Wonder Workouts: Lies My Trainer Told Me – Part 1 [Expert Column]
In 2010, Jordyn Steig founded Wellistic Wholeness to formalise his work with individuals and groups on fitness and natural healthy living. As a personal fitness trainer, his Wonder Workouts offer a refreshing and fun twist on working out. Since then, he has worked with a wide variety of people to help them find their own unique formula to a balanced, healthy, and physically fit lifestyle. His motto: Designing healthy living, especially for you.
High Reps + Less Weight = Muscle Toning
Bombay trainers often confidently state that to add more muscle mass to your body you should pack as much weight as you can into each weight-training exercise, ensuring you struggle to complete 4 – 8 repetitions per set. Conversely, those same trainers tell gym members that if you seek a trimmer, toned body, you should opt for less weight per exercise and do 12 or more reps.
This is not only scientifically completely and utterly untrue, this well-intentioned advice can prove quite harmful to you. Lifting too much weight can cause irreversible injuries. Lifting too little won't produce much in the way of results.
If you ever expose yourself to a men's locker room in a Bombay gym you will quickly realise that bulging biceps are usually the result in the best cases of taking in copious amounts of isolated protein, usually via unhealthy protein powders, or, at worst, from using potentially dangerous substances like creatine or anabolic steroids.
Plainly put, most of your muscular size and shape is encoded in your genetic structure, much as your height and the texture of your hair is. What you eat and drink contributes to your body size and shape, whether you choose to exercise or not. Muscle tone correlates largely to your fitness level and the leanness of your body. Neither is directly effected by the choice you make of how much weight and how many reps you complete when you lift weights.
Genetics and diet aside, bear in mind that a rep does not constitute a fixed unit of effort. Many variables determine what benefit your body retrieves from each repetition of an exercise, like how quickly you move through the rep, how much of your entire available range of motion you use, and for how much time in the movement you exert yourself.
Think of it this way, if you take a minute to complete a set, and in that minute you truly push yourself for only 10 seconds, your body will not benefit nearly as much as if you take 40 seconds to finish an exercise during which you spend 20 seconds contracting your muscle with maximum effort over the full range of motion within your body's maximum capability. The 40 second set will reap you at least twice as much benefit as the minute-long set, regardless of the number of reps in either set.
More full-exertion time during a set equates to a greater improvement in muscular endurance. Muscular endurance provides us the ability to, for example, sit properly on a chair for longer, relieving our backs, spines, and necks of the immense strain bad posture places on them.
Whatever number of repetitions you choose for an exercise, your sets should not exceed 90 seconds. The potential benefits of a set exceeding that time threshold is far outweighed by the genuine risk of overuse injuries.
My recommendation is that you mix up your workouts, opting for higher reps most of the time, but here and again pushing your body by doing only 5 – 8 reps per set. Whichever choice you make, what is essential to weight train effectively is to achieve technical failure, meaning continuing the exercise until you can no longer maintain proper form for a complete repetition through your full range of motion.
So, please feel free to (silently) chuckle away at the guys in the gym struggling to lift more weight than they can due to their mis-belief that this well help them bulk up.
As always, please remember the key is to enjoy your workouts and make them fun in any way you can while always breathing rhythmically during exercises and stretching properly after them.