training program (which he wrote long before this study was out) has days training with 30-50 reps, and days training 2-6 reps, and days training inbetween. And it’s one of my favorite routines around. Brutally simple, felt great during and after, good stuff.


SOB looks kinda fun. I get a little turned off by programs that are hard to organize on paper ahead of time, since it looks like it doesn’t exactly repeat itself in a regular basis. Or am I misreading it?


Yeah, it gets a little tricky because pretty much every session is different movement patterns done in a different order with different sets/reps each day. But spending a few minutes once a week to sit down with a pen and paper, using the article for reference, you can set it up pretty quickly.

One other thing I liked was how it pairs upper horizontal push with upper vertical pull, and vice versa, instead of the more usual vertical push/pull and horizontal push/pull. Nice change of pace.


I try to avoid pairing vertical pulling and vertical pushing, at least in a antagonist pairing or superset. Once my lats get pumped and tight, my overhead pressed by goes to shit due to reduced ROM. In the past, this sometimes caused shoulder pain too.


OP, in your post you state “fatigue”. I only glanced over the article today and the replies in this topic. But, the article was based on training to “failure” if I am not mistaken?


I just went back and glanced over the article again. There is a whole section about “Think failure…Not fatigue” WTF


To give my opinion on the subject though, it seems logical to me. You are working the muscle against a load until all energy supplies are used up, and the sarcomeres in the skeletal muscle can no longer shorten. Important to remember, this article is about building muscle and not strength.


MBDIX: I googled “Cameron J. Mitchell et al. J Appl Physiol 2012;113:71-7” to get the actual study, and this is a quote from it:

Participants completed 10 wk of unilateral knee extension resistance training. Each leg was randomly assigned in counterbalanced fashion to one of three possible unilateral training conditions: one set of knee extension performed to voluntary failure at 80% of 1RM (80%-1); three sets of knee extension performed to the point of fatigue at 80% of 1RM (80%-3); or three sets performed to the point of fatigue with 30% of 1RM (30%-3).

So, the first assignment was only 1 set, but the other two where three sets (and thus, you can compare 30% vs 80% load). In these two assignments, the sets are taken to the “point of fatigue”.


More generally to everyone: Thanks for your responses. I agree that training at different loads is optimal. I guess I was just surprised that 30% gave the same overall hypertrophy as 80%. I would have thought between 50 and 80, or something like that, would be equivalent. But 30%?? That is bordering on cardio. If you squat 300 lbs, that means that doing three sets with 90 lbs to fatigue (or maybe they meant failure?) is the same as taking three sets of 240 lbs to fatigue. Even CT was surprised (at least at first). My point is that I don’t necessarily buy the results from one study. And I agree with dt79 and Chris_Colucci point that the best way is to try it yourself - I would just want to see more evidence (whether scientific or from testimonies) before investing time with a 30% load on my back.

Has anyone tried such a low load for an extended period of time? Any positive results? I see that Aero51 tried 20 reps with good results…that seems more reasonable to me, although I’m surprised that it worked for upper body (thought this was more effective for lower body)


@MarcF. Did the study go on to cover 3 sets @ 30% 1rm to failure and 3 sets @ 80% to failure compared to 80% to fatigue? Did the 3 sets @ 30% to fatigue trigger more muscle growth compared to the 1 set of 80% to failure. I won’t have time to look at the actual study for a while and just going off the article on here, he specifically says “Think failure, Not fatigue”


Something that occurred to me is one reason a 30% load may have proven to have positive results is because most people who train do not have proper execution of isolation exercises or good MMC. If you’re doing let’s say barbell or dumbbell curls at your perceived 80%, depending on your execution, if a majority of the load is distributed between your shoulders and lower back because of poor execution, your actual 80% is far lower than what you think if you really want to keep it in the biceps. Another example could be dumbbell lateral raises, one of the most butchered exercises we see in the gym. Going to a lower percentage really eliminates a lot of possibility of improper execution for most trainees, which could have played a role into the results.


The article specifically says this particular method isn’t best suited to compound exercises like squats. Re-read Points 2 and 3 in the article where CT explains why not.

Yep. Good example. Ties back into choosing the right load and volume for the right exercises, which is Program Design 101. One of the benefits of use lighter weight for certain exercises is that you can focus just on contracting the working muscle moreso than with heavier lifts.

Something like Poundstone curls (shooting for 100 reps with an empty Olympic bar) might be something like 35-40%RM, but is one of the most brutal pumps ever. If that was the only direct biceps work you do, no doubt your arms will grow.


Ok, I’m starting to see the applicability of it now. I’m more of a compound lifter, so I guess that’s why I didn’t see how it could make sense. Should have read CT’s article closer.