Training with weights is the best way to build muscle and definition, and it’s also good for increasing bone density and burning calories and fat. But, how heavy do the weights have to be in order to see the results that you want?

Recent studies show that, when done properly, lifting lighter weights for more reps can be just as efficient at building strength and building muscle definition as lifting heavier weights for fewer reps.

Depending on the results you’re looking for, the best approach is to work with a fitness professional to program workouts that include heavier lifting for shorter sets (8-10 reps), along with lighter weights for longer sets (15-20 reps).

Our body should respond well to this kind of change and you’ll be able to train a wider spectrum of muscle fibres, as long as you keep pushing yourself. Here’s how it works:

Lifting weights (regardless of how heavy) challenges the muscle tissues in two ways.

  1. Muscles are forced into action to support the physical load.

  2. Muscle fibres have to generate energy quickly enough to support an intense muscle contraction.

In both cases, the muscles are forced to adapt to the load you’re lifting, resulting in muscle growth, fat burn and increased bone density. Muscle fibres adapt quickly to brand new stimulus, but over time they slow down as our muscles get used to the demands of the workout. The only way to change the outcome is to vary the demand – an approach known as periodization.

Lifting lighter weights for more reps recruits slow twitch muscle fibres, which help build muscular endurance – good for extended cardio activities like long distance running, cycling and swimming. Lighter weights are also a great option to give your muscles or joints an occasional break. The key with lighter weights is to lift to failure (usually 20+ reps).

Some effective exercises using lighter dumbbells (10 lbs):

  • Overhead squats
  • Turkish getups
  • Rotational punches

Although lighter weights will get results, it’s still a good idea to try to build heavy lifting into your workouts to increase strength. If you’re worried about safety, ask an onsite personal trainer to give you a spot so you can challenge yourself with increasing weight loads.

Lifting heavier weights for fewer reps uses fast twitch muscle fibres to increase muscle growth and fat burning potential. The heavier the weight, the more fat and calories you burn per rep, while they also burn more fat AFTER the workout. Additionally, fast twitch muscle fibres create explosive power, so lifting heavier weights for fewer reps is good preparation for activities that require quick acceleration like sprinting or jumping. Lifting heavy has shown to build more bone density too, so you’re not just creating stronger muscles by working out this way.

No matter what your health and fitness goals, weight training plays a crucial role in helping you achieve and maintain these results. Speak to a fitness professional to plan the best approach and to ensure you are doing exercises safely.