Why light weight/high reps may just be a lie for fat loss & muscle gain.

Updated: Sep 1

You've probably heard someone say (yourself included) something like, "I stick to high reps at low weight so I don't bulk up."


Sound familiar?


One of our missions at Elevate is providing REAL information in regard to strength training. After all, the incredible thing about lifting weights is that it can serve many different goals. Losing body fat, gaining muscle, accentuating your curves, improving athletic performance, and many more.


But blanket statements like the one I started with give little context to what that person's goal might be, as well as shedding no light on the specifics.


The terms "light weight" and "high rep(etition)" are subjective after all. What is light for one person may not be so for the next. Same with what constitutes high reps.


When I hear this, my mind pictures little dumbbells (like 5lbs) and someone doing 100 repetitions with them of some exercise. Whereas someone who lifts really heavy weights for just a couple of repetitions at a time may consider 8 reps to be high!


So that's piece #1: we need to establish exactly what the heck that phrase means :)


The second part of this is to ask about the goal involved. Typically, lifting light weights a lot of times doesn't translate to getting stronger. Nor does it "tone" or "tighten." Those are junk terms that have been perpetuated by fitness gurus who would love to sell their at-home dance routine. Don't fall for it ;)


The cold truth is that there are many different ways to utilize weight selection and training volume (how many times you do an exercise) to get to your goals. In addition, a major driver of how you look and feel comes down to the nutrition habits that support your workouts. Eat a LOT and you'll likely get larger. Eat a LITTLE and you'll likely get smaller.


In order to make changes to your muscle composition, you have to challenge your body in a couple different ways. If those little dumbbells aren't providing any real resistance, it's likely you are just spinning your wheels.


Also keep in mind that building muscle is a good thing! It helps your metabolism and does not promote weight gain in and of itself. In fact, having more muscle mass forces your body to consume more energy to maintain that muscle. That demand for more energy leads to calories being burned at a higher rate.


The following are the three main mechanisms that decide whether muscles will grow. You can tweak these to meet your personal goals for lifting weights:


  1. Mechanical Tension - this is created by using a relatively heavy load (again, this is subjective to what you feel is challenging) and putting joints through their full range of motion. The longer you are under tension, the more mechanical tension is created.

  2. Muscle Damage - you know how you get super sore when you push it too hard or do something you haven't tried in a while? You created muscle damage. Now, I'm not saying to wreck yourself in a workout. But you do want to challenge yourself enough to create SOME damage. This triggers a process in your body that repairs those damages so you can come back stronger.

  3. Metabolic Stress - this is that "pump" feeling you get when you do more reps. It also creates signals to your body that can result in muscle growth.


We consider all of these factors when creating workouts and training plans for any Elevate programs. That includes both personal training and group fitness settings. If you want someone to take the thinking out of it for you, hit us up to try a LIFT class or work with a personal trainer. You won't regret it!



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