Banging out typical 12-rep sets will only get your physique so far, says Allison Fahrenbach. Here she explains why you need to challenge yourself to become stronger so you can achieve your dream body.
Many women are exhausted from previous fitness failures. They’ve done the whole high-rep light-weights approach and logged hours of cardio without any signs of real progress. If that sounds like you then it’s time for a change. Heavy lifting, whereby you lift weights so hefty you can manage only 5-8 reps per set, has numerous benefits for your physique. So here’s how and why you should be loading up the bar to load up your gains.
Heavy lifting builds more lean muscle, which is essential for a toned physique. That chiselled look is a combination of low body fat and high levels of dense, ripped muscle that can’t be achieved by cardio or high reps alone.
How strength training can help
Strength training, in all its forms, burns more calories than cardio alone, but heavy lifting in particular torches fat. For each pound of lean muscle you gain, you’ll burn 35-50 calories each day, because muscle is active tissue.
Also, the more muscle you have, the more calories your body effectively burns, even after your workout has ended. A study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found women who lifted heavier weights for fewer reps burnt nearly twice as many calories in the hours following their workout than women who did more reps with lighter weights.
Part of this increased caloric burn is due to the effect heavy lifting has on your body at a hormonal level. It triggers the release of human growth hormone, which contributes to fat burning and has copious anti-acing benefits, and enhances the release of testosterone, a powerful muscle building and fat-burning aid.
Lifting with a weight light enough you can complete sets of 20+ reps is as efficient at fat burning as jogging. Just as sprints are more efficient for fat loss than a long jog, heavy and intense weight training is more efficient at torching fat than long high-rep sets.
Lifting light weights for lots of reps might build muscular endurance, but gaining physical strength in the gym also contributes to strength of mind. This translates into every other aspect of your life. It may be hard to imagine how a heavy squat or a new rep-max of bodyweight push-ups could translate into more productivity at work or personal relationships, but it is real. There’s something empowering about being able to conquer a weight that seemed impossible a few short weeks before.
And once you realise you are capable of surmounting obstacles and challenges in the gym, you’ll find everything else in day-to-day life suddenly seems more possible.
How to start the right way
1. Compound movements work best for those unfamiliar with heavier sets. Think: squat, bench, overhead press and deadlift. Pick a few core compounds exercises, maybe one or two to start, and begin incorporating heavier sets.
2. Use a challenging weight in the 5-8-rep range. So if the goal is to get six reps you should be using a weight you can only lift six times.
3. While you want to lift heavy, you don’t want to do so at the expense of proper form, which puts you at risk of injury. If you’re unfamiliar with how to execute a movement properly, visit Bodybuilding.com, where there’s an outstanding exercise database with in-depth written analysis and video demonstrations of most major exercises.
4. Focus on improving your gym performance. You can’t lift the same weight for the same number of sets and reps every week. The goal is to get progressively stronger. I suggest starting with three to five sets of five to eight reps. Each week strive to lift just a little bit more.
Find weight loss advice and more in every issue of TRAIN FOR HER magazine.