January 25, 2017

Lifting Light Weights vs Heavy Weights

man with res. bands

There is no doubt about it. Lifting light weights is superior to heavy weights. You will grow more muscle and reduce the risk of injury at the same time.

This is especially true for Baby Boomers. Multiple studies have proven that we can and will grow muscle by using lighter weights in the 8 – 12 Rep range. Of course, we also need to eat and rest properly.

As reported by the New York Times:

“Our lab and others have shown repeatedly” that older muscles will grow and strengthen, says Marcas Bamman, the director of the UAB Center for Exercise Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In his studies, men and women in their 60s and 70s who began supervised weight training developed muscles that were as large and strong as those of your average 40-year-old.

Dr. Bamman says, you should push your muscles until they are exhausted.

In his studies, volunteers used weights calibrated so that the lifters could barely complete a set of eight to 12 repetitions before their arms or legs grew leaden and they had to rest. They repeated each set two or three times and visited the gym three times per week.

The prestigious Mayo Clinic also reinforces that using the 12 Rep range has been proven to build muscle. 

“Choose a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions. When you can easily do more repetitions of a certain exercise, gradually increase the weight or resistance.

Research shows that a single set of 12 repetitions with the proper weight can build muscle efficiently in most people and can be as effective as three sets of the same exercise.”

Pretty definitive stuff. I can also add my own life experience.

I’m a couple months shy of 61 and have been lifting weights for more than 48 years. In that time, I’ve done just about every method and style, from Olympic to Power to Bodybuilding and everything in between.

For many of those years, my goals were at least partly ego-driven. I wanted to lift ever-heavier amounts of weight to prove I was stronger. And you can get away with that for a long time in your life. But there comes a day when your joints say ‘no more.’

That day came for me in my mid-50’s. I was forced to either adopt a new, more sane method of training or give up my lifelong passion.

Coincidentally, I adopted the same 8 – 12 Rep Range method discussed above. 

  • 8-12 repetitions per set to failure

I tend to do a higher number of sets than Dr. Bamman recommends, but I’ve been at this a long time.

There is a Trick to making lighter weights work

There is definitely a trick to this style of working out. It really requires that you get your head in the game and dialed into what you’re doing.

It is critical with this method to properly calibrate the amount of resistance so that you are able to do 8 – 12 repetitions per set and no more.

Maintain high quality repetitions. No cheating or swinging the weights around. Your goal is to keep constant tension on that target muscle and exhaust it.

Here’s the Trick

That can be easier said than done. After all, our minds are involved in this process, as well, and it is our mind that will determine if we’ve exhausted the muscle or not.  

One day, 12 reps might seem impossible. On another, you might find yourself doing 15 or more to reach exhaustion.

Our minds love to play tricks on us. The difference in reps possible could be any number of factors, including fatigue levels and simply how your mind feels from one day to the next.

So this method of training is as much about what’s going on in your head as it is the body movements.

It helps to think about each set as a form of meditation, staying dialed into the feeling in your muscle and mindful of each rep as you do it. Feel the pump in those target muscles!

The numbers don’t matter

It’s not about how heavy the weight is or really even how many reps you can do. That’s why it’s expressed as a range of 8 – 12.

I have certain exercises I perform where I might be doing 5 sets in a row. Sometimes, those final sets don’t come close to 8 reps.

But so what? As long as I am achieving exhaustion in the target muscle, I am on track.

So that is the trick. It’s all in your head, to some extent. And it takes a strong Mind/Muscle Connection to keep your head in the game with an honest read on your level of exhaustion on each set.

Over time, adjust the amount of resistance so that you are always in that 8 – 12 rep range on each set. 

Try to tune out all the conflicting noise in the fitness industry and tune into your mind and muscle. Connect the two and feel it!

Here’s a workout routine with simple diagrams on how to do the exercises.  I designed this workout to be super simple. You can do it anywhere with minimal equipment. You can do all the exercises with Resistance Bands alone if you choose.

If you belong to a gym, or own a your own gear, you can perform these movements on machines or with dumbbells. If you have nothing, pony up and buy a set of Resistance Bands. They are very inexpensive and today’s bands are great — like a whole gym in a small bag. You can get a great, whole body workout with them.

Your muscles don’t have any brains. They don’t know or care how you create the tension on them, they only feel that you’ve done it. It can be in a multi-million dollar gym or in your basement with bands. Doesn’t matter.

Give the workout routine a try! Remember, it will take some time.  Make this part of your lifestyle and schedule. The workouts don’t take a lot of time, 30 – 40 minutes. But the results for your life can be huge.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Or drop me a line, I’ll answer any questions you may have and help you get started: Brian@BoomerMuscle.com.

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