Heavy Weights or Light Weights?

Heavy Weights or Light Weights?

People who skip breakfast are 450% more likely to be obese! Fuel up with a high protein/fiber breakfast to kick-start your day.

I get this questions all the time. “Should I lift heavy weights for low reps or light weight for high reps?” The common misconception in the fitness world is simple. To tone, use high reps with light weights. To bulk up use heavy weights with low reps. This is why you often see women doing lighter weight and more aerobic exercise while men are primarily lifting heavier weights to bulk up. NOT SO FAST!

New Research

New research and studies show that both men and women can largely benefit from the use of both heavy weight with low reps and light weight with high reps. The key is pushing your muscles to fatigue. Straining to lift very heavy weights isn’t the only way to pump up muscles, say researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Similar results can be achieved, they say, by lifting light weights a greater number of times.The secret is simply to pump iron until muscle fatigue sets in, says Stuart Phillips, PhD, associate professor of kinesiology at McMaster.“Rather than grunting and straining to lift heavy weights, you can grab something much lighter but you have to lift it until you can’t lift it any more,” Phillips says in a news release.

The Science

Researchers recruited 15 healthy men with an average age of 21. Each was told to lift light weights and heavy weights with varying repetitions.

  • The weights represented a percentage of their best or heaviest lift. Heavier weights were set to 90% of a man’s best lift, and light weights at 30%.
  • Weights were set to 80% to 90% of a person’s best lift required five to 10 repetitions before fatigue set in. At 30%, it took at least 24 lifts before similar fatigue developed.
  • The researchers measured fatigue at the cellular level by examining results of muscle biopsies done 4 hours and 24 hours after workouts.
The Results

Similar amounts of protein used in muscle-building were produced whether volunteers lifted at 90% of their maximums until they ran out of steam and when they lifted only 30% of their best until they could lift no more, the researchers say. The key in both instances was lifting until fatigue. If in either set the subject stopped short of fatigue there was less of a muscular response.

Why This Is Important For You

Subjects trying to lose/maintain weight-Often times people are discouraged from lifting weights because they think it’s specific for body builders or those want to bulk up. The truth is that muscle mass is largely dependent on genetics, cells, diet, and hormones within the body. If you are a woman trying to maintain or lose weight, lifting weights is not going to make you bulk up.First, it is physiologically impossible for you as a woman to put on large amounts of muscle mass; you’re body’s hormonal makeup is not one that will allow you to do so. I cringe when I see people coming into the gym and going for a light jog on the treadmill every day for a half hour when their time and effort could be used much more efficiently doing full body/weighted exercises. People don’t understand that performing these exercises will burn fat more efficiently and help redefine your body composition.

For kids- Parents are afraid to let their kids lift weights because they think it will inhibit joint and growth plate progression. Light weights and high reps can provide less joint and bone strain while still producing the essential benefits you get from lifting weights and exercising.

For older adults or people with injuries- Older adults and people with injuries can have joint problems or limited range of motion which would prevent them from training with heavy loads.  This study shows that they have the option of training with lighter and less intimidating loads and can still receive the benefits.

The Catch

While light weights and high reps can still activate the anabolic response in your muscles and produce similar muscle volume characteristics as heavy weights, pure strength gains are better generated by using heavy weights with low reps. There is also some debate about whether heavier weights gives you more of a myogenic tone ( A harder and firmer look) and training in higher rep ranges promotes more sarcoplasmic (fluid) hypertrophy (which in turn yields a “softer” pumped look). This is a topic for an entire blog in itself but regardless, experts agree that similar benefits can be achieved through lifting both heavy and light weights. The key is working to fatigue.

My Recommendation

Here is my current routine that I think people will find very useful and easily adaptable no matter what your fitness goals are.

Monday: Total Body: Heavy Weights With Core

Tuesday: Sprint Intervals

Wednesday: OFF

Thursday: Total Body: Heavy Weights With Core

Friday: Sprint Intervals or Steady State Elliptical

Saturday: OFF

Sunday: Total Body Light Weights/High Reps With Core (For the past month I have been doing a body pump class which consits of 4-5 minutes of each major muscle group lifting light weight until exhaustion. Takes about 45 minutes)

For another great study on this topic check out this article at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120430105358.htm

Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any comments or questions.

From South Bend,

Kevin
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4 responses

  1. Reps completed is the single most important acute exercise variable. Total reps = volume. Volume is a major factor when balancing a program to prevent injury & has a direct effect on hypertrophy and strength development. When 2 athletes of comparable strength are on the same program, the one using greater volume will be stronger. If you want mass, 6-12 reps. Max strength, 1-8 reps. Due to the great stress put on the neuromuscular and endocrine systems, the 1-3 rep range sets should only be used for short periods (1-3 wks) and only by athletes with a high training age.

    The difference in neural & metabolic adaptation is the # of reps. Then we can get into tempo, muscle fiber composition, sets, and periodization but that will be for another post!

    Thanks for another good post Kevin.

  2. When I see your column topics, my reaction frequently is, “Oh yeah! I’ve always wondered about that question myself.” And then I learn something new. TY for that!

  3. Athletes from amateur to professional level all experience muscle fatigue at some point. The people who tend to suffer the most however are surprisingly those who are less active. Many regard professional athletes as much more likely to have complications with muscle fatigue, however in terms of how the muscles use energy those who are less active than professionals are at a distinct disadvantage.It is very important to understand that when you are working out, you are slowly wearing down the muscles and burning all of the energy that is provided to the muscles as well. Because of the energy that the muscles burn not being able to be replaced into the muscle quite as quickly as it is burned this causes muscle fatigue to become a problem. Sports medicine professionals are all well knowledgeable in exactly how to help professional athletes reduce the problems they experience from muscle fatigue. ”

    My very own blog site
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  4. Dumbbells are a great way to lose weight and get your body in shape.
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