“If we all did the things we are capable of doing we would astound ourselves.”
Lifting heavy weights is arguably the most effective physical endeavor you can do to reach your fitness goals. Unfortunately, many people don’t aim high and embrace heavy training as they should.
They don’t realize that they have this wealth of strength within them that is just waiting to emerge. Once they tap into it, they will literally transform every aspect of their life for the better: Lifting heavy causes amazing changes in all your body’s systems, improving the function of your brain, hormones, metabolic rate, and heart.
This article will show you how to stop selling yourself short with your workouts. You’ll learn why sometimes lifting heavy is the MOST effective way to ensure you experience amazing changes in your body.
#1: You’ll build strength faster.
Being strong can solve a lot of problems: The stronger you are, the quicker you can transform your physique with subsequent training. Same goes for increasing speed, getting more powerful, or improving athletic performance—whoever is strongest at baseline will almost always see the greatest outcomes from training.
Strength also correlates with levels of fat burning hormones in both men and women. This means that the stronger you are, the faster your metabolism will be, making a lean physique that much easier to maintain.
Finally, strength gives you confidence and it challenges your capacities. Building it requires you to embrace hard work—turn toward the effort and get it done. Instead of settling for less, you’ll find out what your true limits are, not just what you think they are.
#2: You’ll build muscle and improve your physique.
Muscle allows us to do all these amazing things: It keeps your back safe when you pick your kids up off the floor or haul luggage into the trunk. It improves both your 5K time and your jumping ability. It allows you to flip a tire or push your car up the hill. It gives you the body you desire and the metabolism to help you maintain that fit physique.
Muscle is also protective for health. The greater muscle mass you have, the greater your chance of survival from cancer. More muscle also means stronger bones and less risk of osteoporosis.
The more muscle you have, the greater number of insulin receptor sites, which equals better use of energy in the body. Naturally, you’ll have less risk of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, or metabolic syndrome.
#3: You’ll have an easier time getting “toned.”
Training to “get toned” with high-reps and light weights will not provide the same benefits as lifting properly heavy weights. We’re going to let you in on a little secret: Getting toned requires two things to happen:
• Lose excess body fat
• Increase the size of muscle cells to provide shape.
The truth is that toning is all about lean muscle. Of course, for most people, it requires the removal of any fat covering up the muscle, but it is muscle that provides the sleek, sculpted curves so you don’t just look bony and stick thin once you lose excess body fat.
The best way to use exercise to shed body fat while increasing lean muscle is to prioritize anaerobic exercise with sprints and weights and include one to two heavy weight workouts a week. You’ll also want to train the “classic” lifts like squats, lunges, step-ups, presses, row, and chin-ups—all exercises that favor the use of heavy weights because they use a variety of muscle groups to perform.
#4: You’ll burn more calories and lose more body fat.
People often mistakenly think cardio exercises like running, exercise machines, or group classes are best for burning calories and fat loss. This is because the amount of calories you burn during exercise is usually higher with cardio than weights, but it’s what happens after the workout that really matters.
Lifting weights elevates post-workout energy expenditure significantly more than steady-state cardio due to the metabolic stress it causes. In a study that compared light with moderate weights on “afterburn,” women who did 2 sets of 8 reps at a “heavy” 70 percent load burned double the calories during the hour after exercise as a group that did 2 sets of 15 reps at a light 35 percent load.
Training at a higher intensity with heavier weights once or twice a week is even better because as you’ll see in #6, it trains all the motor units in the muscles metabolically and neurologically—a combination that helps you stay lean and builds coordination. For example, a study that compared energy expenditure in response to three different loads (70, 80, or 90 percent of the 1RM) trained to failure found that the calories burned in the hour after the workout were nearly the same for all weights.
This illustrates that doing more work, which is the way you increase energy expenditure with cardio, isn’t necessary with anaerobic exercise because weight lifting induces stress “behind the scenes” in your body that can’t be accounted for by just measuring work completed.
#5: You’ll gain confidence and drive from competing with yourself.
If you are new to the gym, or you haven’t developed consistent training habits, you might make the mistake of thinking you’re incapable of lifting heavy weights.
