How Heavy Should You Be Training? [EXPERT GUIDE]
New to the gym? Do you see big guys training heavy and smaller guys training light? This might make you think that if you want to grow bigger you need to train heavy, right?
Well, in some cases you’d be right, but in other cases, the weight is not the most important aspect of strength.
When we discuss training heavy we could mean many things. Heavy could mean high weight, but it could also mean high intensity. In both cases, you will stimulate a system of hypertrophy – that is, the increase in cell size.
Only by stimulating hypertrophy will you begin to notice that you are in fact growing stronger. With this definition in mind, let’s try to break down how heavy you should be training, and what the best methods for putting on strength are.
How Heavy Should You Be Training?
This is a very difficult question to answer without breaking down the simple science of how muscles work. On a very basic level, muscles work as a stimulatory system.
In other words, you stress the muscle with weight (resistance) and then allow it to recover.
This process stimulates the muscle to grow larger so that it is able to handle more stress. In theory, the larger the weight, the more stimulation would occur, right?
Yes and no. You see, heavier weights can help to stimulate more muscle fibre and help with growth, but to a certain extent, if you do not have enough muscle to deal with the stress in the first place you may enter an injury spectrum or be prone to a lack of strong returns.
For this reason, it is much more effective to take a comprehensive approach to weight training for strength and size. Here are some of the basic guidelines you should adhere to.
Train With Tempo
Tempo is the most basic principle of growing stronger. The idea here is to train the muscles specific to their type of fibre. In other words, a triceps would be trained differently to a biceps because they are different muscles that have different fibre innervations.
When you train with tempo you are training with rep speeds. Generally, the slower the rep speed the more difficult it is to complete the exercise. This causes more stimulation of the muscle even if the weight is lower.
For this reason, tempo training can be one of the most effective ways to train for size for any skill level.
When you train with tempo you should always aim to be slower eccentrically (lengthening the muscle) than concentrically (shortening the muscle).
For example: if you were to complete a pushup you would lower your body to the ground slowly (eccentrically) and press back to the top position quickly (concentrically). In this way, you will train the muscles properly and load them with stress that will not push you into injury territory.
Understanding Rep Schemes Is Essential
You ever hear of guys talking about how many reps they hit in a specific set? This is because your rep schemes are tied to your strength.
Think about it – you could probably do much more weight for 2-3 reps, versus if you had to complete 12 reps for the same exercise. Your body can only handle so much weight and being able to adapt your specific rep schemes for your goal is essential for your success.
For most strength athletes or those looking for size, your best bet is to stick within the 4-8 reps per set range.
This means you will have training sets like 4×4, 5×5 and 6×4 – and sometimes 8×3. You’ll notice that in all cases the total amount of reps are below 25 – which indicates that you will have a large amount of weight on the muscle for these reps.
Using Heavy Weights
There are some instances where you should be training with high weights. If you are involved in Olympic lifting or powerlifting you will need to train at near-max weights (around 80-90% of your max) quite frequently.
In the cases where your sport demands this type of training, you should be sure to track all of your progress and never sacrifice form.
When performing with high weights my personal favourite is to perform doubles with quads to finish. Here’s how it would work.
NOTE: everything below is a working set. Be sure to warm up and work into these weights with perceived max percentages.
Set 1: 2 reps @85% max
Set 2: 2 reps @90% max
Set 3: 2 reps @80% max
Set 4: 4 reps @70% max
Set 5: 4 reps @70% max
Here you will notice that even though we are performing high weights with relatively low repetitions we are still training with a variable load.
In other words – were not just blindly loading the weight on to see how much weight we can push. Whenever you train with a high weight you must be sure that you can track your progress and have clear markers for success.
Whenever you get to a higher weight or are training for strength you must be sure that your body is getting all the nutrients it needs in order to recover effectively and limit injury.
In most cases, your best bet for recovery while training for strength will be to use a creatine formula. Creatine is the perfect supplement for strength training because it will help to replenish the same energy you just used for heavy lifting – enabling you to recover faster and train at higher intensities.
Our favourite creatine formula will come with Citrulline Malate as these two ingredients packed together lead to explosive workouts and faster recovery. If you are looking for a complete supplement containing these two ingredients you should look no further than 4 GAUGE – a premium pre-workout amplifier.
For more information on 4 GAUGE, checkout their official page here.
Training Heavy and Training Smart
This is the most important aspect to consider. Just because you are training heavy does not mean you should not be tracking your results and training smart.
If you are trying to grow stronger you need to ensure that your body has all the energy it needs to push its limit. This means you cannot lift heavy every day.
Training smart and recording all your results means you will have the ability to push your workouts further on days where you are overloading and you will also be able to recover effectively and limit injury.
That last point is very important. Most people forget that when you train heavy you are very susceptible to injury. This does not mean you should avoid training heavy – but if you are going to you need to ensure that you will be training as smart as possible and allowing the body to recover effectively between sets and between workouts.
Training heavy is non-essential for those who are trying to grow stronger. If you are looking for a sure-fire way to grow stronger without putting excessive stress on the muscles and joints you should take a look at tempo training.
Enjoy the training!
Related: What Makes A Great Pre-Workout
Gabriello is a writer and strength expert best known for his science-based and practical approach to Exercise Physiology, Nutrition and Strength. After serving in a directors position for The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology Gabriello moved towards writing to help more people understand the importance of living a healthy life. Gabriello’s writings have been published in several languages on some of the largest health and fitness websites helping people learn, grow and understand the complex components of optimizing human performance in a simplistic way.
Gabriello also takes on specialized, high-performance athletes who are in need of strength, mobility and conditioning programming to optimize their fitness through his Earned Fitness program.
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