After all these years it is hard to believe that the myth of light weight with high reps is still around. A lot of young lifters, girls and an equal number of trainers often ask me the same question. Now, it is kind of easy to think that lifting light weight with high reps would give you that shredded look.
What you could find in a number of gyms would be a scene in which only one odd guy would be lifting some decent weights and you would be lucky if you could spot a girl lifting some weights worth mentioning.
You could often see women with 5-10lbs of pink dumbbells doing 25 reps for the same isolation exercises. I often ask them one question, does the heavy stuff like buckets of water, bags of ration and even your small kid which you lift every day or your ancestors used to do for millions of years weigh 5-10lbs? Then what made you think these dumbbells will give you the strength to do even your daily activities?
The idea that is floating around is that light weight with high reps burn more fat and make the muscle “toned” whereas low reps build heavy muscle and make you bulky.
It is said that the origination of this myth came from bodybuilders who before a competition go on a calorie-restrictive (especially low carbohydrate) diet which makes them weak and they are unable to do the heavy lifting. If light weight with high reps would make you more ripped then, do as many reps as possible with the lightest of the weight. Why not lift a pencil and do presses and curls? That’s the lightest you can lift and do hundreds of reps with it. Hopefully, someday you will see some changes, as per the theory of stupid trainers.
Building muscle is a complex process and a result of many physiological mechanisms in the body. In order to stimulate your muscles in the most efficient way you need to give them a variety of stimuli in training, which means variation in reps, tempo, volume, frequency, different lifting techniques, etc. so the solution lies somewhere in the middle i.e. the base of your training should always be to lift heavier because the basic principle of exercise physiology i.e. “Principle of Progressive Overload” comes into play which simply means that to grow you have to progressively overload your muscles i.e. lift heavier and heavier over time.
However, medium and high reps also play a crucial role in this by stimulating the whole range of muscle fibers but also give your body adequate recovery by giving the muscles a break from heavy lifting. On the other end, these medium and light weights when combined with heavyweights during a drop set where you are progressively making the weight lighter for a given set of reps without a break but due to cumulative fatigue you are making the set much more difficult.
Lowering your body fat is not just due exercise. You can again consider both the ends in this case too where on one side are the powerlifters who lift the heaviest weights with ultra-low reps is extremely bulky with tons of body fat and on the other end, you have all these guys and gals who are lifting the same old colorful dumbbells for years without even an iota of improvement in their body composition.
Fat loss consists of many factors like nutrition, supplementation, genetics, environmental changes, psychological factors, etc.
The difference between bulky and lean muscular is the amount of fat surrounding the body. Don’t picture pro bodybuilders in mind, they are on an inhumanly heavy dose of anabolics to grow to those proportions. A normal person to sustain that kind of training would need the help of huge amounts of ergogenic aids like the pros to do. But most of us are not pros.
If a completely sedentary person starts lifting weight, then even light weights with high reps would help tone up the muscles a bit (toning means a degree of muscle contraction the muscle maintains even when the muscle is relaxed). The only way you will get cut up with a light weight with high reps range is when you are eating much fewer calories than you are burning. This is the same state in which most of the roadside laborers are. These laborers are digging together (high reps) for hours without adequate food (calorie deficit). Don’t be surprised as many celebrities and anorexic models are worse.
Remember that the intensity of the workout matters more than high rep or low rep. The problem here is that most of the guys and gals lifting light weights have actually never experienced high-intensity workouts even with lighter weights. Try doing 20 reps with even 60% of your 1RM and you will come to know what I am talking about.
Most novices do not really know such concepts and have actually never experienced muscle failure during a workout even after months and years of exercising and so they never see results. In the name of light weight with high reps, they lift weights so light that the muscles are hardly stimulated, in fact, their dumbbells and barbells are flying all over the place during a movement because they are not able to even feel the weight.
Beginners have to hold on to their wits as initially, muscle mass increase may outpace fat burn, which may increase your weight for some time in the beginning. But that is how your body adapts and overtime gives you the desired results. One thing you need to understand is that you cannot separate strength from hypertrophy. If you get stronger your muscle size would increase and vice versa. How shredded you look depends on the diet. Women will get stronger and shredded due to a lack of adequate testosterone. How much bigger you get depends on your genetics. So all those guys who tell that they are training to be skinny are actually weak and are simply not training hard enough.
In the end remember a simple rule: “The heavier you lift, the stronger & leaner you get.”