With weight training, it’s not how much you lift or how many reps, but how hard you work the muscles
This post originally appeared March 25, 2019.
Lifting weights is an essential part to achieving any fitness goal — and this includes losing weight. Once my clients embrace the benefits of weight training, they begin researching how they should lift weights. Apart from queries about good form, the most common question I get about weight training is: should I lift heavy or should I lift light?
And believe me … everyone has an opinion about this. Websites will debate this in forums with the bodybuilders encouraging people to lift as much as they possibly can with holistic fitness forums praising lighter weights at multiple reps. But I am going to set the record straight.
You might have heard that lifting heavy weights for a low number of reps builds muscle, while lifting lighter weights more times tones them. But what is muscle tone? This is just an expression to describe how firm a muscle looks. But the fact is that your muscle tone doesn’t change — exercise or not. The way your muscle looks depends on two things: the amount of fat that covers it and the elasticity of your skin. So your goal shouldn’t be toning your muscle. It should be reducing the amount of fat that covers the muscle. Muscles closer to the surface, without a barrier of fat, will be more visible — and look more “toned.”
But really, it’s not about how much your lift. You can lift heavy or you can lift light. What really matters is how much effort you put into the exercise. Regardless of how much weight you feel you should be lifting, the real key is to fatigue your muscles by taking each set to the point where you can’t do any more with good form. How hard you work is what it’s all about.
This means you have to get uncomfortable and challenge yourself through using a heavier weight or performing one or two more reps. Light weights will be effective in the beginning, but this will eventually wane. It can be hard to force yourself out of your comfort zone, but without gradually increasing weight or reps, your progress will stall. By lifting heavier weights, you build more muscle, and more muscle leads to a faster metabolism. Stay in the comfort zone and get used to being comfortable. You need to challenge yourself for real progress.
How hard you work is the secret to maximizing weightlifting efficiency. Forget heavy versus light. Like most things in life, with weightlifting what you put in is what you get out.