What is the best way to train with weights? Should I use light weights and high reps or heavy weights and low reps? There are so many different camps of thoughts but the biggest mistake we see is that people just choose one way and that's it.
When to go light?
Understanding your ultimate fitness goal and knowing where you're currently at in your fitness journey is important when choosing to go light. We always recommend a brand new athlete to start light. Building proper technique as well as strength in your supporting tendons and ligaments isn't always sexy work, but it's essential. Going too heavy too quick is a sure way to get you sidelined from an injury. So if you're brand new to weightlifting then higher reps and great technique at lighter weights is your starting point.
Now back to your fitness goal. Once you've mastered the basics let's consider what you want to excel in. If muscular endurance/stamina is something you want to achieve then continuing to do a high a volume of reps at lower weights is advantageous. Building endurance requires volume over a long period of time so going light works really well in pursuit of this goal. Body weight movements, light dumbbells, kettlebells or resistance bands are effective at increasing muscular endurance and are also perfect for those that don't have a lot of space to train.
Other specific times in your fitness journey where you might want to go light is post-injury or right before you're going to max out. For post injury, think of getting back to the basics. Muscle mass is lost very quickly with inactivity so don't let your ego get in the way of you choosing appropriately. It's also important to go light for a week to 5 days before maxing out any lifts. Great weightlifting programs have cycles where the weight is light because the body takes a minute to recover from all the heavy lifting. Sometimes you have to lift less to lift way more in the future. We call these phases "deload" weeks where we purposely recommend lifting 50% less than what you normally can do. If these sessions are done right, it feels like you warmed up by the end of the session. By the next week your body is primed and recovered to lift heavy.
When to go heavy?
Going heavy has so many amazing benefits like improving strength, muscular growth, and increasing bone density. We recommend that you lift heavy if you've got good technique at lighter weights and if it aligns with your fitness goals.
After a few weeks or months of learning the foundational weightlifting movements and doing them properly, we always recommend seeing what your body's capacity is to lift heavier. Understanding the maximal percentages give us an idea of where your greatest growth can be. Training between 60-80% of what you are capable of is a great place where your body can be challenged enough to change but also to recover. This way you can come back to the gym the next day or the day after. Consistency with peppering in heavier loads to increase intensity is what we aim for in our programming which lends to amazing results for our athletes.
If your goal is to increase specific muscle groups or to increase overall body weight then going heavy more frequently is highly recommended. Now just because these athletes lift heavy, a majority of their training sessions start out light so their body can gradually warm up and get into the best position to move heavier weights. Again make sure you are periodically lifting light weights to "deload" so your body can repair.
Here is an easy percentage break down for when to lift heavy or lift light.
Beginner: 90% light, 10 % heavy
Novice: 80% light, 20% heavy
Endurance athlete: 80% light, 20% heavy
Just for longevity: 80% light, 20% heavy
Power athletes: 20% light days, 80% heavy days
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