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?
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.