I’m sure we all realize that dieting specifically for weight loss doesn’t work, and long term cardio just plain sucks. If that’s the case, how can we possibly achieve our fitness goals without starving ourselves and spending hours in the gym?
The answer is pretty simple, lift heavy weight.
I know what you’re thinking, “I haven’t lifted in a long time, how am I supposed to lift heavy?” Or “I don’t want to lift heavy because I don’t want to bulk up.”
For the first, keep in mind that heavy is a relative term. It’s whatever is heavy for you. Just because the person in the squat rack in the corner is lifting 500+ pounds for three sets of five reps and you’re doing 150 doesn’t mean anything. It’s all about effort, not numbers.
Second, lifting heavy won’t make you bulky if you’re a woman, and probably not if you’re a man either. Most people aren’t born with genes that will allow them to get “huge,” so that’s generally not an issue.
What we’re after is increasing muscle mass instead of body fat and increasing strength to weight ratio.
Keep in mind, your overall body composition is primarily based on your diet. If you go around eating nothing but fast food and drinking beers, no amount of lifting is going to keep you from gaining weight (unless you’re some kind of genetic freak, good for you I guess). If you focus on eating mostly healthy (I’ve had success over the last 5+ years eating Paleo-ish), lifting heavy will (almost) definitely help you lose weight and get in better “shape.”
Lifting heavy ups your metabolism and helps you lose weight. Cardio is cool and all, but it won’t help you build muscle mass. Don’t fall for the “calories burned” display on the treadmill or your fitness tracker. That number doesn’t matter. Lifting heavy activates all your muscle fibers, not just the slow twitch fibers like cardio, which in turn induces your body to ramp up your fat-burning hormones and increases the number of calories your body burns for hours after your workout.
To maximize gains and minimize time spent in the gym, the trick is to focus on compound exercises that naturally lend themselves well to heavy weight.
- Bench press (incline, flat, decline, whatever)
- Chin ups
Here’s a little tip, whatever you do, don’t skimp on your form to lift more weight. You’ll only end up getting hurt, trust me.
Another tip, start slowly. If you haven’t worked out in a long time, don’t just jump in there thinking you’re going to lift the same weights you did in high school. Also, if you’re working out alone, don’t get yourself into a bad decision. Use the machines, or ask someone to spot you. Let’s be smart about this.
Lifting heavy requires more recovery time, which means less time in the gym. Research suggests that it takes more than just a couple of days to recover from a heavy workout (maybe as long as 10 or more). I think of it like this, if you’re able to do the same workout again in a couple of days, you didn’t activate all your muscle fibers like you set out to do. Next time go heavier.
Now that we’ve laid out why lifting heavy will help you maximize gains and minimize time, there are a couple of other things to consider.
Don’t skimp on how you recover. Get enough sleep. Eat enough protein (this isn’t saying you should eat like a bodybuilder or something, just make sure you’re getting a decent amount of protein at every meal so your muscles can rebuild properly).
Don’t skimp on movement the other days of the week. We’re minimizing gym time, not active time.
- Go for a walk on your lunch break
- Take the stairs
- Take regular, short walking breaks throughout the day
- Basically, don’t just sit around at work and at home just because you “already worked out this week”
One last thing. I’m sure this is obvious, but I’m not a doctor, and I’m not here to try and give medical advice. I’m just sharing what has worked for me along with what the research says.
- Lifting heavy is a relative term. Don’t let your ego get the best of you.
- Lifting heavy won’t make you bulky.
- Prioritize compound exercises to maximize gains and minimize time.
- Be smart, start slowly.
- Don’t skimp on recovery.
Has lifting heavy worked for you? If not, what is your biggest obstacle with lifting weights?