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Study: Lighter Weights/Higher Reps Can Decrease Myostatin

I happened upon this… Researchers at Baylor University conducted a study to determine if high reps or low reps were better for building muscle SIZE quickly.

The scientists took a group of weight trainers and put them through a series of leg workouts. Half the group used heavy weights and lower reps – around 6 reps per set. The other half used lighter weights and completed 20 reps per set. After each workout the scientists took blood samples and muscle biopsies.

Here’s What They Discovered…
The test subjects that did low reps with heavy weights had 3X as much myostatin as the high rep subjects. Remember, more myostatin equals LESS muscle, so this increase is a very BAD THING if you want to get ripped and jacked quickly.

The scientists concluded that when it comes to training for maximum size, you would be smart to use lighter weights and higher reps.

Surely 30-10-30 falls under this banner. Possibly one of the reasons it delivers so well?

That’s something to think about? Thanks.

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There has been other studies with similar themes, but bodybuilders have been using less weight and more reps compared to how other weight lifters train (powerlifters, etc.) for good reason. The other plus side is, less weight is better on the joints and seems to allow for faster CNS recovery.

This is interesting, especially since we are now into NTF territory, which in practical terms means lighter weights, minor increases in load. Bearing this in mind, I did experience gains along the strength curve with previous HIT to failure procedure!

Does all this mean that strength (as measured by increasingly heavier weight lifted in good form) does no longer precede best gains - as well as - properly performed procedure with light weight and (very) high intensity? (Yes, that became a very long question)

How do we measure success along the way, now that strength/load/weight increases are of less importance? Patience, and being rewarded over time?

I find myself making notes how the weight felt, applying NTF (how close to NTF vs max) rather than focusing on weight lifted. My brain is a bit confused about this (and still want to lift eyeballs-out to failure). Trying to silence the brain by applying killer specialization routines. Yes, I am definitely into a transition period. Anyone else having similar “issues”?

I started lifting 43 yrs ago and I have tried the lighter weight/higher rep schemes on numerous occasions throughout my career and it has just never worked for me. They can do all the studies they want, but not everyone reacts to the same stimulus in the same way.

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== Scott==
This focusing on feel vrs focusing on weight lifted is a hard thing to figure. I’ve tried to focus more on the feel on those not to failure sets more than the weight I’m pushing hoping It would lead to more muscle fiber activation but I am not finding that happens. At least I can’t tell if it happens?
Today I did my pull workout and I got good feeling in my muscles like I had worked them hard but nothing like the feel I’d get doing drop sets or my old 30 15 6 routine. My arms would be screaming after that but the problem is it would take forever to recover from . All these youtube sites have some guy doing cluster sets or something like that where their arms are ready to explode when their done . That’s great but they are all on steroids so they recover in no time. We are not on steroids so it takes ages to recover from so I would love to do that but realistically I can’t recover from those type workouts anymore.

This got me curious, so I did a little searching. I did find some training web sites which quoted the results of the study, but I could not find any links to the original research paper.

I did learn that there is a researcher at Baylor by the name of Darryn Willoughby who has published a number of papers on gene expression and myostatin levels in response to various kinds of training stimulus. His results seem kind of confusing, at least with regard to myostatin.

Here, for example, is his conclusion from a study with the title: Effects of heavy resistance training on myostatin mRNA and protein expression (2004)

“Resistance training and/or increased glucocorticoid receptor expression appears to up-regulate myostatin mRNA expression. Furthermore, it is possible that any plausible decreases in skeletal muscle function from the observed increase in serum myostatin were attenuated by increased serum FLRG levels and the concomitant down-regulation of the activin IIb receptor. It is therefore concluded that the increased myostatin in response to cortisol and/or resistance training appears to have no effects on training-induced increases in muscle strength and mass.”

Of course, that wasn’t the study that you referenced, so maybe he changed his mind later.

I did find another interesting paper which suggested that aerobic training also lowers myostatin expression. So get in your cardio, it’s anabolic… maybe?

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Great Al,

I also got a bit suspicious about that study (without reference and no details available). If it is to remarkable to be true - it most probably is, with few exceptions (30-10-30 for example).

I came to think of myostatin as yet another area of contradiction, similar to the inflammatory response in our bodies. Inflammation can be detrimental as in disease, but is also necessary for the development of muscles (after stimulus), bone and wound healing, and even the development of a healthy foetus. Try interact with these processes, and you will see no result (why hasn’t there been any success with myostatin inhibitors - that in theory looks like the real deal?). To prove my point glucocorticoids (a steroid) is anti-inflammatory, and severely catabolic, though released by our bodies as a response to stress (excercise) - which in turn is vital for any hypertrophy to occur.

There are more factors than myostatin at play. Why would otherwise low rep, heavy lifters get big at all. A case of simple dose-response? The swedish word “lagom” comes to mind (=not too much, not too little - just adequate).

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You really need pics, but especially tape measure, scale, and bodyfat measuring mechanisms to measure lean mass increases (or lack of). Being so experienced and objective with myself, most of the time I can tell if a routine is working or not by looking at myself in the mirror. I will measure a little smaller, look flatter, look less trained, etc. when something is not working.

For years, many simply followed Mentzer’s advice of just aiming for strength increases (defined as increasing weight and/or reps). However, there is a strong neurological component here, but there is almost always some change or sacrifice in form and leverage as one gets stronger especially on compounds. Some various muscles start interacting differently as others fatigue, etc. I don’t think strength gains, in and of themselves, mean much for bodybuilding. There has to be a context around them. If I am getting weaker over time, it could indicating overreaching or overtraining, or something else. But it also depends on the order of moves, etc. Lots of factors involved really.

