As a new trainee, or even a trainee with moderate experience, the question of intensity and volume in the gym can be very difficult to wrap your head around. To further complicate the issue, upon looking around the gym at different times of day you’ll likely see some folks with tremendous physiques hauling up some seemingly immovable amounts of weight and others with equally impressive builds who never seem to pick up anything heavier than a fifty pound dumbbell.
Old adages like “No pain, No gain” might lead you to believe that you won’t be able to truly build the arms, chest, back and legs you want without piling the plates on the barbell and lifting at a close to maximum weight effort – but this may not be the case. In fact, research has shown that using a combination of lighter weights and higher rep ranges might be just as effective for building bigger, denser muscles as using heavy weights in lower rep ranges.
Assuming that you are in the gym three to four days a week in order to build the best body possible (and not to train for competitive powerlifting or strongman competitions), using less weight and higher rep ranges might be the best approach to reach your goal.
The key to building bigger arms, broader shoulders and a wider back lies in increasing your overall workload in the gym every time out – not necessarily in how much weight you pile on the bar. In order to build bigger muscles you need to work those muscles to exhaustion – whether that exhaustion comes from lifting an exceedingly heavy weight for 6 repetitions or a moderate weight for 20 repetitions.
A smart strategy is to find a weight that you can safely perform about 15-20 repetitions with before “failure” (the inability to perform another repetition in good form). In each workout strive to perform more repetitions with the same weight you used in the previous workout until you can hit 25, then to increase the amount of weight you are using.
This method of training ensures that you are consistently putting in the required effort in for maximum muscle stimulation without the increased chance for injury associated with consistently working with weights at or close to your one rep max. I’m not anti-heavy lifting by any means, but I do understand that lifting at or close to your one rep max day in and day out puts additional stress on joints, tendons and ligaments.
While this might be a necessary risk for maximum strength gains it isn’t a necessary risk for those whose primary goal is to build the best overall physique possible in the safest manner.
While a lower weight/higher rep workout might sound like it would take a lot longer to complete than a higher weight lower rep workout (a potential sticking point for those of you who are strapped for time) – this isn’t really the case. You will be performing additional repetitions to complete this style of workout but using the lighter weights should allow you to trim down your rest periods in between sets compared to going all out with heavier weights.
You should be able to complete the work necessary for maximum muscle development using the lighter weight/higher rep workout in approximately the same time as a higher weight/lower rep workout – and an added bonus is that the added volume of repetitions will result in additional calories burned each workout.
This will help those growing muscles look even more impressive in and out of the gym.