Is it better to lift heavy or light?
If you’ve been lifting for some time, you’ve probably heard (on more than one occasion) that lifting heavy weights builds dense quality muscle. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ve probably also heard that lifting light weight with high reps “tones” muscle. I’ve even heard people say to do high reps if you want to burn fat (while that’s completely absurd and incorrect, that will have to wait for another article).
The truth is, there is no inherent difference between lifting heavy and lifting light. And when it comes to building high quality muscle, both heavy lifting and high reps are essential in the muscle building process.
High Reps Vs Low Reps for Building Muscle:
There is a huge misconception that lifting heavy automatically helps you build muscle. However, that is not the case at all. If that were true then we wouldn’t see these 150 pound powerlifters deadlift 600 pounds: they would all build too much muscle and go up in weight classes. When it comes to building muscle, one of the key factors is how much you eat. How much you eat in conjunction with workload (volume and intensity) are the key components to building muscle. If you eat less calories than you burn and your workload is exceedingly demanding, than you won’t gain an ounce of muscle (not taking hormone levels into consideration). This especially applies for women who have a fraction of the muscle building hormone, testosterone, as men do.
High Reps Vs Low Reps for Fat Loss:
One of the biggest fallacies in fitness is to do high reps to “tone.” Before we go into detail, let’s get one thing straight: if you are looking to get toned, please stop reading immediately.
Earlier we touched on the importance of nutrition when it comes to muscle building. This article is not about nutrition; however, we will say that nutrition is undoubtedly the key component when it comes to losing fat. When it comes to training, it is not the amount of weight or the number of repetitions that “aid” in the fat burning process. The goal is to create a workload (through volume and intensity) that will accelerate your heart rate (less rest time between sets) to a point of where it has metabolic and calorie burning effects.
High Reps Vs Low Reps for strength:
When it comes to strength, just lift some heavy ass weight. With over a decade of “bodybuilding” workouts (high intensity, pyramiding, drop sets, etc), I managed to look strong but the strength was not there. After introducing a powerlifting program (5-3-1) in an attempt to do a USPA meet, my beginning numbers were humbling: 350 bench press/445 squat/545 deadlift. After 10 weeks of incorporating this program, my numbers had skyrocketed: 450 bench press/505 squat for a double)/635 deadlift. Granted my body was not used to doing these types of workouts so numbers were going to be low regardless. And chances are the dramatic increase in numbers was partially due muscular adaptation. However, lifting heavy with low reps, got me incredibly strong.
There is no right or wrong when it comes to weight and rep scheme. Building muscle, burning fat, and getting freaky strong comes down to two main things: nutrition and workload. In the words of Guy Cisternino “Stick to your diet, do your cardio, and lift some heavy f@cking weight!”