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

 

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.

Total-Body Workout for Maximum Results

You'll need: Cable machine, dumbbells, Swiss ball

How it works: Perform this workout three times per week on nonconsecutive days for three weeks total. During week one, rest for 30 seconds between the first and second exercises in the B and C mini-circuits. Reduce that rest period to 20 seconds during week two and then to 10 seconds for week three. By adjusting the rest periods, you gradually force your body to perform the same amount of work in less time. This strategy will increase the metabolic demands (the caloric expenditure) of the workout. Have fun!

A1) Deadlift
Sets: 3
Reps: 6-8
Rest period: 75 seconds

B1) Reverse Lunges
Sets: 3
Reps: 10-12/side
Rest period: 30 seconds

B2) Pushups
Sets: 3
Reps: As many as possible with proper form
Rest period: 30 seconds

B3) Standing Cable Face Pulls
Sets: 3
Reps: 12-15
Rest period: 60 seconds

C1) Romanian Deadlifts with Dumbbells
Sets: 3
Reps: 10-12
Rest period: 30 seconds

C2) Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Sets: 3
Reps: 12-15
Rest period: 60 seconds

C3) Swiss Ball Rollout
Sets: 3
Reps: 12-15
Rest period: 60 seconds

Personal trainer and strength coach Joe Dowdell is one of the most highly sought‐after fitness experts in the world. His motivating teaching style and unique expertise have helped transform a clientele that includes stars of television and film, musicians, pro athletes, CEO's, and top fashion models from around the world. To learn more, check out JoeDowdell.com.

To get expert fitness tips all the time, follow @joedowdellnyc on Twitter or becoming a fan of his Facebook page.