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What Way is the Right Way to Weight Train?

February 12, 2009

You hear all sorts of varieties of lift combinations. 5 sets 5 reps, 4 sets 20 reps, 3 sets 12 reps. So which one is right?

What if they all are?

Doing high reps- often with little rest- is typically more for endurance rather than strength building.
Doing lower reps, typically with longer rest is more for strength training and/or adding bulk depending on if you have a caloric surplus. See What if I Get Bulky for more info there.

A person can gain strength from high reps- Kettlebell training is often high rep for swings, snatches, and other pulls where as the presses are usually lower reps. And a person can gain endurance and speed in a roundabout way with low reps- running is an example there. Stronger legs means running speed will increase and endurance will likely increase with that.

The key is to increase your weights appropriately with whichever sheme you are using. When you’re ready to up by the next size dumbell, go do it. If you’re doing 20 reps with a three pound dumbell and when you get done with the twenty feel you could do another twenty right off the bat, then you’re not doing much, if anything, for your strength. You’ll gain strength faster by doing higher weights and lower reps, but that doesn’t mean you wont gain any at all with low reps. It is even possible to gain strength with no weight- bodyweight exercises are great! So do them!!!

Higher reps are usually used when trying to decrease body fat percentages. Lower reps for strength. Mid range reps for some middle purpose of some sort. Lots of weight and low reps for hypertrophy as well- though again, you need the caloric surplus to get the hypertrophy. And some people pump up their muscles with high reps and light weight to make their muscles look big but the muscle does not necessarily demonstrate the strength you’d expect to go with that girth.

Compound movements are also just plain better unless you’re a competing bodybuilder or something.
For fat loss, compound movements are better because they burn more calories. Lat pull downs work your bicep as do dumbbell curls. Which burns more calories? Well, the pull down because it encorporates more of your body to perform the neccessary work. Push ups or tricep kickbacks? Take the push ups or even bench presses over those kickbacks. Knee extension machine or squats? Take the squats buddy (or leg press if you have to). Straight arm raises are also fairly useless as a functional task. If it involves only one joint, don’t waste your time (again unless you’re some crazy bodybuilder or really just want to spend hours in a gym).

Single muscle movements may be good when recovering from a particular surgery or injury, but in day to day gym life, not good. Well, not good if you want a quick and efficient workout.

I’m sure this post is lacking in some ways since I’m in a rush to get out the door now that I’ve gotten partly through it. I think I need to include much more but don’t have the time to do it. Please feel free to add your comments below if you feel I missed something or would like to discuss a point or a difference of opinion (since this all really is opinion and since it’s my blog, haha, take that 😉 )

Alrighty, take care and happy lifting or whatever it is you’re doing!

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. ladlam permalink
    February 12, 2009 5:05 PM

    Good post Michelle!
    I try to sit in between conditioning and outright strength building. For me as a martial artist, I don’t want to be too huge and restrict range of movement etc, but still need to be able to generate a good amount of force, so I go for the happy middle ground 😀
    And yeah, right there with you on compound exercises. A good friend of mine spends all his time doing isolation exercises (4 or 5 for 1 muscle group!!) and it takes him hours to finish his workout. To hell with that!

  2. robfitness permalink
    February 13, 2009 11:44 AM

    Very good post Michelle and very informative. I cut and copy the whole piece so I can study it more in depth. So thanks for sharing that information. just trying to learn as well and it’s not so easy with all the information that people are putting out there.

    Still just practicing my swings and I know regret not getting heavier KB. The 25 pounder seems a bit easy. By the way how many swings do you do before you stop?
    I am enjoying it though. Still glad I got it. 🙂

    • February 13, 2009 11:51 AM

      Rob, it depends. Sometimes I can do up to 50-60 swings. How I figure if I need a bigger bell is if I can swing it 200 times in ten of the twelve minutes (I do hand to hand for the last two minutes always), then I need to up to the next size bell. I was able to get over 200 with the 26 and right now struggling with the 35lb. I need somewhere in the middle, but unfortunately that’s not an option. I’m glad this post was helpful for you :). It’s definitely not all inclusive though. I could add so much more but, alas, time permitting…

      Luke, I agree, I don’t want to be huge either. But I’m usuallly about maintenance for calories so I don’t think I’ll EVER have to worry about being bulky ;). I could probably lift heavy, 3-5 reps heavy, and still never gain much mass becuase my intake doesn’t correlate with building muscle well. I like seeing other people’s routines. I do see lots of those isolation moves in other people’s programs as well and wonder why they bother. Oh well. The world goes on.

  3. ladlam permalink
    February 13, 2009 4:39 PM

    Michelle you could always try picking up one of those adjustable kettlebells – they’re rubber and you fill them up with sand to the weight you want.
    I’m in the same position – not enough calories to bulk up hugely. I’m happy with that though! I’d rather be strong but skinny than fat and tanky 😛

  4. Chris Brown permalink
    February 16, 2009 4:51 PM

    Michelle- nice post!! Also thats awesome that you’re enjoying the KBs as much as you are (from today’s post)!

    • February 16, 2009 6:15 PM

      Anything I missed or messed up? I was trying my best with limited time and still haven’t really re-read the post.

      I start the second phase of my KB program tomorrow. I am enjoying them quite a bit. Also with phase two- I get two variety days. I’m not sure if I’ll do deadlifts both days, but I’ll definitely do them one day. My two variety days may or may not include the bell and the variety days are appropriately named because it’s a bit of whatever the heck fits for the day in there. Might even do one of them as yoga or something. I really don’t know yet what my goal will be for those days. Thinking on flexibility or maybe more strength. With the KB it’s overall strength and endurance. Trying to pump out 200 swings is killer…

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