Ask the Celebrity Trainer: High Reps and Light Weights vs. Low Reps and Heavy Weights?

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woman doing a biceps curl

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woman doing a biceps curl

Q: Should I be doing more reps with lighter weight or fewer reps with heavy weights? Please settle this debate once and for all!

A: The answer is both! Contrary to popular belief, incorporating some higher intensity training (lower reps, heavier weights) into your workout routine will not make you “bulky.” It might seem counterintuitive, but lifting heavy weights can actually help you get a lean body faster.
Of course there are exceptions, but most women tend to train with lighter weights (50-60 percent of their maximum capability) and higher repetitions (15-20+ reps per set) for each exercise. This approach isn't necessarily wrong, and I do incorporate it into my female clients' programs periodically, but the downside is that it only develops endurance capabilities of the muscle (type 1 or slow-twitch muscle fibers) and neglects type 2 or fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are important for building new muscle tissue and developing strength and power.
I know what you're thinking: Why would you want to add muscle tissue when your goal is to lose weight and/or get a leaner body? The answer is simple: Building muscle (or at least maintaining your existing muscle) is important for your metabolism, which is essentially the term for all of the chemical reactions that occur in your cells to provide energy for your body. Muscle tissue is much more metabolically active than fat. In other words, muscle requires calories as fuel to sustain itself, even when you're just sitting in front of your computer. Plus, a pound of lean muscle tissue takes up significantly less space inside the body than a pound of fat tissue. So dropping body fat and adding lean muscle mass is the ultimate combination to help you achieve a tighter, leaner version of yourself.
How should you train to get the best of both worlds? I’m glad you asked. After completing a dynamic warm up (click here for a great example), start your strength training session by performing one or two multi-joint exercises such as squats, deadlifts, or chinups. Perform 3 sets with a heavier resistance (80-85 percent of your maximum capability) for 6-8 reps per set. This strategy will allow you to target those important type 2 muscle fibers while minimizing the (already small) potential for too much muscle growth.

On the next page, you'll find an example of what a total-body training session might look like using this approach.

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