The most common question I get asked is “How do I increase my strength?” There are many ways to go about it, but there’s one thing that always comes up: How much weight should I lift?
I’ve seen some pretty convincing arguments on both sides of the argument. Some say you need to lift heavy weights to build muscle mass and gain strength; others argue that lifting light weights will result in increased muscular endurance and allow you to train harder without burning out.
In this article, I want to give you the facts about how much weight you should lift and why. If you’re new to the world of strength training or have been following the advice of your trainer/coach all these years, then this may not make sense.
But if you’ve actually read any books on exercise physiology or even just done some basic research online, then hopefully this article will shed some light on what’s really going on with lifting weights.
First things first, let’s start with the basics.
What exactly is resistance training?
Resistance training involves using a barbell (or other implement) to perform work against an external force such as gravity or another person. For example, you could use dumbbells to do pushups instead of holding onto a barbell. Resistance training helps strengthen muscles by increasing their ability to contract and reduce fatigue during physical activity.
The amount of weight (number of repetitions x weight on the bar) you use during your sets is known as mechanical tension. In the past, it was thought that strength training increases muscular strength by causing damage to the muscles, which the body then overcompensates for during recovery.
But according to biomedical research done by Stuart Phillips at the McMaster University in Ontario, it doesn’t work that way. When muscles contract, they create tiny tears in the fibres, which then begin to repair. Resistance training helps your body repair these tears in a way that makes the muscles stronger and better able to handle more work in the future.
So how does this tie into weight lifting?
To maximize this process, you want to lift a weight that causes enough damage to your muscles that they have to repair themselves stronger than before, but not so much that they get injured.
Now, there are two types of mechanical tension: Eccentric and Concentric. Eccentric muscle actions are the muscles’ natural tendency to lengthen under tension.
A good example would be the lowering portion of a bicep curl. The concentric portion is when the muscle is shortening, or in this case lifting the weight up. In other words, they occur when you’re lowering and raising the weight.
For a long time it was thought that only the eccentric portion caused an increase in muscular strength and size due to the large damage to your muscles; it was known as the “beach-muscle” effect because bodybuilders would use it to grow their muscles quickly. Nowadays, most trainers use both the lowering and lifting portion of a lift in order to maximize muscular gains.
But how much weight should you be lifting?
Here’s where it can get a bit complicated. There’s a lot of research on the topic, but most of the studies are inconclusive for several reasons. The main reason is that every person is different. Genetics, age, gender, diet, and past injuries all affect how your body responds to exercise. One thing that researchers have discovered, however, is the “magic formula.” It’s called the repetition continuum and it looks like this:
This basically means that you should use a weight at which you can perform around 6-12 repetitions before reaching failure. So if you’re doing bicep curls for example, you should reach failure somewhere in that range.
If you can do more than 12 reps, the weight is too light, if you can’t do at least 6, then the weight is too heavy.
So how does this apply to me and my situation?
Well as I said earlier, your body has natural aerobic capabilities and resistances to certain elements. You’re probably familiar with things like “wood elves” being faster and more at home in the forest compared to “dwarves,” for example. What you might not know is that these natural capabilities are mainly due to genetic differences, which then cause variations in things like muscular and cardiovascular endurance.
For example, a high elf has natural lower body strength and cardiovascular abilities compared to a dark elf. Their upper body strength is relatively the same, as are their natural weaknesses (lower body for high elves, upper body for dark).
Wood elves have more natural speed and endurance than orcs but less than humans, and so on. These variances cause people of the same race to have different training requirements as well.
Now, since your endurance is low and you’re not very big to begin with, this means that you’re probably a human, elven, or orcish child who was either abandoned at birth or orphaned at an early age. Since your body was never properly trained from a young age, you’ve missed out on the “childhood muscles” phase most people go through, which means your muscle memory is less likely to have ingrained the proper techniques required for heavier weight lifting.
In other words: you’ve got nothing to lose by trying this approach. Worst case scenario, you don’t see any improvement and can revert back to your normal routine.
Best case scenario, you get stronger than you’ve ever been before.
You’re going to start slow though. Very slow.
In a few days, Sebastian’s going to begin your new routine. He’s confident that you’ll see gains quickly, especially since you’re a young teen and will be able to adapt quickly.
You’re excited and nervous about your new training, but regardless, the day finally comes. All of your classmates are gathered in the main room as Mr.
Demar begins his lesson.
“Alright, class is dismissed, go home,” he says.
“WAIT!” a voice shouts, stopping everyone in their tracks.
It’s Sebastian. You turn and look at him, wondering what he’s doing here.
Normally, he would have left already.
“Sebastian, I told you class was dismissed,” Mr. Demar remarks.
“But this is important,” Sebastian remarks.
“Very well, announce your news quickly and allow my students to go home.”
“Alright…um, class, do
I have your attention?”
You and your classmates all nod or reply with an “uh huh,” while Mr. Demar rolls his eyes and takes a drink of his coffee.
