Lift Heavy Or Go Light?
Give me a minute or two of your time and allow me to explain, as what seems like a simple question, really isn’t.
There are big guys who lift heavy
And there are big guys who lift light;
Some little guys lift lots of weight
The ones left over lift light.
It all seems so confusing
Who is right?
Well, we all want to get big, so it’s obviously the big guys who got it right, right?
Let me begin by first bringing out my old whipping boy, The Gene Cardto deal with a question of this sort. Why mention genes? Because it is always refreshing to know just why we are, in fact, all different. I like to pull out the genetic explanation for everything; it’s handy, as well as being true. Genes are almostDestiny, yeah but just not quite.
Some of us respond remarkably well to hard, heavy weights with lots of rest in between sets, for example 4–10 reps/set, 6–9 sets per body part.
Others respond to hard, quick tempo, high volume of a 20–30 rep/set 15–30 sets/body part range andrequire much less weight to achieve maximal training effect.
If “one man’s meat, is another’s poison”applies to anything, it applies in a particularly impactful manner to the pumping of iron.
The answer to the question of what the best method of lifting for youis will quite likely depend on certain combinations of your genes and the protein factors that they express.
Yes, many things in life do seem to be a lottery ticket or a crapshoot, but not everything. Some things are hard and concrete destiny writ long ago and set in stone. Whether you are going to respond best to heavy or light weight best is certainly one of these things.
When pumping iron, it’s a good idea to have in mind the following important variables and how they affect building muscle:
- Time(under tension) this will include tempo as well as total time (coffee breaks and babe chat-ups don’t count) that you spend actually lifting weights;
- Volume(let’s also include the distribution of sets/reps here to save ourselves unnecessary hassle);
- Weight not much to say about weight, you know what it is (unless you’re a science geek and want to resort to mass, but then you’ll probably speak in metric and not imperial)this will include bands, TRX and everything in between;
- Focus(not a scientific term, but one that I like) includes some intangible and subjective factors like intensity, desire, and other stuff.
I’m a little tempted to perform some impressive mathematical algorithmic calculation using the above variables. So, I’ll go ahead and make one up:
It looks plausible but what does it mean? Who knows? Don’t be fooled. Even though it appears to give a bit more scientific look to things, I’ve only just made it up, means nothing and is simply utter balderdash. (Serving merely as a way to put perceptive readers on notice that deep relationships exist between these 4 factors and the effect that they have on training your muscles).
No, you won’t be getting exactly the same physiological effects by lifting half of the weight, all other things being equal. All things are, however, not equal (they rarely are) and this fact allows some interesting training schemes to start fluttering their bedroom eyes at you. It all depends on your genes and fitting the right tactical strateoies to them.
If we take a brief look at the panoply of bodybuilders through the last half century or so we will find Mr. Olympias at each end of the training spectrum and we will also find them populating every nook and cranny in the spaces in between. From high volume athletes like Frank Zane and Arnold (whose sessions often lasted 2–3 hours 2X a day) to Mike Metzner (never to get his O, but a good bodybuilder, nevertheless. Mike trained for 20 minutes 4X weekly) and Dorian Yates (who trained so brutally heavy. He never counted warmup sets with weight that most of us will never even know what it’s like to lift.Dorian came in for his workout and was often out of the gym in 45 minutes or less).
All of them, without exception, had wildly different training and bodybuilding lifestyles.
To know the true and real nature of any animal that lives in the jungle, you first must take a walk into the jungle.
So the short answer is going to have to be that a little testing is in order. We need to gather up information about ourselves. We must go and find things out which are necessary to know about ourselves in order to really see how it all works for us before you get a right answer to your important and complicated question.
Easy examples of testing different training strategies might include:
- Halving the weight you use but doubling the volume of work you do (more sets and/or reps).
- Maybe you have a whole afternoon free and want to test your max so you go brutally heavy, but allow yourself 5 minutes rest in between sets in order to take advantage of maximum recovery.
- Or you might want to try something a little off-the-wall. Like a technique that fits the bill called kaatsu(basically blood flow restriction) training as a way to apply further mechanical stress on the muscle to increase damage on the cellular level without dramatically increasing your lifting weight.
When you decide to look at your training on an experimental basis like this, you begin to use your imagination as a tool to suggest training strategies. Possibilities for progress start to multiply and different outcomes beckon to you. A whole universe of possibilities awaits when you put this kind of trial-and-error training mindset into action.
A quick side note on gene testing: while not yet a science can furnish some interesting data and depending on the acuity of interpretation, can yield some useful and practical leads. Better yet, these days it’s fairly quick and isn’t so expensive. I wish it had been around when I first started training, as some wasted time listening to bad advice may have been saved. Although, on the other hand, the aforementioned method of trial & erroris how this businesshas worked since the first time a man lifted that log blocking his path and wondered how far he could throw big rocks.
Rather than looking at issues like these as just dicking around and being a pain-in-the-neck, think on what you are learning by going to the trouble of solving these issues for yourself and for your own particular body type. You are accessing the very essence of the lifting experience, beginning to own tacit knowledge that applies directly to you. That is what time served in the gym is for, you’re empowering yourself by not having to take someone else’s word for it (who may or may not know less than you do).
Begin to see this process of trial-and-error as an essential way to gain the self-knowledge required to develop the skills to truly be in command of your own levels of fitness.