• Just How Heavy is Heavy Lifting

    heavy lifting

    Nowadays, you can't read about fitness without finding recommendations for women to lift weights…heavy weights.  Statements like this might leave you scratching your head trying to determine just what qualifies as heavy lifting.

    Shortly after Kiki and I met, I asked her how it was that she could eat so much more than me, yet be so much smaller than me.  I have a good six inches on her and God knows how many pounds.  Her response was simply that she lifted heavy weights. Well, it goes without saying that I immediately responded that I lifted heavy, too, and shared my stats.  Kiki's reply was simply a blank stare emoticon, which I imagined IRL her face looked more like Arnold from Different Strokes saying, ‘What you talking about Willis?'.

    Like many women, I didn't fully grasp the concept of lifting heavy. Sure, I trained with dumbbells and a barbell, but what constituted heavy weights?  Was there some magic number I needed to aim for?  Would I be considered a heavy lifter once able to squat or deadlift my body weight?  Turns out that these were simply benchmarks or goals to strive for.  The amount of weight that is heavy for you is relative and will, and should, change over time.

    Resistance training is usually done with one or two goals in mind – increasing muscle size and/or strength.  There are obviously other reasons, but suffice it to say that most folks fall into these categories.  Muscle fibers grow in size and strength in response to training.  To achieve this growth, you must train with enough resistance.  But, how much is enough?

    heavy lifting

    For your chosen rep range, typically 1-5 for strength gains and 6-10 for size, you'll want to select a weight that allows you to complete the exercise with good form and full ROM (range of motion).  The weight selection should be such that you are able to complete the set, but not be able to perform more than 1-2 additional reps.

    Sounds simple enough, right? Not so fast. Our bodies are wonderfully adaptive organisms, so what was once ‘heavy' may not be heavy for long.  In order to continue generating physiological changes, you will want to increase the resistance.  So, once you're banging out 3 or more reps above your target, while maintaining proper form, take that as a sign to increase the load.


    The benefits of heavy lifting are many.  I've highlighted a few below.

    • Fat loss – Adding muscle, metabolically active tissue, to your body will increase your resting metabolism rate.  That means, even when you're sitting or sleeping, you'll burn additional cals.  For each pound of muscle added, you'll burn up to an additional 50 cals each day.  That may not sound like much, however, add 5-10 pounds of muscle over time and you're looking at up to a few hundred cals burned a day without adding any extra activity!
    • Attitude boost – Lifting something that you once thought was impossible, can bevery liberating and empowering.  It will have you saying “Bring it!”  to whatever challenge comes your way.
    • Bone density – As we age we lose bone mass.  Performing heavy weight bearing exercises helps to prevent bone loss and conditions like osteoporosis. Starting a heavy lifting program before bone loss sets in around age 40, gives you a leg up.
    • Injury prevention – Stronger muscles and tendons promote protection and stability in the joints, which can help you avoid injury not only when exercising, but during every day activities as well.
    • Strength – You'll get stronger, plain and simple.  Every day things like carrying the kids, hoisting groceries or, say, moving the couch, will become a breeze.
    • Lean curves – Think rounded shoulders instead of slouchy, sloping ones.  A firm and lifted derriere instead of a droopy one.  Cardio nor barbie weights will get you that!

    I hope this clears up heavy lifting a bit more for you.  If not, drop us a comment – we love questions!  And if you're new to heavy lifting and need a workout program, check out our Beginner Strength Training Manual.

    Trish Adams (43 Posts)

    Mom, wife, technologist, certified fitness trainer and nutritional coach. Encouraging women to put their health first. Change starts with self love and acceptance. Once mastered, there's no limit as to where you can go. Treat your body well with sound nutrition combined with an effective training plan to achieve a healthy body composition. We all want to look good in our jeans, but not at the sacrifice of our health. Precision Nutrition Certified Coach

9 Responsesso far.

  1. lilian okongo says:

    my weight is 115 kg and i am breastfeed my baby has already a proaching 1 year and i want to slim on tummy and my harms.how i may going to work on those because i need to be 80 kg?and also to work on my diet because since i gave birth i do eat excess. i need adverse pliz

  2. lilian okongo says:

    it has help me to reduce body weight a lot especially in the evening classes

  3. Leo says:

    Very good article Trish.

  4. Angelina says:

    Ok so silly question alert :D How many reps would you aim for if wanting to increase both size and strength?

    When starting out would you recommend to aim for both? I don’t know what I should be aiming for – size or strength.

    • EM2WL says:

      Hi Angelina!

      Not a silly question at all. We discuss which rep ranges tend to “crossover” in our Beginner Strength Training Manual because it’s a common question. ;) Here is an excerpt from that chapter:

      Below is a summary of common rep ranges and how they are ideally applied to fitness goals.
      1-5 Reps Per Set = Increasing Strength and Power
      5-8 Reps Per Set = Equally Muscle Building and Strength Increasing
      8-10 Reps Per Set = Primarily Muscle Building (Hypertrophy) and Increasing Strength
      10-12 Reps Per Set = Building Muscle and Increasing Muscular Endurance
      12-15 Reps Per Set = Primarily endurance With Some Muscle Building
      15-20 Reps Per Set = Mostly Endurance

      While each rep range is capable of delivering results in terms of increased muscular endurance, size, and strength, different rep ranges are appropriate for different goals. If you are prioritizing performance (i.e., want to get to that 300 lb deadlift, for example), training in a lower rep range is going to be more ideal. If your goal is to see changes in your body composition, you will most likely want to train in a moderate (8-12 rep) range. If your goal is to improve your muscular endurance and conditioning for running, you will be best suited to stick to a higher rep range (10-20 reps). Keep in mind, however, that your body adapts very quickly to the demands placed upon it. You will want to vary your strength training program by switching up your rep ranges fairly often to keep challenging your muscles.

      Hope that helps! If you have more questions, you may wanna check out the manual here. ;)


      • Angelina says:

        Thanks Kiki! You’re a star! I’m hoping to be able to work up to heavy lifting and have bookmarked the manual. I have a rotated pelvis and using quite light weights hurt my back because of it :(

        I’ll get there one day!

  5. Lariza says:

    How do I know my form is good?. I really like that I’m not jumping around or kicking around, that makes me feel uncomfortable. So lifting weights makes me feel strong and I can feel my body changing from the inside out. If that makes sense. But I want to know if Im doing it right.

    • Trish says:

      Hi Lariza! Great question and so glad you want to get your form right! Having good form will, most importantly, reduce your chances of injury and ensure that you are getting the max benefit from your lift. Your lifts should be slow and controlled if you are just starting out. If you find you are jerking the weight to complete the lift, it is too heavy and you should reduce the weight. Make sure that the muscle group you are targeting is doing the work and you’re not compensating with other muscles. Check out video demonstrations on trusted sites like exrx.net or bodybuilding.com for exercises you will use. Read/listen to the cues on form, paying attention to cues on joint alignment. Practice the exercise with no or light to moderate weight until you feel confident about your form. Also record your lifts from time to time to see how you’re doing.

      Love that you are feeling strong and noticing changes in your body! And it makes total sense! Keep at it!

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