WHY GOING HEAVY WINS.
An analysis of lifting lighter weights for more reps vs. working to heavier weights for less reps. 💪
Important to know as a woman invested in her health and future wellbeing! 👇
2 studies both noted greater strength gains in people who trained with heavier weights. One was a meta-analysis gathering the results of 178 different studies, and here’s what it found:
Higher-load (>80% of single repetition maximum) prescriptions maximised strength gains, and all prescriptions comparably promoted muscle hypertrophy [growth].
The bottom line: light weights can help you gain muscle (so long as done to muscle failure) but they aren’t a good way to build your strength, in the sense of your real-world ability to lift heavy things.
If you’d like to continue with light weights past the beginner stage, that can work too—depending on your goals. It is true that you don’t need to lift heavy weights to build muscle.
Light weights, as anything you need to lift for 12+ reps before you start to feel any burn or fatigue, can signal your body to build more muscle tissue as long as you keep lifting until you literally cannot lift them any more.
That’s called lifting “to failure.”
The problem is, lifting (too) light weights to the point of failure is boring and most stop short of failure, because of being tired, bored, takes to long, wanting to quit.
If you’re capable of lifting 20 reps with a certain weight, but you stop around 12, you’re going to miss out on most of those muscle-building benefits.
Also most women underestimate themselves, doing fewer reps or choosing a too-light weight for the intended exercise. If you aren’t constantly asking yourself “can I do more?”, you might be missing out on the muscle growth (or toning) that you’re hoping to get.
THE WHY & WHEN ON HEAVY:
A muscle’s size and its strength are two different but overlapping concepts. A bigger muscle does tend to be a stronger one, and vice versa.
But if you want to be able to lift something heavy in real life—like a 50 pound bag of cement at Home Depot—a gal who trains with 50-pound weights is going to have an easier time of it than one who has never picked up a dumbbell bigger than 10 pounds.
Remember how light weights need to be lifted to failure to stimulate muscle growth?
That’s because our bodies can choose to only “recruit” a few muscle fibers at a time to do a job. If you pick up a 2-pound dumbbell, your nervous system says “hm, we only need a few motor units to do this job” and doesn’t bother activating the rest.
But as you reach your 18th, 19th, 20th rep, it has to recruit more and more of those fibers as the ones you used at first begin to tire out.
With heavy weights, though, you end up recruiting large numbers of muscle fibers right from the start.
This article from the National Strength and Conditioning Association lays it out in more detail if you’d like to dig deeper: