Should you lift light or heavy weights?

April 26, 2023


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I'm Morgan — a sustainable fitness coach here to help you finally build lasting strength and confidence. 

Meet Morgan

I used to fall for the workouts promising “long, lean, toned muscles” too, don’t worry. It’s honestly hard not to when you see so many fitness influencers looking so thin and toned who promise you that you’ll look like them.

For starters, we’re all sooooo genetically different so you genuinely will never look exactly like them and plus, fitness influencers and models literally workout for their job, so their lifestyle looks much different than mine & yours.

How can you “get toned”?

You should know that being “toned” ultimately comes down to two things:

  1. Building muscle
  2. Having a low enough body fat percentage so that you’re able to see the muscle beneath

For most people, this requires building muscle through adequate protein intake, strength training, and reducing your body fat through a caloric deficit.

A workout promising these “long, lean, toned muscles” typically uses little to no weight and higher reps, and that method isn’t inherently better than workouts using heavier weights.

Using lighter weights and higher reps will not help you build muscle faster, but as long as you’re working close to failure in each set and progressively increasing the demand on the muscle over time (progressive overload) you can still see some increases in muscle strength and size using lighter loads and higher reps.

This study had men train one leg using a heavy load and one leg using light load, with equal volume in each case (so the total reps times load was equal, even though the heavy load leg was performing 8 reps and the light load leg was performing 36). The light load group did see a small but significant change in muscle growth, but muscle strength and size using a heavy load was greater.

It’s also super important to recognize the amount of time the participants spent working out each leg. The light load leg took nearly three minutes to complete one set, while the heavy load took 25 seconds. If you’re using lighter loads and higher reps, expect to spend a significantly longer time working out to see improvements.

The workouts I’ve done that promise you “long, lean, toned muscles” aren’t typically very long (15-45 minutes) and they usually aren’t taking sets close to failure, which means those workouts will not be the most effective or efficient way to build muscle, to help you achieve the “long, lean, toned muscles” you’re after.

Moral of the story – stop doing workouts because of what other people look like or the flashy words they use to make the workouts seem more appealing. Focusing on building muscle takes time and adequately challenging your muscles, which can be done more effectively (and quickly) using heavier loads.

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