Discover how heavy you should lift to achieve your goals.

Lifting heavy vs lifting light - Women's Health and Fitness Magazine

There is a big difference between toning up, powerlifting like a boss and aspiring to be as strong as your dad. Before you even think about touching the dumbbells, you need to be clear on your goal.

“There are so many variables that need to be taken into account when designing a weight-based program. Forget the old saying that light weights will help you tone, and heavier weights will build big muscles,” says trainer and yoga instructor Amanda Fisher.

Strength and conditioning coach Jay Kali agrees, saying that no weightlifting protocol should be overlooked entirely in the gym. However, certain repetitions, sets and weight ranges should be prioritised depending on your goal. 

 “There are benefits from lifting heavier, just as there are benefits from lifting lighter for more reps. People are forever looking for just one thing to do but we are too advanced for there to be only one thing,” says Kali.

“Powerlifters work in a repetition range of one to three reps per set. If you want to improve strength, your repetitions will be somewhere between five and eight repetitions.”

If you are wanting to stimulate muscle hypertrophy and improve tone (aka. the image of the muscle beneath the skin), you should look to endurance rep ranges of 10 to 15. These rep ranges are based on the percentage of weight you will be using, with Kali noting that strength-based weight training – which is strongly neurologically focused and requires the body recruiting strong and effective nerve impulses – involves far heavier loads when compared to endurance protocols.  

These rep ranges are also focused on the type of muscle fibres being recruited.

“High repetitions will help build type 1 slow twitch muscle fibres, which are associated with endurance and are slow to fatigue,” says Fisher.

“Low repetitions will work on the type 2 fast twitch muscle fibres, which have great power, but fatigue quickly.”

Fat loss can be seriously improved by weight training. A study conducted by the University of Alabama found that dieters who lifted heavy weights lost the same amount of weight as dieters who only performed cardio, but the weight lost was associated with only fat loss whereas the cardio group also lost muscle. Endurance rep ranges or weighted circuits keep the heart rate elevated to burn excess calories, while muscle also aids in boosting the metabolism while at rest. 

Ultimately, these protocols need to be coupled with other lifestyle and training factors to see significant changes in your body’s image. One training phase will more than likely affect the efficiency or value of other training protocols. For example, if you improve your strength you will be able to orientate a heavier weight during your hypertrophy training, resulting in added gains.

“It is not the amount of weight you lift that has the most profound effect on your body composition; it comes down to the intensity, time under tension and the nutrition plan you follow that is going to have the greatest impact on the results you see,” says Fisher.

“To elicit the fastest change from my clients, I like to prescribe a program which contains a variety of both high repetitions with low weight, and low repetitions with heavy weight to avoid adaption.”

Kali concurs. 

 “For women who are just trying to look and feel their best, I would once again recommend a balanced approach when training,” he says.

“Mix up your rep ranges – if you are wanting to get stronger in your squats, keep the reps between five and eight but if you are wanting to grow your booty with squats, then bump up your reps to 10 to 15.”

How to use it

For fat loss: endurance rep ranges of 10 to 15 to elevate the heart rate while still building muscle mass to improve your metabolism at rest. 

For cardiovascular fitness: weight training is unlikely to improve cardiovascular fitness to any great extent, with the heart needing to be trained for longer periods of time to see results. That said, endurance rep ranges and weighted circuits with minimal rest can mimic high-intensity interval training protocols. 

For toning: endurance rep ranges of 10 to 15, to stimulate muscle hypertrophy and burn fat, improving the image of the muscle beneath the skin. For optimum results, utilise strength-based training sessions with heavier weights for lower reps once a week. 

Full article writting by Katelyn Swallow in the October 2016 edition of Women’s Health and Fitness Magazine.