Light Weight/High Rep vs. Heavy Weight/Low Rep

If you've spent any time in the gym, you've seen the two camps. Some folks are holding smaller weights, and they seem to do innumerable reps before putting them down. Then you see the other folks with plates stacked on plates. They shake and strain to lift the weight one to five times before racking the weights back up with a satisfied grunt.

However, though the two camps have deep beliefs on their routine, the science seems split when doing research. So, let's take a look at how reps and weight affect gains!


The Humble Muscle

The mover of great weights, and well... us. The things we want to grow, to strengthen, and to show off (I mean, every now and again). However, to understand how reps and weight control the outcome of our goals, we need to understand what makes up our muscles.

Slow-Twitch Muscle Fibers:

These muscle fibers have a low activation threshold. That just means that when you're standing, sitting, walking, or running, these are the first muscle fibers activated for locomotion. Endurance is their game, and they are slower to fatigue than their fast-twitch brethren. That being said, the recovery time for this type of muscle fiber is shorter as well.

Fast-Twitch Muscle Fibers:

The superhero of muscle fibers. These are the fibers that spring into action when the slow-twitch fibers become overwhelmed. They have much more power and strength to handle heavier strains. These same fibers are used in explosive movements of exercise or emergency. However, just like any good superhero, they too have a weakness. They are quick to fatigue and take considerably more prolonged periods to recover after extended use.


High Weight/Low Rep

Now that we've taken a look at what makes us swole let's take a look at how weights play a part in our fitness journey.

What is High Weight/Low Rep suitable for?

Want to gain muscle? You're going to want to lift heavy! Wanting to lose body fat? You're going to want to lift heavy! Want better endurance? Yup, heavy.

The reason for all of the above is that muscle mass literally burns more calories than fat mass. Therefore, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. The best way to gain muscle mass is to activate both types of muscle fibers at the same time. This means heavier weights with lower reps. On the downside of this, you're looking at many more sets than the other way around. This means you're going to have to commit to more time in the gym.


Low Weight/High Rep

What is Low Weight/High Rep suitable for?

Wait, say what?

No, I promise I'm not trying to fleece you. I told you in the intro that the research was all over the place. Nearly every single study (that I read through in my research) concluded that changing up your routine was the best practice for maximum results.

Before we look at why that is, it is worth noting that Low Weight/High Rep had one more bullet than the alternative. This is because when you're trying to lean out (cut), you'll focus less on gaining muscle mass and more on maintaining the mass you have now while burning fat. Both bodybuilders and science agree with this one. The more reps you do at a lower weight doesn't activate your fast-twitch muscles to their full extent, and your slow-twitch muscles run on cruise. This optimizes your body's metabolism to focus on burning fat rather than repairing muscle tissue and replacing loads of lost glycogen.


Consider This: Change it Up!

Much like my Weight vs. Cardio conundrum, it seems like a good mix of both are what the doctor ordered. Sometimes quite literally.

Heavier weights with lower reps can damage you. No, not the good micro-tears in your muscles that create growth damage. I'm talking about when you eventually max out, and your body simply can't handle any more weight. Then, that overzealous guy insists that you can do more before slapping on a couple more plates. Fired up by his enthusiasm, you go for it, lose your form, and now it's hospital time. Our guy's name is John! He is an incredibly good dude (and SUPER freaking strong) but just wasn't born with the part of the mind that actually feels pain.

Lower reps with those heavy weights result in more sets. This means that you're going to have to find even more time to devote to being the best you that you can be in an already busy life. I don't know about you, but I've heard nearly every flimsy excuse someone could give about why they're not taking at least some time to work on themselves. However, some time constraints are very real and not made up at all to get out of the pain. Make sure you have time set aside before you wade into more weight.

Doing the same thing over and over works… until it doesn't. That's right! The dreaded plateau. Your body is a fantastic thing, and you can only trick it and your mind with exercise so long before they get used to it and stop responding to it and changing up your routine changes up how your body responds. Boom! Plateau buster!


Like with all of my articles, I must impress upon you (just so I can sleep better at night) that I'm not a medical expert. I'm a guy that is on a mission to change my life and the life of my family by living an example of a healthy and fit lifestyle. I have questions, just like the next fat guy! It just so happens I love to read about it, take in all of the info I can from studies and sites, and then compile it here with my own twist.

That being said, everyone is built differently. Know what? That's pretty alright with me. It'd be boring otherwise. This means that results differ from person to person. Of all of the things that studies, science types, bodybuilders, and even my friend John can agree on, everyone does it differently. The point is, go and find out how you do it.

I am not kidding! Go get it!

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