Don’t Fear the Heavy Weight!

Posted April 7, 2011 by

“But, I don’t want to get bulky!” That is the #1 response I get from 99% of my female clients and in general, just about every girl I’ve ever discussed fitness with who wasn’t already a fitness model when it comes to the concept of using heavy weights while training. To be perfectly clear, in order to increase your muscle definition (i.e. “tone up”), to boost your basal metabolic rate and to increase your strength you MUST lift with weights that are heavy enough that you cannot perform more than 8-10 repetitions. That being said, it is not even physically possible for the vast majority of women to put on a significant enough amount of muscle mass to be considered “bulky”—they just don’t have the necessary testosterone floating around in their blood stream!

While there are always exceptions to the rule, most women with high enough levels of testosterone required to get bulky would already be aware of it, because they would likely suffer from other symptoms of high testosterone as well. For the rest of you women out there who are fearful of accidentally turning into Ronnie Coleman, let me pose a question, if most guys spend their entire adult lives in the gym TRYING to get muscular and yet the large majority fail at this goal—even with 10-20 TIMES the amount of testosterone in our bodies—doesn’t it seem silly to think that you’re going to ACCIDENTALLY accomplish the same goal?

All that is beside the fact that significant changes to body composition, whether it’s fat loss or muscle gain, happen at a very gradual rate that is easily monitored. What I’m trying to say is, you’d easily be able to see yourself starting to get too muscular and could change up your diet and/or workout respectively, were that to happen. Thus, the chance of you waking up one day, shuffling to the bathroom and seeing yourself in the mirror with arms and traps the size of Brock Lesnar’s is completely nil. It isn’t going to happen.

Now that that has been settled, let’s talk about the reasons FOR lifting heavy weight. The neuromuscular system reacts to different forms of training by increasing the body’s athletic performance in a relevant way—this is referred to as neuromuscular adaptation. What this means in lay terms is that in order to cause a specific change in your body, you have to train yourself in the method that will cause that kind of adaptation.

Most women prefer to use light weights and perform high repetitions. Unfortunately, this type of training style only results in an increase in neuromuscular coordination and endurance. In other words, training with light weights and high amounts of repetitions (think 5lb dumbbells for 20-25 repetitions) will result in a nice increase in your body’s ability to “keep going” and will increase your muscle control, but it’s not going to build any additional muscle mass. So, if your goal is to “tone up”—which is basically a meaningless term, physiologically-speaking—what you really mean is that you want to decrease your body fat to let your muscle show through, and increase your muscle mass so that there is something to actually show through (otherwise you’d just look like a bag of bones). As I’ve stated many times before, reduction in body fat is mostly going to come from your nutrition, along with cardio training. That leaves the “increase in muscle mass” goal to be accomplished by lifting weights.

Which method of training results in the adaptation of increased muscle mass? Yep, you guessed it—heavy weight with lower repetitions. Since this is the only method of training that results in the desired outcome, it is clear that you will not “tone up” without lifting heavier weights for lower repetitions. Before you decide to simply lift 5lb dumbbells for lower repetitions, keep in mind that no matter what method of training you’re performing, you won’t see ANY results unless you train to your limit of ability. So, if you lift a weight 8 times but could have lifted it 20 times, you’re not doing anything except wasting your time. You need to find a weight that you can only lift 8-12 times and then each workout strive to increase the repetitions (within the target range) and/or the amount of weight being lifted.

In conclusion, lifting heavy weight is crucial if your goal is aesthetic (physical changes), which it is for 99% of folks who aren’t athletes, and by lifting heavy weight you will not build up excessive muscle mass because your body is simply not genetically capable of supporting that kind of lean tissue. So get out there and lift hard and HEAVY!

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