September 28, 2013 / The Josh Sway Bodybuilding Guide: Part 3, Lift Heavy
In Part 3 of our bodybuilding guide we talk about why lifting heavy weights is important.
What is lifting heavy?
I mentioned in the introduction part to this guide the effectiveness of heavy weight lifting for muscle gain. Heavy weight is in my opinion (and the opinion of the vast majority of body building experts) is the premier way to gain muscle mass. I consider heavy weight lifting to be performing exercises with sufficient weight such that at most 8 repetitions are possible, and preferably less. Some may have slightly different definitions (for example up to 12 reps) but in general, I advise thinking in terms of 8 repetitions maximum, or less.
Why is lifting heavy effective?
Why is heavy weight lifting so effective? The main reason has to do with the fact that our bodies are adaptable and efficient. The biological methods of action are not fully understood to my knowledge nor do I think they are that important for most practical purposes. The basic idea; however, is that our muscles are “damaged” by the stress of lifting and then our adaptability causes the body to repair the muscle to be bigger and stronger than before.
This process, detailed somewhat in part 2 is only part of the story. The efficiency part is the key reason that heavy weights are important. Our muscles and bodies are designed to be efficient. Part of being efficient means not spending energy when it isn’t necessary. For this reason, what we commonly refer to as our muscles are actually collections of many muscle fibers of varying capabilities. For tasks that require limited amounts of force or strength, we activate the smaller energy efficient muscle fibers. For tasks that require large amounts strength, we must activate larger muscle fibers which also burn much more energy.
Heavy lifting ensures big muscle fibers are used
This is where heavy weight lifting comes into play. Lifting heavy weights ensures that our body activates the large muscle fibers and ensures that those larger fibers are forced to adapt. A marathon runner works out much more than the casual gym rat, but they are not nearly as built because the body’s efficiency focuses the marathon runner’s development on the muscle fibers that have endurance, not the larger ones that provide explosive power. Heavy weights forces activation of large muscles because the body has pretty much no choice when lifting heavy. If the body is left with a choice, so to speak, it will choose to use more energy efficient muscles that get the job one and the larger ones with more power but less efficiency are ignored and do not adapt.
This distinction may seem theoretical, but if anything, there is much more nuance and missing detail in the crude biological explanation above than the actual results in practice which are tremendous. (Think marathon runner versus random built guy at the gym) The heavy weight principles are critical and widely accepted. Some professional power-lifters who while focused on strength are also incredibly large train with sequences of as little as ONE repetition on a regular basis.
Work large muscle groups
The other important element to remember with regards to heavy weight lifting is to be sure that the heavy weight lifting is done on large muscle groups. Large muscle groups include the chest, back, legs, and shoulders. Working out the large muscles in the fingers, for example, might give you pretty built fingers but who cares? The heavy weight principles are most effective when used on the large muscle groups. It makes sense, promote growth in the large fibers of the large muscle groups and you will grow the most. (There are also other factors that are at play such as an increase in certain hormone levels in response to the stress of lifting; adaptability at play.)
Even to get a "lean build" you want to lift heavy
Weight training with heavy weights is the key to bodybuilding, even if you want to have a “lean build”. I cannot stress this point enough. I see people constantly complaining about muscle gain and the reasons are almost always one of two things, either not lifting enough, or not eating enough. In the next few sections I am going to cover specific weight training exercises that I consider critical to achieving the perfect body. Remember to always consult a doctor before beginning any workout regimen.