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Being Overweight May Make It Harder
To Build Muscle, A New Study Shows

Released: June 13, 2005

Release #05040
Contact:
Linda Pescatello, (860) 486-0008,
(School of Allied Health)

Beth Krane, Media Relations
(860) 486-4656

STORRS, Conn.— Overweight and obese people may have to pump more iron or put in more time at the gym than their healthy-weight counterparts if they hope to see comparable gains in muscle strength, according to a new study led by University of Connecticut researchers.

The study measured how 449 healthy-weight and 238 overweight or obese men and women responded to the same 12-week resistance training regimen using their non-dominant arm. The participants were between the ages of 18 and 39 and had not trained with weights for at least a year.

The researchers, spread across 10 sites, found that their subjects experienced comparable increases in muscle size, but not in muscle strength.

“Bigger people have bigger muscles, so you would expect that their response to resistance training would be greater, but, when we adjusted for weight and evened the playing field, we found the normal weight group had bigger strength gains,” said UConn Professor Linda Pescatello, who led the study. “It appears that being overweight or obese may blunt the beneficial effects of weight training, at least in the short-term.”

            The findings may be due, in part, to genetic factors that have yet to be identified, said Pescatello, an associate professor in UConn’s School of Allied Health. An excess of adipose or fat tissue also may explain the findings as the excess tissue acts as an endocrine organ, releasing an overabundance of certain hormones that have a negative impact on muscles, she said.

Pescatello says a longer study using a full-body training regimen is still needed, but this study, involving the largest number of research subjects to date, has implications for how strength training exercise might be prescribed for overweight or obese people.

The recently-concluded study was conducted as part of an ongoing four-year, multi-site investigation into which genes and genetic variants influence an individual’s response to resistance training. Funded by a $430,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, the overarching research project involves seven other universities as well as Hartford Hospital and the Research Center for Genetic Medicine at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. 

The other universities involved are: Yale University, University of Central Florida, University of Massachusetts, West Virginia University, Dublin City University, Central Michigan University and Florida Atlantic University. 

The UConn graduate students who conducted the obesity and weight training study with Pescatello were Bethany Kelsey, Gary Gianetti and Matthew Kostek.

 

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