Resistance Training Part 2

Go heavy or go home: It makes for a catchy saying on a tank top and certainly resonates as a rally cry for iron-pumping zealots. But just because it sounds hardcore doesn’t make it right and there are a lot of people who recognize the importance of including resistance training in their exercise agenda that aren’t interest in personal-record bench presses. So, before we decide whether it is necessary to lift as much weight as you can when you visit the weight room, we have to see what the experts say. And then we have to decide if the experts know what they’re talking about!

A frequently-echoed resistance training tenet is that you should lift heavy weights to bulk up, but lift light weights to get cut. I realized early in my competitive bodybuilding career that this simply wasn’t the case. After all, if I trained for 10 months lifting a certain amount of weight for a certain number of reps to build my muscles to a certain level of development, it was only logical to assume that I should keep doing the same thing for the final months prior to the contest so that I didn’t run the risk of screwing things up. The cuts I needed to win the show would be there if I got my body fat low enough regardless of how I trained with the weights because body fat reduction depends only on energy in versus energy out. But it did behoove me to keep as much muscle as I could throughout that process and that’s where resistance training came into play.

Okay, resistance training won’t get you cut, so training light for that purpose is misguided. But what about training heavy to bulk up? Well, it’s difficult for me to say because the “bulk-up” term is used quite liberally in the weight room and after 30-plus years, I’m still not exactly sure what it means. Given what I’ve witnessed and what happens to the vast majority of guys I’ve heard use that phrase, the best I can figure is it involves ingesting more energy than you expend so that you gain a lot of fat and look bigger in clothes despite carrying the same amount of muscle you always have!

Resistance training builds muscle, plain and simple. It doesn’t build bulky muscle or toned muscle because muscle only comes in one form. But that doesn’t mean everyone who trains with weights will wind up looking the same after their body adapts to the stimulus. On the contrary, some people will carry more body fat and, therefore, look bigger compared to their leaner counterparts, even if they each have the exact same amount of muscle. Also, some will have inherited a genetic blueprint that makes them more able to develop muscle, which means that two beginners can start the exact same program at the exact same time and wind up looking quite different a few months down the road. Assuming the same body fat level, the one who looks bulkier (has larger muscles) in this scenario simply has better genetics for muscle growth. Finally, the size of a person’s frame makes a big difference in the muscular appearance they will ultimately present. For example, someone who is nary five feet tall with thick bones will typically look bulkier even if they carry less muscle compared to someone who is a foot taller and has a physique that appears muscular, but lithe.

The take-home message is that it is impossible to use resistance exercise to custom build your musculature to achieve a specific appearance. So, showing a picture of a magazine model to your personal trainer so that they can develop a resistance training program specific to your aspirations is pointless unless you have the exact same genetics as those that are depicted. (And, by the way, I’ve worked in the fitness magazine industry and can attest to the fact that even if you do, cosmetic surgeries, pharmaceuticals and prepress touch-ups might still have you falling short.) Therefore, contrary to popular belief, when it comes to weight training and the philosophy of choosing the amount of weight you should lift, one size pretty much fits all.

The major difference between resistance training to get your muscles as big as they can possibly get (for example, the type of training a competitive bodybuilder would do) and training to get your muscles stronger, but not excessively big is simply the degree to which you progress the program as your body adapts. The bodybuilder must constantly find ways to challenge their muscles to a greater extent to keep the adaptive changes coming up to the ceiling dictated by their genetic potential. Conversely, one who wants a lesser degree of muscular development would simply progress the stimulus up to the point at which they are content with the amount of muscle they carry. So, the bottom line is choosing the amount of weight you lift (light or heavy) is not a function of the specific appearance you are trying to achieve, but simply a matter of getting the job done properly. And that is where the confusion begins!

This article was originally published in New Living Magazine, which can be accessed on-line at





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