We’ve heard it time and again: People believe they are either “too old,” or “too weak,” to start lifting weights. They think they have to lose excess body fat before they can hit the weight floor—something that has about a 2 percent chance of happening if they carry on slogging it out on cardio machines. Or they worry that lifting heavy will make them big and muscular.
Enough with this madness! First of all, it’s a good bet you’re much stronger than you think. You can definitely handle more than a tiny dumbbell that is really just a prop and doesn’t challenge you at all. You can squat, deadlift, hinge, press, pull weights, and move your body in ways you long ago forgot.
Of course, it’s important to remind your body how to move properly, but once you’ve got training technique nailed, you’ll be amazed at how much weight you can lift.
Second, let’s just clear up the whole “big and muscular” thing right now. To get big and muscular, you have to train in a very specific way (high volume, heavy weights), make nutrition a top priority, and put in at least a few years of intense, concentrated work. Muscles do not just automatically appear as soon as you walk into a gym and start tossing weights around.
Plus, your ability to put on muscle is largely controlled by genetics. This means that certain people will find they build muscle much more easily than others, and this includes women.
However, the fact that women start out with so much less muscle, and significantly more body fat than men makes it nearly impossibly to get bulky or unfeminine from your basic training program. What you will do is lose some of the extra body fat and reveal any muscle that was hiding underneath to give you sleek, sculpted definition.
Finally, everyone, whether you’re 9 or 99 can benefit from some form of training with weights. Of course, kids, older individuals, and those struggling with issues such as arthritis, osteoporosis, heart conditions, obesity, and so forth require situation-specific training programs. But EVERYONE is capable of competing with their own capacities by training with some form of resistance.
#6: You’ll improve the health of other systems in your body: your brain, heart, hormones, and metabolism.
You probably remember that a big component of athletic performance is the brain—muscle connection. A 2012 study that tested brain activity in response to three different loads resulted in activation of different parts of the brain and diverse motor unit recruitment in the muscles.
For example, a volume-based workout with 10 reps of squats per set at 80 percent of maximal produced the greatest increases in cortical activity, with the largest overall number of motor units being worked.
Results of a second power workout that used light weights (30 percent of the 1RM) and explosive movements found that higher threshold motor units were recruited earlier in the movement. Compared to non-explosive movements using the same weight, three times more motor units were recruited when trainees moved powerfully.
This means that moving light weights fast instead of slow literally triples the effectiveness of your workout. Doing jump squats, Olympic lifts, or plyometric push-ups stimulates the brain and corresponding motor units more than slow-speed squats, overhead presses, or push-ups even if they are trained to failure.
Finally, using the heaviest weights (95 percent of the 1RM) activated the highest threshold motor units and trained unique regions of the brain not tapped into by the other two protocols.
Scientists conclude that to design successful workouts, you should include all three training types in your long-term program by alternating between phases every few weeks. In addition, a second study by the same group of scientists found that light lifting to failure will never produce the same benefits as lifting heavy for the following reasons:
• First, although it may trigger protein synthesis to the same degree, it won’t activate all regions of the brain, which means your strength gains will be lacking.
• Second, studies show you will get diminished returns on body composition because light load training doesn’t train the higher threshold fibers that have the greater capacity for growth even if post-workout protein synthesis rates are similar.
• Third, training the brain by recruiting the hardest to reach motor units trains the other physiological systems needed to recruit those muscles. You bring “on board” and train the metabolic, hormonal, adrenergic, and cardiovascular systems as well.
#7: You’ll strengthen connective tissues and bone: Lifting heavy weights is protective.
Lifting heavy is protective. For example, one of the largest benefits endurance athletes can get from training with weights is to strengthen connective tissue to prevent degeneration from repetitive use. By loading the body with heavy weights, bone osteoblasts occur, strengthening bone, and tendons, collagen, and ligaments go through remodeling to become stronger.
In addition, this type of training allows you to move safely under load—an ability that is essential for any athlete who is jumping, pivoting, or twisting since the knee and ankle joints are not naturally equipped to handle such loaded movements at high speeds.
The fastest way to strengthen connective tissue is to do eccentric training, which is when you lower a very heavy weight slowly to the ground. Eccentric training causes significant tissue damage so it will make you sore.
The good news is as long as you allow adequate recovery time before doing heavy, muscle-thrashing training again, the damaged tissue and muscle will rebuild stronger and more protective than before.