As a personal trainer and weight loss coach, I constantly answer my clients’ health and fitness questions, on social media and in our Start TODAY Facebook Group. In this column, I address some of the most common questions and obstacles that trip people up on their journey to establishing a health and fitness routine.
Is it better to lift heavier weights for fewer reps or to lift lighter weights for more reps?
This is a very common question I get from my clients. Many fitness professionals believe that fewer reps with heavy weights build muscle mass, while more reps with light weights increase your muscular endurance. So what is most important?
Confusingly, the answer is both.
When lifting heavier weights, lower reps are advised for the obvious reason: heavier weights are harder to lift and your muscles tire faster. But it also means that your muscle size will increase faster and faster as you lift weight. On the other hand, lifting lighter weights for more reps will improve your endurance and build muscle, but not as quickly as lifting heavier weights. It really depends on your goals for your physique. In terms of weight loss, lifting heavier and lifting lighter can help you burn fat and lose weight.
In fact, a study showed that after 8 weeks of strength training, those who lifted heavier weights with fewer reps had more strength. But the study also showed that people who lifted lower weights but higher reps had more muscle-building activity.
Ask yourself: what are my fitness goals?
As a weight loss coach and personal trainer specializing in women’s health and physique, what every one of my clients has wanted for the past 15 years is a sleek, toned look – and that’s usually gotten. (regardless of your current height or weight loss goals) by more reps with lighter weights.
Here’s the problem: when the body is exercising at its maximum capacity and it’s stressed to perform a few reps at a high weight, it can sometimes be counterproductive. Many of my clients come to see me stressed or tired. The last thing their body needs to lose weight and get the physique they want to achieve is more stress on their body. Therefore, training at a constant, steady state with lower weights and higher reps gives them the results they seek.
On the other hand, are you a cucumber cool person who loves a challenge? Even if weight loss is your goal, if you’re not feeling stressed, exercising with heavier weights for fewer reps may be perfect for you at this point in your life.
I always advise my clients to try a training program regularly for three weeks. If you don’t see results after 21 days, it’s time to try something new. So try lifting heavier weights with fewer reps if you think that’s what’s best for your body right now. If you lift heavier weights, you’ll probably notice your strength increasing faster, which could be your goal!
How do I know when it’s time to increase my weight or my reps?
The next question my clients ask is how do I know when it’s time to gain weight? We all want to feel like we’re making progress in our fitness routine. When it comes to strength training, does that mean you need to increase the weights, the reps, or both?
If you are someone, like me, who gets fat easily, then the answer is to stick to lower weights with higher reps. I don’t lift more than 7 pounds because when I do, my shoulders, back, and chest bulge in ways that I don’t like. I like the sleek and toned look, so I prefer to stick with my 3 or 5 pound dumbbells. If my body gets bored or the workout is too easy, I switch it up by using resistance bands or doing bodyweight exercises (like a lot of planks!). Instead of increasing the weight, I just change the exercises.
But if you’re new to bodybuilding, you can focus on making progress. Start with 8 reps of an exercise using 3 pound weights. Perform three sets of all exercises in the circuit. Then, after doing this every other day for 2-3 weeks, increase your reps to 10. Repeat for 2-3 weeks. Then increase the reps to 12, and finally up to 15. Once you’ve done 3 sets of 15 reps for 2-3 weeks, increase the weight to 4-5 pound dumbbells, then repeat the whole cycle .
If it’s too easy and you feel like progress is too slow, then speed it up! But keep in mind that I encourage my clients to focus on their overall strength and progress, not necessarily to keep increasing their weight. It all depends on how you want your body to look and feel.
My lower back is still sore. What type of training should I do?