Lifting Heavy vs Lifting Light – Which Should I Do?


To lift heavy? Or to lift light? That is the question that many women who are contemplating weight-lifting struggle with. Light weights are clearly geared towards women. I mean, most dumbbells eight pounds and under are pink or purple. Like really? However, women should not fear lifting heavy because it can bring them incredible results. There is also a place and time for lifting light. Let’s get into the nitty gritty details of lifting heavy vs. lifting light.

Lifting Heavy

Lifting heavy means that you are are typically lifting in the 3-10 rep range. For power, you are lifting in the 3-5 rep range. For strength, you are lifting in the 5-8 rep range. Lastly, for hypertrophy, you are lifting in the 8-10 rep range. To determine the weight you are going to use to lift heavy, choose a weight that you struggle with for the last 2 reps or so. For example, if you are lifting in the 5-8 rep range, choose a weight that you struggle with for reps 5, 6, and 7. You should be hitting failure at or before 8 reps if lifting in the 5-8 rep range. If you are hitting 8 reps with ease, pick up some heavier weights.

When you lift heavier, you will notice that you don’t necessarily sweat as much and you are not, necessarily, out of breath. This is because lifting heavy utilizes you anaerobic systems and does not tax your breathing like lifting light or aerobic activity. This does not mean that you are not working hard. You will notice that your muscles are taxed more in the sense that the lactic acid will build up in your muscles and you will struggle more at the end of your workouts. You will most likely be more sore that next day as well!

Rest periods when lifting heavy should really last no less than 1 minute. If you are working in the 3-5 rep range, you should rest 2-3 minutes between sets. Do not worry about keeping your heart rate up. If you are lifting in the 5-8 rep range, rest for 2 minutes between sets. This will ensure muscle recovery. If you are lifting in the 8-10 rep range, you can rest for 1-1.5 minutes between sets. You will be using a slightly lighter load in this rep range, and building the muscle!

Lifting Light

Lifting light is used for two main reasons: to build muscle endurance or because the person lifting doesn’t know better. Now, building muscle endurance definitely is an excellent goal. I personally mix in some higher rep, lighter weight work in my own program, especially on those smaller muscles groups like shoulders, biceps, triceps, etc. Lifting light can also be used to mix up your routine. Every six to eight weeks, if you typically lift heavy, take one week to lift light in higher rep ranges to shock your muscles into response.

Lifting light entails lifting in a rep range that is greater than 12 reps per set. Typically this works in 12-15 reps range, 15-20 rep range, 20-25 rep range, and 25+. The 12-15 rep range is used for muscle endurance. Rest periods in this rep range should be no greater than 90 seconds. The rep ranges that are 15+ are used to shock muscles. These are especially effective if you typically lift heavy in a lower (under 10) rep range. Rest periods should last no more than 90 seconds in the 15+ rep ranges.

Lifting Heavy vs. Lifting Light- The Results

So what is the difference in results when lifting heavy vs. lifting light? Lifting heavy is good for a variety of goals. If you want to increase your strength and power, lift in the 3-5 or 5-8 rep range. Building strength and power will also increase muscle. If your goal is to increase muscle for that long and lean look, your best bet is going to be lifting in the 8-10 rep range for hypertrophy. Lifting heavy is also good for your bones, as you are making them strong by calling them into action to support heavier loads. Just be cautious to keep your form spot on as to reduce injuries and unneeded pressure on joints like knees, elbows, and shoulders.

Lifting light is good for shocking muscles into response for when you do lift heavy, as well as for building muscle endurance. However, if you are looking to have those gorgeous glutes and flattering curves, then lifting light is not what you want to be doing all the time. Lifting light is also excellent for rehabilitation. If you have had a minor injury, incorporating some light lifting where you can really focus on mind muscle connection might just be your ticket back to those 300 lb deadlifts!

How to Use This Information

So how do you incorporate this into your own routine? Here is a basic breakdown that will give you those gorgeous curves and keep your body guessing!

  • Week 1: 8-10 rep range on all lifting exercises/90 seconds rest between sets
  • Week 2: 5-8 rep range on all lifting exercises/2 minutes rest between sets
  • Week 3: 3-5 rep range on all lifting exercises/2-3 minutes rest between sets
  • Week 4: 8-10 rep range on all lifting exercises/90 seconds rest between sets
  • Week 5: 5-8 rep range on all lifting exercises/2 minutes rest between sets
  • Week 6: 3-5 rep range on all lifting exercises/2-3 minutes rest between sets
  • Week 7: 15-20 rep range on all lifting exercises/1 minute rest between sets

Using this breakdown will allow you to become a well-rounded lifter with a body that ever women who sees you would kill for.

Wrapping it Up

Most of the time women are afraid to pick up the heavy weights because they don’t want to become bulky. Just to clarify, you must in a large caloric surplus consistently for a long (years) time in order to put on large amounts of muscle. If you are sitting there thinking, “I just want to tone up,” you should know that toning up is really putting on lean muscle. So when you say you want to tone up, it means you want to build muscle!

Lifting heavy will allow you to build those curves that fill out your jeans and dresses just the way you have always dreamed of. Utilize light lifting to mix up your routine or take it easy on a muscle that has been injured before.

Moral of this story is to pick up those heavy weights, build some lean muscle, and shock your muscles into response by strategically planning your weight-lifting attack! Happy building!

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