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Heavy Or Light Which Is Right?

April 2012 Journal of Applied Physiology                                                                                  

Weight Training Richard A. Berger grew up in Chicago and played football at Michigan State University for the legendary Biggie Munn.  Berger loved strength and also enjoyed competing in Olympic style weightlifting.  Following football he continued his education at MSU and received a MS in physical education.  In 1956 he was award a PHD from the University of Illinois.  Dr. Richard Berger became well known for his analysis of the effect of varying sets, loads, and repetitions on the development of strength.  It is tough to be a physical educator and not at one time or another come upon the ‘Berger studies’.

In 1962 he published a study in the Research Quarterly—‘‘Effect of Varied Weight Training Programs on Strength’’,  it compared the effects of 1, 2 and 3 sets; and 2, 6 and 10 repetitions on strength increases.  The statistical results showed that 3 sets and 6 repetitions were closer to the optimum combination than were the other variations studied in the development of strength among college men over a 12-week period.  Using 3 sets of 6 repetitions, was more effective in improving strength than any other combination of sets and repetitions per set.

Berger did not have access to an electron microscope, magnetic resonance imaging nor did he know of the science of p70s6k and mTORC1’s relationship to protein synthesis.

Weight Training

In 2012 a 10 week study was completed and published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. It’s purpose seemingly was once again to compare ‘varied weight training programs’ but this time with percentages of the lifters max, which ultimately determines repetitions.  Training in the study was done to fatigue.  The following were the parameters:

A. 30% of the lifters maximum, 3 sets

B. 80% of the lifters maximum, 1 set

C. 80% of the lifters maximum, 3 sets

Measures taken to obtain results:

1. Pre-strength and post-strength

2. Pre and post muscle volume with magnetic resonance imaging

3. Pre and post training muscle biopsies

4. Protein synthesis


The study showed a lower load lifted to fatigue, 30% of the lifters max, 3 sets, resulted in the same muscle hypertrophy as a heavy load lifted to fatigue, that is, 80% of ones max. The strength gains were significant in all the selected variations, but not significant between conditions.  Whether the lifter chose 1 set at 80% or 3 sets at 80% it was irrelevant as the results were the same.  It appears there are lots of ways to Get Strong.


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