If I were to get a dollar every time someone asked whether they should go for a heavyweight, fewer reps or lightweight, more reps, I’d probably be a millionaire.
A lot of people have this question, and it’s a genuine question too. Unfortunately, there is no direct answer. I am going to explain how it all works and then maybe you can figure out what would work better for you.
Before we start, let us learn some of the terms which are going to be used invariably in this article.
One Repetition Max(1 RM)- 1 rep max is the most weight you can lift for 1 rep for an exercise
Training Volume-: It is the measure of the total amount of work done in a training session. It is defined as the product of sets, reps, and weight
Muscle Hypertrophy-: Increase in skeletal muscle size through an increase in the size of its component cells.
Types of Muscle Fibers in our body
Muscles in the body are divided into three categories based on their functions: Skeletal, Cardiac, and Smooth Muscles. Skeletal muscles provide mobility to the body; Cardiac muscles allow for movement of blood; and finally, the Smooth muscles allow for the motion of hollow organs such as the esophagus, stomach, and bladder.
The muscle cells of skeletal muscles are much longer than others and are known as muscle fibers. They are further divided into two types based on how they produce and use energy, i.e, Slow-twitch, and Fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Slow-twitch muscle fibers(also known as Type 1 fibers) are efficient at utilizing oxygen and can function for a long period before they experience fatigue. They require more work to maximize growth. They are responsible for long-duration, low-intensity activities such as walking or any other aerobic exercise.
Fast-twitch muscle fibers(also known as Type 2 fibers) are better at generating short bursts of strength and will tire out faster. These muscles are most likely the strongest and quickest to develop. The more fast-twitch fibers one has got, the greater his ultimate muscle size can be. They are responsible for short-duration, high-intensity activity.
The distribution of these fiber types varies from one body part to the other, individual to individual, and is not uniform across the body. This is one of the reasons that a set of people might respond to the same training program differently.
Low Reps with Heavier Weight
The traditional method for gaining muscle mass, for both men and women alike, is to lift heavier weights and gradually increase the amount of weight over time. It actually works.
Lifting heavier weight (about 70–75 percent of your one-rep max) engages Type 2 muscular fibers, which are critical for strength development and hypertrophy. They, however, fatigue quickly, and also the muscle fiber stimulation and hypertrophy are related to the length of time they are exposed to resistance.
Relying solely on low reps with heavy weight also puts incredible pressure on our neuromuscular system. The hormonal pathways that fire our muscles and cause them to contract are triggered by our brain. As we accumulate fatigue from chronically lifting heavy weights, the neuromuscular system loses its capacity to keep up with the “stress.” Eventually, we feel burned out and our strength decreases.
High Reps with Lighter weight
Exercising with lighter weights triggers our slow-twitch muscles. The amount of weight you handle is about 50–60% of your one-rep max. This isn’t enough weight to promote a response from the Type 2 muscle fibers, where the potential for big growth resides.
However, though slow-twitch muscles have less power, they are slower to fatigue and can really build up your endurance. You will still be gaining strength, just a different kind- muscular endurance. Your training volume is high, which helps you burn more fats and calories giving you a more toned appearance. The stress on your neurological system is lesser here.
Which one is better?
Confusingly, the answer is both.
When we lift heavier, lower repetitions are advised for the obvious reason: it is harder to lift heavier weights, and our muscles fatigue faster. But what this also means is that our muscle size will increase more and faster the heavier we lift. On the other hand, lifting lighter weights for more repetitions will improve our endurance and build muscle, but not as quickly as lifting heavier weights. It truly depends on what our goals are for our physique. Both can help us lose burn fat and lose weight.
It’s also important to remember that there are many factors that go into building muscle mass, apart from the workouts we perform. Diet, genetics, metabolic rate, hormone levels, body type, and even your individual muscle fiber composition all contribute. No single workout plan is effective or appropriate for everyone.
That wraps up my guide. I hope this helps you in the right direction!
I’m a passionate health coach and member of a community known as Biomarked. We aim to educate and empower people about lifestyle issues like Diabetes Type 2, PCOS, Thyroid, Fatty Liver, etc. If you are on Instagram, I have been sharing regular health nuggets and several success stories of my friends and families I have been able to help.
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