“Well, I’ve asked around to all of your teachers and created you a special schedule that will allow you to graduate a year early!” Sebastian announces.
!” Mr. Demar shouts, dropping his coffee mug on the floor and shattering it.
“That’s impossible, I won’t allow it!”
You won’t allow it?
“Because it’s not how things are done, that’s why! Your announcement is completely ridiculous!
How do you expect a student to graduate in three years if they only have three days of classes each week?
“No, it isn’t! Look, all of the teachers signed off on it!” Sebastian says, shoving a piece of paper at Mr. Demar.
Mr. Demar snatches the paper from Sebastian and reads through it.
He continues to glare at Sebastian as he reads, before handing it to Alice. She reads through it as well, nodding in agreement.
“Well, it seems that everything is in order. It’s up to you if you want to sign it or not.”
Mr. Demar glares at Sebastian once more before sighing and nodding his head in agreement.
“Fine, I’ll sign it, but only because everything else appears to be in order,” Mr. Demar replies, taking the paper back from Alice and walking away to find somewhere to sign it.
You do realize that you’ve basically saved their lives, right?”
Demar says as he signs the paper.
“Meh, I’d say they were going to pass anyway…”
Mr. Demar returns and gives the paper back to Sebastian.
“I want you to know that I’m doing this under protest. I think this is going to severely hinder their learning.
But if this is what you want, then I suppose I have no choice…”
“Thank you, sir.”
Alice, can you show Sebastian out?”
“Sure thing, Mr. D,” Alice replies with a smile.
Sebastian smiles back and follows after Alice as she leaves the room. You and the rest of your classmates start filing out as well.
“Class is dismissed!” Mr.
* * *
You take your time gathering your belongings, waiting to make sure that Mr. Demar doesn’t call you back into the room for any reason.
Once you’re satisfied that he’s too involved in discussing this new turn of events with the rest of the staff, you begin to wander the halls in search of Quayle.
It doesn’t take you long to find him. He’s kneeling on the floor, muttering some incantation as he draws various patterns with chalk around a cage with some rats inside.
You recognize one of the rats from your Incursion experience yesterday.
“I have to make some last minute adjustments to the spell.
Just don’t interrupt me, alright?”
Quayle says without looking in your direction.
You stand silently and watch him work for about a minute before he finishes. He finally stands and turns to face you.
“There, it’s done. All I have to do is snap my fingers and the rats will be released into the minotaur’s cell.
Considering that you’ll have about a five minute head start, I’d say that should be more than enough time for you to reach the exit.
Let’s stop wasting time, shall we?
Off you go.”
You aren’t used to wizards this cheerful. Hurit was always so serious, and Mr.
Demar is always so hostile. Quayle’s demeanor is almost refreshing…if it weren’t for the fact that you’re here to possibly kill him in a few minutes.
What are you waiting for?
You turn and leave without another word. Now comes the hard part.
As you make your way through the prison, you find that the chaos hasn’t died down at all. If anything it’s only gotten worse since you last visited.
The guards, while still trying to maintain a semblance of control, seem uncharacteristically flustered and are having a hard time just trying to keep the beasts separated. When you get to the minotaur’s cell, you find that it has been completely devastated. The other prisoners…well, from what you can see in their mangled forms they remind you of Hurit after the wazia attack.
The guards standing outside the minotaur’s cell are visibly terrified, and are currently too busy trying to calm themselves than to pay any mind to you. In fact, you doubt if they’d even pay mind if the minotaur himself came up behind them and clubbed them over the head.
Fortunately for them (and unfortunately for you), the minotaur has decided to flee down the passage way where you entered the prison from, intent on reaching the outside world.
What in the world is Quayle thinking?”
you mutter. “This is a disaster.”
You look down the hallway and see a sizable gap between you and the minotaur. You could easily just head down one of the other passages and avoid confrontation altogether.
Of course, a part of you is actually curious about whether or not you can take him now. Just because Hurit was killed doesn’t necessarily mean you will be, after all.
Sources & references used in this article:
Beyond Bigger Leaner Stronger: The Advanced Guide to Building Muscle, Staying Lean, and Getting Strong by M Matthews – 2014 – books.google.com
Growing stronger; strength training for older adults by RA Seguin, JN Epping, D Buchner, R Bloch… – 2002 – stacks.cdc.gov
Training To Break Through Any Plateau by J Salmon – Power, 2019 – generationiron.com
Fast After 50: How to Race Strong for the Rest of Your Life by J Friel – 2015 – books.google.com
Gendered identities in the work of overseas tour reps by Y Guerrier, A Adib – Gender, Work & Organization, 2004 – Wiley Online Library
Your Best Training Plan Is In Your Genes by A Zinchenko – sciencestrength.com
Strong Is the New Skinny: How to Eat, Live, and Move to Maximize Your Power by J Beverly – 2017 – VeloPress
1. Train hard by J Cohen, S Colino – 2014 – books.google.com