Should you do more reps or lift heavier weights? A trainer intervenes

By | March 29, 2024

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For a beginner, strength training is not easy at all, and there are a lot of mixed messages about the best way to go about it.

At the gym, the heavy weights are often set up in a special area that feels like the realm of the ultra-fit, suggesting that heavier is better. However, a strength training class may include light weights or no weights at all, giving the impression that low weight and high reps are the path to a slim figure.

If you’re confused, you’re not alone. So let’s look at the benefit of lifting heavy weights for lower reps versus lifting light weights for higher reps and how to decide which method of strength training is best for your goals.

Should I l. lift?What weight for high reps or high weight for low reps?

The answer is a bit confusing: both.

Lifting heavy weights with little repetition increases muscle strength and causes the muscles to tire more quickly. Moderate weights with more repetitions develop muscular endurance. Depending on your goals, you may be interested in increasing muscle mass or hoping to maintain lean muscle mass, which is especially important as you age. And if you want to lose weight, both heavy lifting and lighter lifting can help you burn fat.

Furthermore, strength training does not necessarily have to be done in a gym. Bodyweight exercises can be extremely effective for both the upper and lower body: push-ups, pull-ups, resistance bands and triceps dips can all challenge the upper body. For the lower body, squats, lunges and calf raises are all good options.

A 2024 study on strength training for women confirmed previous research that focused primarily on men. Researchers found that the American College of Sports Medicine’s common advice yielded results: Performing 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps at 70 to 85 percent of your one-rep maximum weight helped beginners gain strength and muscle.

Determine your fitness goals and your mindset

As a weight loss coach and personal trainer specializing in women’s health, most of my clients want a sleek and toned look. That look is usually achieved—regardless of your current size or weight-loss goals—by doing more reps with lighter weights.

And there’s also an argument that if you’re already stressed from trying to lose weight, your body doesn’t need the added stress of lifting heavy weights. When the body is exerting itself at maximum capacity and is stressed to perform a few repetitions with a heavy weight, this can sometimes be counterproductive.

Many of my clients come to me stressed or tired. The last thing their body needs to lose weight and get the physique they want to achieve is more stress on their body. Therefore, training in a consistent and steady state with lower weights and higher reps will give them the results they are looking for.

On the other hand, if you are someone who doesn’t feel stressed by fitness and likes a challenge, heavier weights may be a good choice for you. Even if weight loss is your goal, if you’re not feeling stressed, training with heavier weights and fewer reps may be perfect for you at this stage of your fitness journey.

I always recommend that my clients try an exercise program consistently for three weeks. If you don’t see results after 21 days, it’s time to try something new. So try lifting heavier weights with fewer reps if you think that’s best for your body at the moment. As you lift heavier weights, you’ll likely notice that your strength increases faster — which may be your goal!

How do I know when it’s time to increase my weight or reps?

The next question my clients ask is how they know when it’s time to arrive. We all want to feel like we’re making progress in our fitness routine. When it comes to strength training, does that mean you need to increase the weight, the number of reps, or both?

If you’re someone, like me, who bulges easily – and doesn’t want to – then the answer is to stick to lower weights with higher reps. I don’t lift weights heavier than 7 pounds because when I do, my shoulders, back, and chest expand in a way I don’t like. I like to look tight and toned, so I prefer to stick with my 3 or 5 pound dumbbells. If my body gets bored or the workout is too easy, I change it up by using resistance bands or doing bodyweight exercises – like lots of planks! Instead of increasing the weight, I simply change the exercises completely.

But if you’re just starting out with strength training, you can focus on progression. Try this: Start with 8 reps of an exercise with 3-pound weights. Perform three rounds of all exercises in the circuit. After doing this every other day for 2-3 weeks, then increase your reps to 10. Repeat for 2-3 weeks. Then increase the number of reps to 12 and finally to 15. Once you are performing 3 rounds of 15 reps for 2-3 weeks, increase the weight to 4 or 5 pound dumbbells and then repeat the entire cycle.

If this is too easy and you feel like progress is too slow, speed it up! But try to focus on your overall strength and progress rather than increasing your weight. It all comes down to how you want to look and feel in your body.

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