There are two main camps in the bodybuilding industry today: those who say you should be performing low weight, high rep exercises, and those who say you should be doing the opposite. Today, we're going to advocate for high weight, low rep training. This generally means that you lift much, much heavier weights than you're used to - but the good news is you don't have to perform as many reps per set!
There are many reasons why personal trainers believe that high weight, low rep is the way to go. This is especially true if you have some very specific goals in mind. But that doesn't necessarily mean the high weight, low rep is the end-all, be-all of weightlifting. There are some caveats and pitfalls you should know about before you try to hit the gym floor and start lifting like a beast. So go make a quick protein shake and get ready for a deep dive!
Before we start talking about building muscle, let's talk about something that's equally important yet often overlooked: your nervous system. There are a ton of neurological benefits that you can reap from training with high weights and low repetitions. Lifting heavy basically shocks your central nervous system into overdrive. Just because you aren't doing very many reps doesn't mean that forcing your muscles to lift a lot of weight very quickly isn't extremely challenging to your body. You may not be able to see the benefits of a well-developed nervous system with the naked eye, but you will definitely feel them! When you fire up your nervous system with high weight workouts, it makes it easier for your brain to perform the same exercises over time - whether you doing high weight/low rep or low weight/high rep. At the end of the day, this nervous system shock can improve your overall cognitive performance even in ways that aren't related to bodybuilding.
Now let's get back to the tangible benefits of high weight, low rep training. No matter what sort of lift you are doing, putting that extra strain on your joints and connective tissues will stimulate those tissues to grow. It'll also stimulate your body to reinforce those tissues, making them thicker and stronger. But this only scratches the surface of what our MuscleHelp experts discovered when we delved deeper into the topic.
If you've never done a high weight, low rep workout before, follow our advice: consult a personal trainer first! This is especially true if you are relatively inexperienced with fitness and have not built up the strength and robustness of your joints and cartilage yet. Lifting heavy forces you to focus on making sure that you do the movements right. The tiniest shift in weight or a slightly sloppy slip in form can cause you serious injury in a split second. And you don't want to be caught on the wrong end of a heavy weight succumbing to the forces of gravity. So lifting heavy is great as far as developing safe lifting habits goes - as long as you do it the right way.
When it comes to lifting high weight/low rep, you're sacrificing something very important called Time Under Tension. Time Under Tension is what happens when you lift low weights but with a higher level of repetition. When your muscles spend more Time Under Tension (hence the name!), it causes more muscle breakdown to happen during each contraction. As most bodybuilders know, the more muscle breakdown you can achieve during a workout without injuring yourself, the better your gains will be. Most personal trainers specifically like Time Under Tension training because they believe it helps people grow muscles faster than they would with moderate weight, moderate rep or high weight, low rep training.
But it's not as if you can somehow train yourself to have as much or more Time Under Tension lifting high weight/low rep as you would during any other workout. It's simply not possible...Or if it is, you're probably not lifting a heavy enough weight. Most people's muscles don't have the endurance to lift 75% of their one-rep max for long enough to get the true benefits of Time Under Tension. Time Under Tension lifts require you to slowly lift a weight for anywhere from 10 to 15 seconds each rep. This training technique also stimulates your deeper muscle fibers in ways that lifting heavy weight for brief sets and brief-duration reps cannot.
But that's not the only bad thing about doing too many high weight/low rep exercises in the gym. We talked about form earlier. We're going to talk about it again because yes, it is that important. Lots of bodybuilders want to be the big man on campus and show off their strength when working out in a public space. But in order to lift the heaviest weight, many of them compromise their form. This can lead to injuries which will kill your gains. The heavier the weight and the sloppier your form, the more severe the injury. The more severe the injury, the more down time you have to spend outside of the gym recovering from it. So take our advice here at GetMuscleHelp.com: if you're going to lift high weight/low rep, be smart about it. Don't compromise your form just to be a show-off. It'll do more harm than good in the long run.
Lifting high weight, low rep has some really nice bodybuilding benefits. But so does lifting low weight, high rep. So what's a bodybuilder to do? Both, of course!
Experiment with doing some of your gym workouts high weight/low rep, and doing low weight/high rep on your other gym days. The Time Under Tension workouts will help increase muscle breakdown for accelerated muscle growth and repair. Constantly challenging yourself by increasing your one-rep max on your heavy lifting days will improve your overall strength capacity. Combining these two workouts and alternating them throughout the week will give you the best of both worlds - and make you the king of your gym.