When it comes to building muscle, there are two schools of thought. Some bodybuilders will insist that the only way to get swole is by continuously upping the weights – even if it means that you can only muster a few reps. Others will tell you that weight doesn’t matter – it’s all about how many reps you can do.
But which approach is really better? If you’re trying to build those triceps, should you be aiming to shoulder press the highest weight you can, or doing as many push-ups as you can manage? This post explores both methods.
Doing less reps with heavier weights is a form of anaerobic exercise. Many people prefer it because it’s less time-consuming than doing lots of reps. But does it have health benefits over doing more reps?
Like doing more reps, lifting heavy weights is good for the heart. It also strengthens our connective tissues between our muscles such as our tendons and ligaments. Its biggest benefit over doing more reps is increased bone strength. Lifting heavy weights also helps to prevent injuries by training our body to deal with greater weights. This is providing that you don’t lift a weight that’s too heavy (as this is more likely to cause an injury).
Does training with heavier weights lead to bigger muscles? If you’re only doing short reps, it’s unlikely. Training with heavy weights can improve muscle definition, but is less likely to affect muscle size. This means that it may make your muscles more toned, but won’t make your muscles bulkier.
High-rep bodyweight strength training is favoured by some bodybuilders because it typically requires less equipment. It does however require spending more time on each exercise.
Doing as many reps as you can has greater aerobic benefits. It’s equally good for your heart and is also good for our tendons and ligaments. Unlike doing fewer reps with heavy weights, it’s also more likely to help you burn fat. High-rep workouts can also help you use more of your lungs and even increase lung capacity.
What about when it comes to muscle building? High rep workouts target slow twitch fibres in our muscles. This helps our muscles become longer to deal with endurance, and therefore helps them to grow. Of course, fast twitch fibres still need to be targeted to help muscles develop definition. Which leads to the final point…
Which is better?
For the ideal muscle building workout program, it’s best to mix things up. High rep workouts will help to build muscle endurance and muscle mass. But they won’t exercise your muscles fully and you may reach a point where results start to plateau (you could find yourself doing as many reps as you can and not building any muscle). For this reason, it’s worth doing some high rep workouts with a low weight and occasionally doing some low rep workouts with a high weight. Once high rep workouts with a low weight stop producing results, don’t be afraid to up the weights slightly – high rep workouts should still be challenging and are not an excuse to use the lowest weight possible.