European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 114, Issue 12, pp 2491–2497 | Cite as

Muscle activation during low- versus high-load resistance training in well-trained men

  • Brad J. Schoenfeld
  • Bret Contreras
  • Jeffrey M. Willardson
  • Fabio Fontana
  • Gul Tiryaki-Sonmez
Original Article

Abstract

Purpose

It has been hypothesized that lifting light loads to muscular failure will activate the full spectrum of MUs and thus bring about muscular adaptations similar to high-load training. The purpose of this study was to investigate EMG activity during low- versus high-load training during performance of a multi-joint exercise by well-trained subjects.

Methods

Employing a within-subject design, 10 young, resistance-trained men performed sets of the leg press at different intensities of load: a high-load (HL) set at 75 % of 1-RM and a low-load (LL) set at 30 % of 1-RM. The order of performance of the exercises was counterbalanced between participants, so that half of the subjects performed LL first and the other half performed HL first, separated by 15 min rest. Surface electromyography (EMG) was used to assess mean and peak muscle activation of the vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, rectus femoris, and biceps femoris.

Results

Significant main effects for trials and muscles were found (p < 0.01). Significantly greater peak EMG activity was found during the HL set (M = 177.3, SD = 89.53) compared to the LL set (M = 137.73, SD = 95.35). Significantly greater mean EMG activity was found during the HL set (M = 63.7, SD = 37.23) compared to the LL set (M = 41.63, SD = 28.03).

Conclusions

Results indicate that training with a load of 30 % 1-RM to momentary muscular failure does not maximally activate the full motor unit pool of the quadriceps femoris and hamstrings during performance of multi-joint lower body exercise.

Keywords

Muscle recruitment Low-load resistance training Light weights Momentary muscular failure 

Abbreviations

MPS

Muscle protein synthesis

RM

Repetition maximum

MU

Motor unit

EMG

Electromyography

RF

Rectus femoris

VL

Vastus lateralis

VM

Vastus medialis

BF

Biceps femoris

MVIC

Maximal voluntary isometric contraction

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brad J. Schoenfeld
    • 1
  • Bret Contreras
    • 2
  • Jeffrey M. Willardson
    • 3
  • Fabio Fontana
    • 4
  • Gul Tiryaki-Sonmez
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Health Sciences, Program of Exercise ScienceCUNY Lehman CollegeBronxUSA
  2. 2.Sport Performance Research Institute New ZealandAUT UniversityAucklandNew Zealand
  3. 3.Kinesiology and Sports Studies DepartmentEastern Illinois UniversityCharlestonUSA
  4. 4.School of Health, Physical Education, and Leisure ServicesUniversity of Northern IowaCedar FallsUSA

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