I have never, ever found a large apparent strength gain to suddenly just lead to a size gain. Every time I gained muscle, strength occurred. But every time I got stronger, I didn’t necessarily get bigger and sometimes even looked worse such as on really infrequent ultra consolidated routines.

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Researchers at Baylor University conducted a study to determine if high reps or low reps were better for building muscle SIZE quickly.

Clinical studies show training with lighter weights decreases myostatin.

Clinical studies show training with lighter weights decreases myostatin.

The scientists took a group of weight trainers and put them through a series of leg workouts. Half the group used heavy weights and lower reps – around 6 reps per set. The other half used lighter weights and completed 20 reps per set.
After each workout the scientists took blood samples and muscle biopsies.

Here’s What They Discovered…

The test subjects that did low reps with heavy weights had 3X as much myostatin as the high rep subjects. Remember, more myostatin equals LESS muscle, so this increase is a very BAD THING if you want to get ripped and jacked quickly.

The scientists concluded that when it comes to training for maximum size, you would be smart to use lighter weights and higher reps.

Thanks dynazty,

Is there any link to the scientific document? I’m still curious about the devil in the details.

Comparing 6 to 20 reps makes sense being better in terms of hypertrophy on the legs (bigger muscles that can withstand great work). But what about the other, smaller muscles? 20 reps on biceps for hypertrophy? I wouldn’t think so.

They wanted to state a point here. Question is whether middle ground, 10 reps, is best of the best in terms of myostatin? We will never know…

Later addition/thought: I actually did a single set, 20 rep a muscle, when returning to bodybuilding after a period of other activities. Here, I chose beforehand to do 20 reps, and sometimes used 1-3 dropsets to achieve that number. Served me well as a re-start, felt conditioned, with light not great gains.

== Scott==
Although I don’t like basing my workouts on some study about myostatin or some other chemical in the body I do know I like the feeling and burn I got from doing high reps compared to low reps . My arms felt like they were going to explode after 30 15 6 reps of curls! When I start stagnating on 30 10 30 I may go back to trying something like that!

That looks like something I found at a site promoting a book on high rep training (“fitness under oath”). Whenever I see a scientific study used in this way, I like to look at the original paper to see if the results have been properly quoted. Since he didn’t provide a link to the paper, and since I can’t find it on my own, that is hard to do.

I will note that none of the graphs show differences in myostatin in response to the training variable. So it isn’t clear why he posted them.

Also, I found a YouTube video promoting a different training program (Nucleus Overload Training) that also cited this study. Again, no link to the original study was provided. However, here is how this vlogger characterized the study:

A study from Baylor university showed that high rep training (practically longer time under tension) lowered myostatin levels three times more than low rep heavy training. For those of you who prefer to keep the weight heavy (like myself), use drop sets, super sets or partial reps at the end of your working set to elongate the amount of time under tension.

for the article mentioned, google search “myostatin high repetition baylor university”

So the first guy says that the study showed that the low rep training group had 3 times higher myostatin than the high rep training group.

The second guy says the study showed that high rep training produced 3 times greater reduction in myostatin.

Those are significantly different characterizations of the same study, and don’t necessarily mean the same thing.

For example, if low reps reduced myostatin by 5%, and high reps reduced it by 15%, the reduction in the high rep case is 3 times greater, but the absolute level of myostatin in the low rep case only ends up 11% higher, not 300% higher.

So which guy got it right?

That’s interesting stuff.

Low reps can build strength and muscles. Then if you stick to the low reps (theoretically) myostatin builds and builds and builds and then you can’t build muscle anymore.

And “different” training can reduce the myostatin and muscle building can (theoretically) resume.

I’ve been reading a book by Fred Hatfield about training for bodybuilding. He was talking about muscle fiber types and how if you did controlled sets of 10-12 (like stereotypical “bodybuilder” training) you converted your most explosive muscle fibers to intermediate fibers. And (theoretically) if you stick with moderate reps long enough you’ll switch over so many of your fast fibers to intermediate fibers that muscle growth could stop.

His solution was to have bodybuilders do like 20-30% of their work in the low rep, heavier weight, “strength” zone to keep some explosive fibers around.

I don’t think Hatfield mentioned myostatin, but he did recommend that hypertrophy bros do sets of 40 reps for 15-20% of their work.

The idea that training makes you less responsive to training is crazy to think about. Everybody has heard about Diminishing Returns from training. It’s not too hard to get your head around. But the actual mechanisms seem unbelievable.

The chemical signalling that occurs as a result of application of a training stress is likely very complex. I think caution is needed when interpreting the response of a single signalling chemical. Sometimes, there can be acute responses which look bad, but turn out to be good.

A classic example is inflammation. We are constantly told that chronic inflammation is bad. And since exercise will trigger an inflammatory response, it would be easy to suggest that exercise is bad. But the inflammatory response from exercise is acute and short term, not chronic. And that acute surge triggers a whole cascade of other things that actually suppress chronic inflammation, longer term.

In my recent browsing, I saw a comment in one review article which suggests to me that exercise might cause an increase in myostatin immediately after exercise (acute response), but that this turns into an overall reduction in levels longer term. So the timing of the muscle biopsies could be critical to what is seen in a study.

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I think I’m gonna play it safe and use more than one rep range.

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Besides the snippets I’ve posted, I’ve been unable to track down the actual study. :unamused: I’m sure it must be out there, somewhere.

Lately I’ve found, repping out around 15 reps per exercise inflicts quite a drain. I imagine constantly doing 20+ reps would take even a bigger toll. So while I’m super keen on doing all I can to lower myostatin, how doable it is (long term) remains to be seen.