Building Muscle 101: Heavy Weights vs. More Reps

Building Muscle 101: Heavy Weights vs. More Reps

If you are serious about your fitness, then you are serious about lean muscle gains, not just weight loss or the number on the scale. However, there is a lot of debate and misconception behind how to go about doing this.

From cardio queens to heavy lifting grunters, there is a vast array of people you will find in the gym. Nevertheless, these two seem to be the most prevalent.

Cardio Queens

Cardio queens will spend upwards of an hour or more on the bike, the treadmill, the elliptical, etc. If they do lift weights, they wander over to the 3lb dumbbells and do a ridiculous amount of curls in an effort to tone their arms. Cardio queens are highly concerned with the number on the scale and will often weigh themselves daily (as well as before and after a workout).

Instead of living on the elliptical, try mixing up your workout routine.
(CC BY-SA 3.0)

What many cardio queens do not understand is the daily number on the scale will fluctuate. They may lose a pound or more from an hour long cardio session, but odds are it’s mostly water weight.

There is a major difference between weight loss and fat loss. Cardio certainly burns fat, but it’s not the most effective way to get toned thus the common complaint of being “skinny fat”.

While I find the term distasteful, it has taken the fitness world by storm. Basically, “skinny fat” is when a person looks good in clothing, but in reality they carry excess fat or lack lean muscle. Basically, they are not overweight, yet still have an elevated fat percentage with low muscle mass.

It does not seem logical for a cardio queen to suffer from this problem, but there is some science behind it. An extreme amount of cardio (more than an hour*) leads to excess cortisol production. While cortisol is necessary post-workout, too much of it is a problem. Cortisol is a stress hormone that burns muscle and stores fat, so it’s really the exact opposite of what you want.

* This does not apply to individuals training for long-distance endurance events such as half marathons. Individuals accustomed to high intensity training do not experience spikes in cortisol. 

Heavy Lifters

don't skip leg day
Looks like you forgot leg day…again.

These guys and gals sport massive muscle and are often intimidating (although some of them may have skipped leg day). Their vascularity is insane and I’m pretty sure some of them actually live in the gym. If they are so ripped and have such a high fitness level, what’s the problem?

Nothing, sort of.

Lifting heavy is fine; it’s actually a good idea. Lifting the same weights all the time is not going to produce results after a certain amount of time—you will plateau.

However, constantly upping your weights and performing at your max is not a good idea either. You will exhaust your body long before you see the muscle gains you are looking for.

The Solution

The best way to go about losing fat while gaining muscle is a mix of all of the above. You will not get the results you want by cycling at the lowest resistance or lifting the lightest weights all the live long day. The same holds true if your mantra is “I like to lift things up and put them down.”

One expert suggests cycling from week to week. Shoot for 85-90% of your maximum lifting abilities and only go for 3-6 reps at a time with ample rest between sets (upwards of three minutes). Then the following week go for 70-80% of your max with 10-12 reps with a shorter rest (around a minute).

As for cardio, do not simply hop on a machine for 30 minutes and plow along at the same speed and resistance the entire time. The most effective cardio involves intervals of varying speeds and resistance.

An example would be to jog for 5 minutes at 6mph on the treadmill for a warm up, increase the speed to 6.5 for a minute, then 7 for a minute, then drop the speed back to 6.5 but increase the incline on the treadmill, and so on. You can find a multitude of treadmill workouts online that follow this idea that are about 20-25 minutes long.

Nutrition also plays a huge role when it comes to weight loss and fat loss. If you are eating a high fat diet, no amount of exercise will get you the body you want. If you are struggling for delicious but healthy meal ideas, we’ve got you covered there as well. Check out some of our great breakfast, lunch, and dinner ideas.

About Samantha Bookwalter


Samantha Bookwalter is freelance writer and social media specialist. She specializes in web editing, copy editing, copy writing, social media management, HTML, CSS, and other web-related acronyms. Samantha has an affinity for health and fitness; in her free time she enjoys working out with her husband and researching recipes that are not only healthy but delicious too.