Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Stop the Low-Weight High-Rep Workouts

Recently, a lady at one of my One Minute Workout workshops asked me how to tighten up her underarms and get rid of the “teacher flab”. She had been doing dumbbell triceps extensions for quite some time but didn’t see any improvements. When I asked her how heavy and how many repetitions, she replied 3 to 5 pounds, 20 to 30 times. Bingo! That was her problem. Those exercises weren’t doing anything meaningful for her. In other words, she had been wasting her time!

Many people think that light weights and high repetitions is the best way to “tone” muscles and improve the look of a body part. This is false! Unfortunately, many workout programs continue to promote this belief while people wonder why they aren’t getting the results they want.

When a body part lacks shape and feels squishably soft, it’s because there is insufficient underlying muscle mass to provide the desired contours. As a result, skin and fat dictate the appearance. Muscles only grow bigger in response to loads (e.g. weight) that stress it enough mechanically to cause individual muscle fibers to break. As part of the normal repair process, the fibers grow back thicker and stronger. When you get tired working against heavy loads, it’s largely because the muscles are no longer strong enough to move it. This is why lifting heavy weights increases the size of your muscles.

On the other hand, when you train with light weights, muscle fibers don’t break. Performing lots of repetitions only tires your muscles metabolically, not mechanically. In response, your muscle cells change their metabolic efficiency so that they can perform for longer periods of time before tiring out. This doesn’t increase their size significantly. Your body also learns to move more efficiently, reducing the number of calories spent for that movement. This has no effect on your body aesthetics. Any improvements you may see are from a global reduction in your body fat, which lets underlying muscles show through better. Losing fat is much more difficult than gaining muscle, which can take very little time and effort when done properly.

If you’re worried about developing too much muscle and becoming bulky, fear not. Building bulky muscles like a bodybuilder takes significant effort, both in terms of training and proper nutrition. If it were easy to get that big, you’d expect to see many more bodybuilders walking around right?

Now, if you’re an endurance athlete, you may think that building muscle mass will weigh you down. While it’s true the heavier you are the more energy you will need to spend, consider the fact that the stronger you are the easier movements become. As your perceived exertion decreases, you will be able to perform longer. Train to increase your strength-to-bodyweight ratio and you’ll improve your endurance performance.

So, the next time you hit the weights, pick ones that you can do for about 6 to 12 repetitions per set. You want to challenge yourself to the point of being unable to complete the last repetition in your set. This means you’ve pushed your muscles hard enough to grow. As your strength grows, increase the weight accordingly. This kind of exercise programming will give you better results and save you valuable time.


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