Heavy v Light; Which weight wins?
Today was weights day and it’s not been an excellent week in terms of recovery and my ability to push myself (I’m sure there may be others who experience this from time to time) and when I was doing my weights training I started thinking about the debate of what’s better; heavy weights, fewer repetitions or light weights, more repetitions?
The common thread for this debate really divides women and men in terms of how they lift. Men will pump iron using the heaviest (and sometimes more) weights they can lift, where as women will opt for the lower weight and more repetitions to avoid ‘getting bulky’. Firstly, this myth needs dispelled, lifting won’t make women super bulky on its own, we simply do not have enough testosterone to bulk like men.
In order to get long, lean muscles you need to reduce fat. Lifting heavier weights will increase muscle mass compared to fat in the body, which will boost your metabolism and lead to an even faster fat loss. So lifting heavy can help women because toned and lean because it helps burn fat.
However, some studies, as summarised in Huffington Post, states that you can do either type of weight training and essentially see the same results! Which means you can go for your heavy (85-90% of your max weight) for 8-10 reps or go light (40-50% of your max weight) for 10-15 reps and still see similar results by the end of a set period! Womenshealth Mag and Building Muscle 101 also discuss this and argue the same.
What they also say however is that you must lift heavy enough to cause muscle fatigue. If you do bicep curls for 30 reps and there’s no burn or exertion required you’re lifting too light and you won’t see a difference. There needs to be some form of muscle fatigue occuring. You also need to be improving week on week to see a difference. For example, when I started at this gym here in Madrid, I was using the bicep curl at 10 x 15kg, I’m now at 10 x 25kg. That has taken me roughly 9 weeks of 3 weights sessions a week, but I progressed. Sometimes, I would only be able to increase the weight by one set, then drop it for the final two, but I increased it when I could. This is key to see improvement and toning. Hoever, you can improve using other methods too;
- Lift the same weight but with more repetitions within the same time frame and rest times
- Go for the same amount of repetitions but a heavier weight using the same rest period (but you can extend the overall time taken)
- Lift the same weight with the same repetitions but reduce the time frame and rest times
I would recommend mixing these up to prevent it getting boring. It’s a good way also to challenge yourself. You won’t see change if you don’t face challenge.
Something els you can do is mix up your workouts between heavy sessions and light sessions. For one week, do a heavy weight session, lifting between 70-90% of your max weight for 8-10 reps. Then the following week reduce it to a light week, lifting 50-70% of your max weight for 10-15 reps. Again, this may help prevent repetitive strain, plateuing and down right boring-ness from creeping in to the workout. Also, studies have found it won’t affect your long-term gains! Win-win.
As always, watch technique. Lifting weights can incur serious injuries if done incorrectly. If you’re lifting and something hurts beyond the usual muscle burn stop immediately and try figure out why. Technique is key to avoiding injury here, don’t push it and do not use something you don’t know the technique for. This is especially true for free-weights.
Overall, I’m pleased I discovered this researchbecause my main struggle in the gym is accepting lifting lighter than last session or not doing a HIIT cardio everytime. I will elaborate in another post about the benefits of not doing HIIT every session. However, now armed with knowledge that if I need to drop the weight (for whatever reason) then I can increase the repetitions and I won’t be compromising my overall long term goals of lean, toned muscle mass.
Also, you may experience ‘bad workouts’. Remember, any workout is better than no workout at all!