For years now we’ve been hearing people say if you want to bulk up, increase weight and reduce reps; and if you want to get lean to reduce weight and up the reps. Like a lot of fitness generalizations, this information is accurate, but incomplete. It’s true that weight lifting heavy weights with fewer reps breaks down muscle and causes it to grow back larger and more robust. Similarly weight lifting, lower weights that are lifted repeatedly exhaust the muscle, breaking it down in smaller degrees, causing it to grow back stronger, but not necessarily larger.
The information most people are missing are the ways in which muscle is built that has nothing to do with weight lifting. For instance, balance exercises engage muscles for extended periods of time, often rapidly contracting and releasing fibers dozens of times a minute as the body works to stabilize itself. And although you can work out on a balance board, there are elements of balance and stability training in much of what we do daily. Climbing stairs, for example, can be a balance-building activity when done without holding on to handrails. Riding a bike requires balance and stability that most of us take for granted once we’ve learned… as does swimming. These kinds of exercises can all build long, lean muscle the same way multiple reps at low weight can.
Plyometric exercises don’t involve any added weight, but can still add muscle mass due to the explosive force of the movement coupled with the weight of the body. When you look at NFL running backs, they are generally lean athletes, but their leg muscles are usually huge and overdeveloped. Explosive speed and running against the weight of defensive players breaks down and rebuilds muscle just as heavy weight training would.
So what’s the moral of the story? Be aware of the muscle activity in your day-to-day activities and adjust your weight liftingworkout accordingly so that you have a well-rounded routine.