Lifting heavy is the key to weight loss, according to a study done by the University of Michigan. Researchers took beginners (both men and women) through a series of moves, allowing them to lift whatever weights they choose. After assessing their 1 rep max (the general standard for choosing weight), they determined that most chose a weight well below what was needed to stimulate muscle growth. If this is your experience then you may not be seeing the results you'd like.
Why Lifting Heavy is the Key to Weight Loss
Losing fat involves increasing your metabolism; and muscle plays a huge role in raising metabolism. A pound of muscle burns about 60 calories a day while a pound of fat burns only 5 calories. That means any growth in your muscle tissue is going to help you burn more calories all day long. In fact, weight training has all kinds of great effects on your body like :
- increasing resting metabolic rate so you burn more calories, even while at rest;
- making you lean and slim - muscle takes up less space than fat, so the more muscle you have, the slimmer you are;
- strengthening bones and connective tissue, which can protect your body from injuries in daily life;
- enhancing balance and stability;
- building confidence and self-esteem.
However, this only works if you're using enough weight to stimulate that muscle growth. If you can lift the weights you've chosen more than 16-20 times, you might be lifting too light and not see the kind of fat loss benefits you would if you increased your weights.
The goal of weight training is to lift as much weight as you possibly can (with good form) for the number of reps (repetitions) you've chosen. We typically don't push ourselves to fatigue in anything we do, so this idea may feel foreign. That's one reason it's best for beginners to gradually work towards an ever increasing goal.
Women, don't fear getting bulky. There's a myth that men should lift heavy and women should lift light to avoid getting big and bulky. Women, lifting heavy weights will NOT make you huge - you simply don't have the testosterone levels to build big muscles. Lifting heavy WILL help you lose fat.
How Much Should You Be Lifting?
For weight loss, science has found that lifting between 60-80% of your 1 rep max is the best way to stimulate muscle growth, which is what helps you lose fat. The problem is that most of us don't think much about how much weight we need, much less going through the process of figuring out 1 rep max for every exercise we're doing.
So how do you figure out how much to lift if you don't know your 1 rep max? Typically, if you lift 60%-80% of max, you could do anywhere from 10-20 reps. Lifting at 80% and above takes you down to the lower rep range, which is where you'll be if you're trying to gain size. That means keeping your reps somewhere between 8-16, if you're lifting for weight loss and fitness. Your weights are determined by the number of reps you're doing.
- Choose a weight you can only lift 16 times; you don't need to go to complete failure, but make sure you're challenging your body.
- Begin with 1 set of each exercise, slowly working your way up to 2-3 sets (i.e., adding a set each week).
- When you've added sets and have a solid foundation (after 6-8 weeks), add more weight so that you can ONLY do 8-12 reps.
- Continue to progress by adding a rep each week until you reach the max reps (no more than 16); increase your weight and drop your reps back down to 8-12.
The important thing to remember when it comes to strength training is that you must give your muscles more weight than they can handle; that's how muscles grow. The challenge of lifting heavy is just as much a mental game as it is a physical one and, if you haven't pushed your body's limits in a while, just the act of lifting weights may be all you can handle.
If you're consistent with a basic program and build a solid foundation of strength, you'll be ready for the next step - lifting heavy and pushing your muscles to their limits. You'll be amazed at the changes in your body!
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