I can't tell you how many times I have seen young, strong, healthy women, and stiff, serious, middle-aged men lifting weights that are not right for them. In both instances I can say the same phrase, "You're wasting your time" (and likely mine if you are doing it on a squat-rack). Bicep-curling a 5 pound dumbbell or bench-pressing 225 pounds at a quarter of the range of motion you should be employing are equally as useless.
So that begs the question, how much weight is the right weight?
The answer is actually fairly simple, but begs another question first: What do you want to achieve?
For sake of argument, let's say that there are two types of muscle fibres (controversially, there are 3), type 1 muscles fibres and type 2 muscle fibres.
Type 1 muscle fibres are what is known as “slow-twitch” muscle fibres. Generally, these muscles excel in low-force, endurance activities, and are developed by doing a high amount of repetitions (eg. 15 repetitions).
Type 2 muscle fibres are known as “fast-twitch” muscle fibres and are most efficient, you guessed it: at high force, low endurance movements. These are developed by heavier weight and lower repetitions.
Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine have found that increasing the size of type 2 muscle fibers will lead to a significant decrease in fat mass or the amount of fat in the body.
Here’s the rub, you are born with a certain amount of type 1 and type 2 muscle fibres, and while you cannot convert one to the other, or increase the number of those fibres, you can increase the size of them.
Unless you are a long distance cyclist or an ultra-marathon runner, why would you focus on developing type 1 muscle fibres when development of type 2 fibres offer the benefits you are looking for?
So really, it is simple. If your goal is increased muscle mass, greater athletic performance, fat loss, or strength enhancement, the answer is to lift as much weight as you can, while maintaining proper form. You should lift a weight heavy enough that you can do no more than 12 repetitions (ideally ‘failing’ at 10 or 11 because you are too exhausted to do more). 3 or 4 sets of each exercise is enough to sufficiently exhaust the muscle, promoting controlled tears, growth and recovery.
So if the repetition, set, and weight range is the same for everyone to achieve differing goals, why doesn’t everyone who adheres to this look the same?
Simple, it all boils down to nutrition. If you want to gain muscle, you have to consume more calories than you burn, if you want to lose fat, you need to burn more calories than you consume. But you can’t do both at the same time! If you are looking to add muscle and cut fat, you must build first, and deplete second. If you try to do both, you are bound to remain the same, no matter what your program.
One last nutritional note: Not all calories are created equal. It takes more energy to metabolize proteins than carbohydrates or fat. When in doubt, choose foods that are higher in protein content. For more helpful tips on workouts and nutrition, subscribe to our newsletter!