On Training Load

I recently had a discussion with Chris Highcock regarding the implications of a paper authored by James Steele ii. The topic was how failure seems to be the primary hypertrophy trigger from resistance training, regardless of load. Given that, I noted the following:

Of course, load is useful in expediting the point (muscle failure). I have no interest in a 4 minute wall sit, so adding weight would benefit in hurrying that up.
Actually, perhaps load should be looked at as how you stay in the range of “comfortable failure.” Some people are going to be fine with low loads to MMF, where others might suffer too much metabolic byproduct discomfort and require more load. Changing the thought from “I’m trying to life more weight” to “I’m using weight to keep from doing more reps/time to failure” could really help people understand the goal.
Now given what I just wrote about the importance of load, you might be confused. Don’t be. Bone mineral density requires sufficient loading, of which often isn’t present in the studies with untrained elderly individuals who are fracture risks. When muscle is the goal, load seems, if not secondary, at least merely augmentative. Failure is the prime stimuli.
Don’t believe me? In a beautiful study in heresy, researchers at Ole Miss had students do unloaded curls and extensions to failure. They just flexed and squeezed until they could not lift their arm. The control group did heavy curls and extensions to failure. The result? Similar hypertrophy. You might suggest that the control group didn’t train heavy enough, but 70% of 1 rep max is basically New York City real estate for the prized hypertrophy zone amongst bros, bro. Results were the same, though the trainees who lifted weight got better at lifting weights. It’s like if you do the think you’re trying to get better at, you get better at doing the thing.

For the sake of hypertrophy, think about weight on the bar as a means to keep you from having to suffer from some of the downsides of an extended set. While a pump feels awesome, you’re also likely to stop the set because it’s burning, not because you are incapable of generating enough force to continue performing repetitions. THAT’s the failure we’re talking about and the prime hypertrophy stimuli.