HEAVY or LIGHT TRAINING
Which is best for muscle gains?
If there's one thing bodybuilders universally agree upon it's that increasing the size of muscles beyond normal levels Is a slow, difficult and sometimes seemingly impossible process. in fact, bodybuilders agree on very little else. Perhaps the most pervasive point of disagreement among these athletes is what weights are better for increasing muscle size. Should one use heavy weights or light weights?
Those who endorse light weights usually point out that there are extremely strong powerlifters and weightlifters who are not heavily muscled. In the same breath they often cite the example of some champion's training methods. which involve only light weights. Isn't that irrefutable evidence, they contend, that light weights build big muscles?
Advocates of heavy weights, of course, take the opposite tack. The most massive bodybuilders. they say, guys like Park. Oliva and Colunibu, elf lifted heavy to acquire their powerful physiques. Park is known to have squatted with more than 600 pounds for reps. while Oliva was a weightlifting champion before taking up bodybuilding. And as for Columbu, why, he's even set powerlifting rec
ords, having deadlifted more than 700 pounds and bench pressed larger and stronger muscles. To ensure maximal increases in
close to 500 while weighing under muscle size/strength, the demand 185 pounds! imposed on the body must be of a
Both schools of thought can point to innumerable individuals and their training methods as evidence supporting their argument. Such being the case, is it possible to determine whether training light or heavy is best for building muscular size? Yes, it is! CAN'T COMPARE INDIVIDUALS
Over the years I've witnessed incredible performed by individuals whose muscles were no larger than normal. I've also
seen small powerlifters and weightlifters easily outlift larger, more muscular ones. Does that prove that you don't have to be strong or lift heavy weights to build big muscles?
No, because you can't accurately compare two different individuals. Thus, it may bp true that "A," who has only a 16-inch arm, can curl 200 pounds, while "B." with an 18-inch arm, can curl only 150 pounds. But "A" will be much stronger than he presently is when his arm measures 18 inches and "B" will also be stronger when his arm measures 20 Inches.
The bigger your muscles become, the stronger they become. Its a medical fact that muscle
strength is proportional to its cross-sectional area.' if you
want to get bigger, you have to get stronger. By the same token, if you want to get stronger, you've got to get bigger.
THE PHYSIOLOGICAL BASIS OF SIZE/STRENGTH INCREASE
Judging from the questions I receive from bodybuilders all over the world, most of them regard the nature of muscle growth as a mysterious process over which they have little control. Confusion abounds as to how to best proceed with training for steady size increases.
In reality there is nothing mysterious or secret about the process of muscle growth. Heavy exertion imposes a demand on the body that causes it to adapt by developing feats of strength specific nature.
The fact that specific demands imposed upon the body result in specific physiological adjustments forms a concept central to exercise physiology known as specificity of training. That is, If training is done for size/strength increases, then the demands must be of a specific nature — namely, heavy resistance and relatively few repetitions. However. as we adapt to a certain level of resistance by developing larger and stronger muscles, the resistance must be increased If further growth is to be achieved. This. of course, evolves from the well-known Weider Progressive Overload Principle, which states that to ensure regular growth, the systems of the body must be subjected to an ever-increasing magnitude of stresses and demands.
But to place the type of stress and demand on the muscular system required for such growth is impossible with light weights. Using a weight that allows for more than about 12 reps won't stimulate a size/strength increase. (It's more likely to stimu
late an adaptation of the cardiovascular system, which Is beneficial but beside the point here.)
As originally stated. growth isn't easy. The fact is that it must literally be forced. How do you force growth with light weights? The answer is. you don't. Heavy weights are an absolute requirement for developing large muscles.
OTHER ELEMENTS OF PRODUCTIVE EXERCISE
As important as it is to aft progressively heavier and heavier weights to stimulate continuous increases in size/strength, its not the only factor.
The bottom line is contraction. To induce maximum levels of muscle growth. as many 01 the muscle fibers as possible must be made to contract. To get all of a muscle's fibers to contract simultaneously. you must use a load that's heavy enough, since it's known that only the minimum number of fibers required to perform a particular movement will be involved. To develop the entire length of the muscle and build proportional strength through its complete range of motion, the exercise must be performed over the widest range of motion possible with resistance provided at all points.
All exercises. therefore, should be carried through from lull extension to full contraction. While partial movements with ultra-heavy weights done in a power rack are productive, full-range movements must also be used.
In those barbell exercises where you can lock-out when holding the weight in the contracted position, its obvious that there's no effective resistance at that point. Examples of exercises where lock-outs occur are Squats. Presses and Curls. The limitation of the lock-out doesn't exist in exercises like Chins, Triceps Kickbacks and Thigh Extensions. The fact is that in these exercises you have to literally fight to hold the peak contracted position, which. of course, utilizes another effective principle in the Weider Method, the Peak Contraction Principle.
For achieving maximum involvement of fibers throughout a lull range of motion and especially in the peak contracted position — Nautilus machines are very good. The offset cam used by Nautilus causes the resistance to vary throughout the range of motion — with maximal resistance where it's needed most, the peak position.
LIFTING HEAVY WEIGHTS SAFELY
One stated objection to training with heavy weights is that "it's injurious to the bones and connective tissues." On the contrary, training with heavy weights is actually quite sate as long as the emphasis is on lifting the weight. as opposed to attempting to thrust it or yank it.
Trying to move a weight that's beyond your present capacity requires the use of "outside" forces such as momentum and body leverage. Lifting a heavy weight with the aid of these outside forces amplifies the force transmitted to the Joints and connective tissues, thereby increasing the risk of injury.
All exercises should be done with strict form so that the involvement of these outside forces is minimized. in all exercises, use weights that allow you to lift them through the complete range of motion with the force of muscular contraction alone. Using the Weider principle of slow, continuous tension. initiate all movements deliberately. with no Jerking to get the weight In motion. Proceed to lift the weight to the top position. There. pause for a moment before lowering slowly, keeping the weight under control at alt times. Performing your movements slowly and deliberately like this may at first force you to cut back a bit on your weights. But the resulting improvement in contractile strength will soon see your poundages increasing.
SHOULD HEAVY WEIGHTS ALWAYS BE USED?
In my recent article, "Making Stress Work For You," I pointed our that the body has only a limited capacity to resist heavy training stresses and to adapt to them. For a certain period, depending upon your innate adaptability and present physical condition. heavy training will result in larger and stronger muscles. After a time. however. the body enters into a reaction stage to the training stress where It's no longer able to adapt. Be warned: heavier and more intense training at this stage does nothing but use up more of the body's resources, increasing the likelihood
I agree with Dr. James E. Wright. who wrote in a recent article in Muscle Fitness: "It's noteworthy that in pure strength training, best results are achieved by athletes who cycle their training intensities over a period of time rather than trying to Increase the volume and/or intensity in a continuous linear fashion."
If you want to avoid overtraining. periodically lower poundages and intensity for a week or two And if you're already suffering from this condition — as evidenced by insomnia, a decrease in work capacity, sudden weight loss, and loss of ability to achieve a pump. then take al least one full week off from training.
From the above. it's obvious that I favor lifting heavy weights to build muscle. I do not mean to suggest, however, that in order to be successful bodybuilders. we must all become powerlifters. What is important is that we all fully grasp this simple truth: the human body will do everything it possibly can to maintain its existing condition. It will not waste precious resources building a larger musculature than is necessary it's up to you. the aspiring champion, to give the body a damned good reason to grow progressively larger muscles. And you can do that only with high-intensity training and heavy weights.