A case for lifting HEAVY !
Think back to when you were first exposed to strength training. Did you start out with a program calling for 10 to 12 reps? At that stage of your career, it was probably a good place to be. Ten to 12 reps helped you develop strength, condition your joints, and train your neurological system. And, as long as you increased the weight when you could hit 12 reps, I’m sure you made good progress. The problem is, too many of us stay with that 10 to 12 for way too long. Periodically, every one of us needs to use different set / rep / rest schemes in order to give our body a break, prevent boredom, and challenged ourselves in different ways.
So… “WHEN, should we change”, and; “to WHAT should we change”?
Without being too specific about the “when”, I’ll just say that if you’ve been intensely training several times a week for a year or more, a change-up is sorely needed. (Contact me for more specific recommendations.) And when you do decide to make a change, one option for you is to GO HEAVY!
We lift weights in order to become bigger, more powerful and stronger. And we are never happy. As soon as we set a new high-point, we immediately begin our assault on a higher goal. For chest press and dead lift and some other exercises, many of us take note of our 1-RM (the heaviest weight that can be lifted for one repetition). Knowing our 1-RM provides a way to track progress, and to compare our strength to others.
If you are interested in getting stronger and increasing your one-rep-max, this article is for you.
First, a little education: Our muscles are composed of various types of fibers.The three we will talk about here are: Type I slow twitch, Type II fast-twitch, and Type IIa.
Type I slow-twitch: these fibers can go long, but they can’t go strong.
Slow-twitch fibers are built for endurance. They have a large number of capillaries, and a robust blood supply, thus, under a microscope, they are red in color. Given a continuing supply of fuel and oxygen, slow-twitch fibers can produce sub-maximal muscle contractions for hours!
Type II fast-twitch: these fibers can go strong, but not for long.
Fast-twitch fibers are built to fire explosively. They have more contractile proteins then slow-twitch, and are able to produce energy, even without oxygen. They also have more creatine phosphate on hand to be able to regenerate ATP, the fuel needed for the muscle to contract. Fast-twitch fibers are built to produce maximum force, but for just a very short time, just 10 seconds or so. And after they are exhausted, they need a relatively long time to recover, 3 minutes, or more!
Type II a: these fibers have the ability to behave like either Type I slow-twitch or Type II fast-twitch fibers, depending on how they are trained. If you train heavy, they will learn to behave like Type II fast-twitch.
If your goal is ENDURANCE, you will need to train Type I slow-twitch. That is done by increasing the amount of time you bike, run, or do any of the other endurance activities you desire. Type I slow-twitch fibers recover on the run and can work almost continuously.
we’re not here to talk about endurance; we want to talk strength and power.
If STRENGTH and POWER, are your goals, you will need to train Type II fast twitch. That is done by training very heavy, to the point of failure of the Type II fibers, which will happen after just 5 or fewer, muscle contractions. Each heavy work set is then followed by a rest period of 3 minutes or longer to allow the muscles to recover before doing another set.
Consider the way our muscles handle the traditional 10 rep set:
As we start out, both types of fibers, the fast-twitch, and slow twitch, start firing. But around rep 5, the fast twitch fibers are out of fuel and are dropping out of the action. Meanwhile, the slow-twitch fibers continue working as we count our way up to rep #10.
What happened? Well, we selected our resistance to be able to get 10 reps and that’s exactly what we did. But that set of 10 reps mostly trained slow-twitch fibers, which won’t help our 1-RM.
Because the resistance was too light, the fast-twitch fibers were not stressed enough. To increase strength and power, the weight we lift needs to be heavy enough to cause muscle failure at less than five reps. Doing that recruits and stresses the fast-twitch fibers, and keeps them stressed until the end where they will fail, and will be fully fatigued, and primed for growth.
So: For increased strength and power, sets need to be heavy and brief. Fail at around 5 reps, then rest for about 3 minutes, then go again.
Here is what I suggest for chest press, shoulder press, single arm rows, or any isolation movement. Caution! Always minimize risk by utilizing a competent spotter.
Warm up by doing three sets of 8 to 10 reps, increasing the resistance each time. Take a 90 to 120 second rest between these warm-up sets. Knowing your 1RM helps in setting this up. As an example for the chest press: if your 1RM is 200lb, you might want to do a set of 95lb, then 135lb, then 155lb, then reach failure (1 to 5 reps) with your 200lb.
next time in the gym, try lifting HEAVY. I’m willing to bet you will be able to lift more than you expect.
And if that doesn’t make you smile, you are in the wrong sport!