Should I Lift Heavy or Should I Lift Light?

A common question we get asked here at StrongHer. Should I do more reps and lighter weights as all of the magazines and articles have told us online? Or, should we ditch the pretty pink 2kg dumbbells and lift heavy but for fewer reps?
There is no one answer which will fit all women I’m afraid.
It is completely dependant on your goal, whether that’s wanting to drop body fat, wanting to gain muscle mass, wanting to run a marathon or wanting to be UK’s Strongest Woman.No matter what your goal though, we are pretty sure those 2kg dumbbells can be ditched! (Unless doing isolated exercises such as lateral raises of course!)

“I want to drop body fat”

That fitness instructor who has said that you need to use light dumbbells and complete 101 reps, is wrong. Unless your goal of course is to work your cardiovascular system and really work up that sweat but there will be no gains made here.

Dropping body fat is helped by gaining lean muscle mass and retaining that muscle, as it makes you burn more calories in day to day life than you normally would do. Nutrition is also the key factor with this goal however we will come to that in a second.

The ideal rep range for dropping body fat is anywhere between 10-15 reps and completing 3-4 sets of each exercise. This will get that heart pumping, get those gains made and help you to start dropping that body fat.

Ideally you want to be working as many muscles as possible within one session and most definitely as a starting point, be completing a full body workout every time you decide to work out. Ditch that arm workout just now, as that’s not going to burn as many calories and make as many gains as a full body workout!

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A good example workout would be:

A1: Squats (3 sets of 12 reps)

A2: Bent Over Row ( 3 sets of 12 reps)

B1: Romanian Deadlifts (3 sets of 12-15 reps)

B2: Dumbbell Chest Press (3 sets of 12-15 reps)

C1: Glute Bridges (3 sets of 15 reps)

C2: Dumbbell Shoulder Press (3 sets of 12-15 reps)

WHAM BAM, THANK YOU MAM. Every muscle has been worked (including your core as not one of these exercises is a machine based exercise and meaning your core should be working at every second) and trust us when we say, you will be rather warm by the end of it!

Now coming to the nutrition element of things. Just as with any goal, nutrition is far more important than the fitness itself, just as sleep is more important than nutrition (but that’s for another time). It is important that you put yourself in a calorie deficit - this is reducing your calories by 10-20%. This way it is a sustainable reduction, meaning that you will be able to do for more than a 30 day challenge… We recommend starting on a 15% deficit to begin with as 20% is quite drastic and maybe more for wanting quicker results however bear in mind, we are guessing that you probably want the long term results so why go for a quick fix? It is easy enough to know what calories you should be eating for your body - is a great website which will help you work this out.

“I want to become StrongHer

You like what I did there right? ;)

So we don’t want you going in and starting to break your backs by telling you that you need to start lifting heavier for less reps, if you have never lifted a weight in your life. So, we need to work backwards with this one. The recommendation would be to start from around 10-12 reps and work your way backwards over the first 4-6 weeks, gradually decreasing your reps down towards 6 and increasing your weight. (What you can lift for 1 rep is going to be a lot more than what you can lift for 10 - a good way of working out if you’re not too sure of what weights you are able to do, is using this clever little calculator - )

For Example:

Week 1 - 3 sets of 10 reps

Week 2 - 4 sets of 10 reps

Week 3 - 4 sets of 8 reps

Week 4 - 4 sets of 6 reps

Similar to the fat loss goal above, if starting out, it is still best to be completing a full body workout. As things progress you can start to split up your training a little more e.g 1 session is legs, 1 session is upper body etc however we would recommend doing full body workouts for anywhere between 6-12 months.

In terms of your nutrition for this goal too, you most definitely do not want to be on a calorie deficit! Maintenance at the very least but ideally, in a slight surplus of perhaps 10%. E.g. If your normal calories per day is 1700kcal, start by adjusting to 1900kcal per day. Again, use the link listed above if not entirely sure as to what you should be eating based on your height, weight and activity levels. (Don’t just listen to government guidelines of 2000kcal for every woman!)

“I want to tone up”

Welcome to the most hated phrase in all of the fitness industry, but yet, the most used.

The word tone means, decreasing your body fat AND building lean muscle mass.

Now since you can’t build lean muscle mass on a calorie deficit (as your body requires calories to do this) we are going to slightly change this goal to:

“I want to build lean muscle mass”.

Now very similar to dropping body fat goal, you want to be sticking with 8+ reps but the ideal range would be 8-12 reps and again with completing anywhere from 3-5 sets. Volume = gains.

Again, starting out, you want to be sticking to a full body workout in every session but perhaps putting a bit more emphasis on each muscle being worked and so super-setting same muscle groups together. An example session for this time of gains would be:

A1: Squats (4 sets of 8 reps)

A2: Reverse Lunges (4 sets of 10 reps)

B1: Lat Pulldown (4 sets of 10 reps)

B2: Single Arm Row (4 sets of 12 reps)

C1: Bench Press (4 sets of 8 reps)

C2: Dumbbell Shoulder Press (4 sets of 10 reps)

D1: Hip Thrusts (4 sets of 8 reps)

relationship plateau.jpg

A controversial point is about to be made here whereby I say to you that you ‘cannot build muscle and lose fat at the same time’. Scientifically you can’t however you can for the first few months of resistance training. However, your body is clever and so plateau’s very quickly. Let me use the example of dating & relationships, So when you first meet some one everything is exciting, everything is new and wonderful and your new boo is taking here, there and everywherE, THEN 1year down the line the romantic dates become less frequent, you stop shaving your legs, and you now are sleeping with pj’s on…You get COMFORTABLE and in these moments your relationship plateaus. If you don’t inject excitement and effort into the relationship it will dwindle away. NOW take that wonderful analogy and relate to your training.

When you first started going to the gym you saw a difference right? But now, a year has gone on and nothing seems to be happening. Sound about right? This is because your body has got used to that the same weights, the same timeframe, the same intensity and so its ‘normal’. You have to always be challenging your body and in terms of strength, cardio, flexibility.

So, going back to my initial point, you can’t lose fat and build muscle at the same time (past a point). You need to make a choice in what you want more, and if you want to look ‘toned’, you will want to build up that muscle mass and then start to think about shredding after that. So nutritionally, taking your food to maintenance amount of calories and then if need be, increasing slightly.

Still confused take a little look at our WARRIOR PROJECT where we help women get more comfortable and confident with weights and how to progressively build them up to see the results you want to see.

Sam Prynn- Co Founder of StrongHer you can click on her beautiful face to find out more :-)