Step into any weight room and you will find people lifting heavy weights for low reps. Impressive stuff, huh? The old mantra states that ‘Heavy weights build muscle!’ But is this strictly true?
There are many facets to muscular stimulation. Maybe it’s time to lighten up?
The feeling of lifting a heavy weight, even a new PB, is one of the best in the world.
The nerves you feel before the lift… the pump of getting to grips with the bar… feeling the weight bearing down on you… gritting your teeth and beginning the shift north… completing the lift, elation.
Heavy lifting is certainly a mainstay of the muscle building workout. Progressively adding resistance is essential for keeping the gains coming.
But not every set should be heavy. Not every set should go to bone crushing failure.
What about the pump? What about the feeling of effectively targeting and working the muscles through a perfect set, then feeling the skin stretch as the tissues fill with blood and the fibers strain and destruct.
This is where quality muscle is born.
What Is Your Goal?
If your goal is to build strength, heavy, low rep sets should definitely comprise your workout. This is just common sense — lifting heavy weights will help you to eventually lift even heavier weights. That said, high rep sets can improve your strength training sessions. Use lighter weights to warm up and down to help avoid injuries.
However, if your main goals are to build muscle and sculpt an impressive, unique physique, you need to be adding in plenty of lighter, high rep sets, alongside your heavy work. The first step to building muscle is muscle stimulation and, ultimately, tissue damage. High reps accomplish this perfectly. They also help to get the blood flowing deep into the muscles, increasing the surface area, therefore the amount of force that you are able to generate.
The ego should always be checked at the door. The gym is for pushing the body and working towards goals, not showing off and risking injury. Remember that your muscles can’t read the numbers on the ends of the dumbbells; they can only feel the strain.
Lifting light as well as heavy isn’t weak, it’s the route to your next goal.
It’s not about how much you’re lifting, it’s all about HOW you’re doing it.
Proper form is absolutely vital for effective weight training. The weight must travel through a full range of motion, with total control, and no jerking or cheating, to constitute a good rep.
Using proper form stimulates the maximum amount of muscle fibers, concentrates the effort into the target muscle, and helps to avoid injury.
Proper form should be your number one priority in the gym.
Use mirrors to scrutinize your technique. Ask your gym buddies to watch you from different angles to look for issues.
Hand in hand with proper form, and the best way to maximize your high rep sets, is the mind-muscle connection. This isn’t some hocus pocus idea. The mind-muscle connection is vitally important for the effective concentration of effort.
Don’t just go through the motions of swinging weights through planes, feel the target muscles contract, through both the negative and positive phases. Feel the squeeze at the top, and enjoy the muscle-shredding stretch on the way back down. Flexing and stretching the muscles between sets is excellent for staying in the zone and maintaining the connection with the working tissues.
The mind-muscle connection can take time to master, and it’s not even easy to describe, but you know it when you have it.
When you lift weights, the blood is diverted into the target area to deliver oxygen, fuel and other nutrients deep into the muscles. Take advantage of this. Lighter weight, high rep sets pump the muscles like nothing else. Begin working a body part by lifting an ultra light weight for upwards of 30 or even 40 reps and feel the blood rush into the muscles. This is the foundation of your entire workout.
Many people leave their warm-up right there and move on to the heavy stuff. This is a mistake. Perform a few sets, gradually bringing the reps down. Don’t go to exhaustion, just work the joints and muscles through a good range, preparing them for what is to come and setting a solid start for the skin-splitting pumps to come. Finish each body part with one or two more high rep sets to really seal the deal and stimulate growth.
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Next to proper form, high intensity is one of the most important weapons in the gym. It’s also a weapon that many people lack.
Intensity doesn’t mean running around the gym, screaming, throwing weights around and snorting like a rhino (although this certainly works for some people).
Intensity is all about piling the pressure onto the target body parts and taking shorter rest periods, thereby proportionally increasing the amount of time the muscles are under tension. Lighter, higher rep sets help set the intensity level high, right from the off. Strict form, high rep sets LOAD tension and stress onto the muscles, stimulating the deep fibers.
Training at a high intensity also helps to boost testosterone and growth hormone, the body’s primary anabolic cocktail. Check out the great Tom Platz showing this guy just what intensity is…
Stimulate Those Slow Twitch Fibers
Lifting heavy stimulates type 2 muscle fibers. These are known as fast twitch fibers, primarily use glucose and other organic substrates for fuel, and are responsible for powerful movements. This leaves the poor type one, slow twitch fibers out of the game altogether.
Research has shown that lifting lighter weights for higher reps, also stimulates these untapped type one fibers, leading to greater aerobic capacity and muscular endurance, as well as lean, vascular growth. Slow twitch fibers don’t quite have the hypertrophic potential of their fast twitch cousins, but that’s no reason to ignore them!
Speaking of muscular endurance, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two decades or more, you’ve probably heard about the muscle building potential of the wonder supplement, creatine. Creatine essentially acts as a relay runner, rapidly refuelling spent energy molecules, sending them hurtling back into the energy cycle, thereby increasing power and muscular endurance. Creatine adds reps. Reps add muscle.
There are many types of creatine on the market, and many more appearing all the time. However, it is still the original version, creatine monohydrate, that stands head and shoulders above the rest, regularly winning out in scientific testing. Sheer Strength Creatine Monohydrate is 100% pure and guaranteed to get results. Simply take a small amount of creatine before and after workouts to reap the rewards.
Mix It Up
The best way to get ahead in the gym is to mix it up. Don’t just stick with the same old routines and rep ranges, week in, week out.
That’s a surefire way to land yourself firmly on a training plateau. Mix it up. Bring in new exercises, change the order, and don’t be afraid to break the mould a little. One highly effective way to use higher rep sets is to employ a pyramid routine. Begin with a very light weight, or even just a bar, and crank out 30-40 controlled and effective reps. Gradually raise the weight and lower the reps, until you are into your working sets. Keep increasing the weight until you reach your chosen low rep range.
More experienced trainers can really turn up the heat by inverting the pyramid and really roasting the muscles. When you’ve completed your heaviest set, drop a good proportion of the weight off and push out as many as you can. Keep dropping the weight and pushing the reps until you reach complete muscular failure. To crank the pressure even more, use drop sets, partial reps, and negatives.
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