What Does It Mean to Lift “heavy”?
Lift weights to build muscle: you’ve probably seen this tip in a million places. But how hard is “hard” and how do you know if your workout is right?
There is no specific number of pounds that would be considered “heavy” for everyone. What is difficult for a teenage girl lifting dumbbells for the first time will be much less than for a professional strongman. (If you want to compare your exercises to other people’s exercises, sites like Symmetric Strength can show you where you are, but please consider these competitions just for fun.)
“Hard” training is shorthand for resistance training, which is done at low repetitions and gets heavier over time. This is the type of workout that produces the most gains in strength and muscle size.
This way of training is not the only way to build muscle, but it is very effective. So let’s take a look at what is considered heavy and what is not.
How many reps are you doing?
In fact, there is not much difference in results between the two; getting stronger gives you more muscle, and gaining muscle makes you stronger. I would say that as long as you are doing 12 reps or less, you are in the appropriate range to say that you are training heavy.
Once you do a lot more – 15, 20, 50 reps – you train muscle endurance more than strength. Strength can be developed this way, but it is not really considered a hard workout.
How difficult is the set?
Okay, let’s say you squat for 8 sets. It counts, but only if you load enough squats to make 8 of them difficult.
For some exercises and some goals, you can go for failure – literally until you can do another rep. For example, you do 8 biceps curls and you cannot do the ninth.
But you can also get close to failure without even going there. For example, if you are doing squats, an 8 set can be done with a weight that you could squeeze out 10 or 11 reps if you really pushed yourself. This is still considered a hard workout.
What doesn’t count is that you do eight reps of the goblet squat with a light dumbbell because that’s the only dumbbell you have, or because you’re afraid to put on weight. Weightlifting is when you perform an appropriate range of repetitions with a weight that is difficult in that range .
Are you gaining weight over time?
The only way to maintain the difficulty of the exercise as you get stronger is to keep increasing the weight.
Using our goblet squat example, perhaps the 20-pound dumbbell squat was a challenge the first time around. But in a week or two, you can probably do the same eight reps with a 25-pound dumbbell. Before long, it may be wiser to do barbell squats to help you gain weight. You are lifting weights.
But if you keep doing the same sets of 8 squats with the same 20-pound dumbbell, you’re not effectively pushing yourself to build muscle or strength – you’re just doing an exercise that’s getting easier. This is still good for you because it is still an exercise, but it no longer fits the description of heavy lifting.
Are you resting between sets?
This is where many people get it wrong, especially if they do home workouts or are worried about burning calories while exercising. We do not lift weights to burn calories during exercise; we lift weights to build muscle and postpone cardio the next day.
If you are constantly working to maintain your heart rate with little to no rest between exercises, then you are not training with a lot of exercise. Chances are, you are doing circuit training. Metcon crossfit workouts often fall into this category, as do many home workout videos that are marketed as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). These aren’t usually real HIITs, but that’s rant another time.
If you are not resting, it means that you do not go for every approach when you are fresh. Shorter rest times make your workout harder, but it also means you will be working with less weight. This means that they usually do not fit our definition. They can still help you build strength or muscle size, but not as effectively as lifting weights.
If you rest for a few minutes between exercises, you are lifting weights. A typical range is 2-4 minutes between exercises that work smaller or smaller muscles (such as curls or bench presses), and 3-5 minutes or more between sets of large, complex lifts (such as squats or deadlifts). With adequate rest time, you will be able to lift weights correctly.