At first glance this title may seem like it should be reserved for some hard core dungeon-like gym and the muscle heads that lift there, but there may be some truth to it.
The fitness myth of using light weights and high repetitions when trying to “tone up” was perpetuated throughout the 1990’s. The problem is this mentality hasn’t gone away. I still hear fitness enthusiasts and trainers alike following programs that have them opting for lighter weights over ones that will challenge their muscles to a greater degree.
The myth states that there are specific weights and repetitions you should use when looking to get lean versus trying to put on muscle. The myth associates lighter weights and higher reps with “more burn” and a better way to add definition to your body.
First we need to look at how you actually begin to see tone in your body.
You can begin to add definition by improving the quality of the muscle tissue you have by completing resistance exercises at least 2-3 times per week. The second way you can add definition is by subtracting body fat. The truth is you can have all the tone in the world to your muscles, but no one will be able to see it as long as it is covered up under a thick layer of fat.
What’s the best way to burn off fat?
Activate Your Muscles
You need to simulate your metabolism and give it a reason to burn body fat to use as fuel. You can do this through resistance exercise set up in an interval fashion. You may choose supersets, trisets, or circuits, but in either case you must create a great enough metabolic disturbance to burn calories long after the workout has been completed.
Save the Muscle
You also need to preserve muscle, as well as add lean body mass to increase your daily metabolic rate so that you continue to burn extra calories while not in the gym. Since muscle is 6-8 times more metabolic than body fat, it pays to have as much of it as possible. You don’t need to look like a bodybuilder but having a healthy amount of lean body mass will allow you to consume more calories than someone of the same body weight as you who has a higher body fat to muscle ratio. The best way to add muscle is through a resistance program that includes compound lifts, 3+ sets per exercise, and between 8-15 repetitions per set.
Turn Up the Heat
Your workouts should challenge you! If you are lifting a light weight where you can easily complete the set without a sweat how much benefit do you really think you just got from that? Excluding warm-up sets and exercises your working sets should force you to lift a weight that is heavy enough for you to have to struggle while concentrating on strict form.
Did you also know that studies on aging adults have shown that completing only 1 set of an exercise or lifting a weight that is lighter than they are used to while exercising actually causes them to regress and become weaker?
Are there any benefits to lifting light weights at higher repetitions?
It all depends on what you consider light weight. Body weight exercises don’t call for any external weight per se, but they certainly aren’t easy when done correctly.
There’s also nothing wrong with implementing 20+ rep sets or timed exercises, but they should be done with a definite purpose in mind. When working on endurance for a specific sporting event you often times will see athletes completing an interval that is closely related to their given sport. For example a wrestler may complete a 5 minute interval of exercises to prepare them for their 5 minute wrestling rounds. Keep in mind that even longer intervals do not include exercises that are too “light” to be of any benefit.
While “go heavy or go home” may be a little much in terms of hardcore workout mentalities, you should remember to keep pushing yourself to new limits. If you want to change the way your body looks you need to give it a reason to change.
Committed to your success,
Stephen Cabral, CSCS, CPT, NS
Stephen Cabral is a national health correspondent with over 10 years of credentials. He holds national and international certifications in strength & conditioning, personal training, yoga and nutrition.
Steve's column, Trim, Tone & Tighten Thursdays, published every Thursday to Gather Essentials: Health
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