It is a common misconception that light weights performed for a high number of repetitions will tone the body or add definition to muscles without adding a lot of bulky muscle. For this reason, most ladies you see who have been brave enough to enter the weights room will work out with the pink Barbie dumbbells for endless repetitions either in the belief that they are going to tone their muscles or because they are afraid of bulking up and looking like Chyna from WWF.
The type of toned look most women aspire to.
What that high rep training does is increase your muscular endurance, which makes sense if you think about it. You’re teaching your muscles to work for long periods of time. High rep training won’t tone your muscles and has very limited capacity to make you stronger or make your muscles grow.
I’ve also heard guys talk about high reps bringing on more definitions to a muscle group and bringing out their ‘cuts’ or striations. Well, I’m here to tell you that this notion is complete nonsense.
Most fitness professional agree that ‘toning’ a muscle is a bit of a misnomer. It is said that a muscle can grow as a result of weight training, but that it cannot become more toned. The tone that people often desire is just a small growth in the size of the muscles. It should also be understood that certain exercises cannot shape the muscles in a certain way. The muscle will grow and shape according to your genetic profile.
In his book, Power to the People, Pavel Tsatsouline says, however, that a muscle can become more toned. He says this is possible by lifting heavy weights for low repetitions. The idea being that by lifting heavy weights, you will sharpen your central nervous system and teach it to contract more powerfully. This sharpening will lead to an increased residual tension in the muscle, which Pavel says will give your muscles a more toned look. This tone is therefore not a physical change in the muscle – it is just because your central nervous system is now more alert and keeps your muscle partially contracted at all times.
Pavel also distinguishes between two type of muscle hypertrophy, or muscle growth. Myofibrillar hypertrophy and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
Myofibrillar hypertrophy is the result of training with heavy weights and low repetitions. It is an increase in the number of myofibrils, or muscle fibres in the muscle. This makes the muscle harder, stronger and more dense. Look at an Olympic Gymnast performing the crucifix on the rings. The striations and muscle fibres of the shoulder muscles stand out in sharp relief. Olympic weightlifters are in the same class. Those are examples of true muscle definition and are the result of heavy, hard training; not the ‘light weights and high reps for definition’ nonsense that goes around.
Sarcoplasmic hypertophy will happen when you train using higher repetitions. What happens here is that you get an increase in volume of the non-contractile fluids of the muscle, the sarcoplasm. This fluid will make you bigger, but won’t give your muscles any definition. You won’t get a lot stronger either. This is why bodybuilders who train this way are bigger than other athletes, but aren’t nearly as strong, powerful or fast as other power athletes.
Try these weights ladies, not the pink dumbbells.
Hopefully this will explain why you should drop the really high rep stuff and lift some heavy weights. For beginners, I wouldn’t recommend going below 5 repetitions in a set. Start of in the 8-10 rep range. For the more experienced lifter, you should try to incorporate lots of set in the 5 reps and lower range, even performing singles (that’s 1 rep) every now and again. The weight should be heavy enough so that you are struggling to complete the set. If you feel like you could have done at least 2 more reps at the end of your set, the weight isn’t heavy enough. On the other hand, don’t go overboard and train to failure on each set. Try to leave 1 rep in the tank at the end of each set.
Ladies, lifting heavy weights like I’ve described won’t bulk you up. To get significantly bigger requires intense training, vast quantities of food and high testosterone levels, so stop worrying about it.
Guys, if you’re guilty of always doing 3 sets of 10 in the gym, you need to change it up a little. Lower rep training will make you stronger and more powerful and will translate to being a better athlete. If you are only interested in packing on some size I still recommend a month or so of low rep training. Why? Because once you return to your usual 10-12 rep hypertrophy workouts, your increased strength will allow you to move more weight in that rep range than before. This will lead to a higher volume of work performed and hence more muscle growth in the long run.
So as you can see, we can all benefit from lifting heavy weights.