The more efficient way to build muscle: Reps or weight?

That’s not really disagreeing. You’re expanding on what I said.

But still, are you saying you are equally likely to get injured doing low weight, high reps as compared to doing high weight, low reps? Equally likely? I don’t think so.

Oh no question that great results can be obtained with the way you do it. And it sounds like you’ve gotten them. You put in your time and effort and you’ll get results. The question is only if you could do even better with no more time by mixing it up some. Also note, that policy guideline does push a balance of more weight less rep for the more advanced lifter: " It is recommended that … advanced individuals cycle training loads of 80-100% of 1 RM to maximize muscular strength (9,33,96,206,225,227,255,268)."

And this thread has gotten me to realize that it really was time to buy another pair of heavier dumbbells to throw in some occasional lower rep higher weight sets with, of which I am now a proud owner of, along with some balance discs to do compound lifts upon!

My main goals are strength and aesthetics. Over time, I’ve developed a bit of a gut. It’s not a beer belly, but more of a paunch. Having lost some weight over the past few weeks has shrunk it a bit, but it’s still there. It’s pretty jiggly, which is not attractive. I also seem to have an accumulation of fat in the pectoral area. What I really want is to tone up these areas. I"m not as concerned with my thigh and arm muscles, but if I can get these toned in the process, I’m all for it.

I wasn’t expanding on what you said, I was disagreeing with it, specifically the advice to the OP that, “Unless you’re trying to compete in body building contests, stick mostly to low weights/high reps.” I think using higher weights produces much better results for strength and muscle mass, and if you warm up properly and use proper technique the chance of injury is still very low.

I was going to point this out: that study also recommends high weight/low reps, for ‘advanced individuals’ at least. Lifting 80-100% of your one-rep-maximum is actually quite high when you think about it. I’m not sure I could do 8 full reps on a weight that’s 80% of my one-rep-max on any exercise! That’s an interesting study though, I’ll make a note to cycle the weights a bit rather than sticking with the heaviest possible and gradually moving up.

Lifting weights won’t directly help you, losing fat by eating less and exercising more will. You can build muscle (which does burn more fat to a degree) but the fat in question won’t go away. There’s no such thing as spot weight loss, you have to lose fat from all over your body. Depending on the individual, your gut may be the last place you lose fat. No amount of lifting will change that.

Good article, DSeid.

The problem with weight-training advice, especially on the internet, is that there are almost as many different recommendations as there are websites. But i also think that, for non-pros, the most important thing is still getting to the gym on a regular basis. As long as you do that, and are careful about using good form for all your lifting, you’ll definitely see improvement.

I started back at the gym just over a year ago. I used to be pretty strong back in my early twenties, and then for a short time when i hit 30, but in grad school i let myself go a bit. Last March i went for a physical as part of my Green Card application, and while i knew that i was a bit out of shape, i was horrified to learn that i weighed 207 pounds. Back in my early 20s, when i was fit, my weight was always right around 170.

My wife and i decided to join the gym, and for just over a year now we’ve been going about 5 times a week, on average. Some weeks i’ll go every day, but 5 is more common. I also run 5-6 times a week. I started at 3.5 miles a day, but now i do 5 miles.

Anyway, for the first nine months at the gym, i did a fairly standard routine of 3 sets per exercise, 8-10 reps per set. Because i was starting from a state of complete unfitness (is that a word?), i still noticed gains in strength and changes in my body shape over the next six months or so, despite the fairly basic routine. I got back down to around 184 pounds, looked better, and felt fitter.

But then my gains became less noticeable, and that’s when i changed my routine to incorporate more sets, fewer reps, and more weight. And, as i said in an earlier post, i’ve made some noticeable strength gains in the month or so that i’ve been doing this. I think i’m going to switch up my routine again in the next week or so.

I don’t agree with this. Or, to me more specific, i don’t agree with this unless you have no need for cardio work.

My goal, with my exercise program, was to get stronger, but also to get fitter and to reduce my weight. I lift weights 5-6 days a week, and i run 5-6 days a week, which means that there are at least three days a week when i do both, usually weights in the morning and a run in the afternoon. I guess it’s possible that the amount of cardio i do has made my muscle gains a bit slower than they otherwise would have been, but that’s a trade-off i’m willing to make in order to be fitter and slimmer.

There are a whole bunch of guys at my gym who can bench press twice what i do, but who can barely see their feet past their bellies. They have big arms and chest, but absolutely no visible definition. They’ll spend two hours a day lifting, but they’d be lucky if they could run 200 yards without blowing up. And these guys aren’t just muscular guys with some water retention that they can quickly get rid of; some of them are genuinely fat guys who also happen to be strong.

If that’s what they want, good luck to them, but i’m more interested in balancing my strength training with some cardio for fitness.

Eight reps is just about right for 80% 1RM, according to (admittedly shaky) calculators such as this:

I find it interesting that reps fall drastically as the weight goes up. The difference between one’s 75% 1 RM and 1 RM is one third in mass, but a 90% drop in reps.

I’ve never been able to follow the conventional routines of upping the reps from, say, 8 to 12 on an exercise before increasing load. Reps are hard to come by after the beginner phase; load can be managed much more incrementally. It seems I can always add a small plate to my chinning belt, but getting another full-range rep is a whole 'nother thing. Might have to do with my crappy muscular endurance. As long as I progress, I’m happy. Psychologically, I always feel great after switching to a slightly heavier load after weeks of churning a lighter one with maybe a single additional rep to show for it.

The best way to a good health and physique is cardio every day, 8-10 rep sets on muscle groups 2-3 times a week, and a healthy, well balanced diet. The calories should match your needs and goal.

That being said, it’s MUCH easier said than done. Diet and cardio are probably the most important of the three. I gained a bunch of muscle once and slacked on the diet part. You know what I was? A really strong overweight guy instead of a moderately strong overweight guy.

Everyone likes to eat. Some have an even higher drive than others. That’s why everyone looks for the magic exercise program that precludes controlling diet. It doesn’t exist. That’s also why it’s so hard for a lot of us to lose weight and keep it off. Eating too much is a very strong drive to overcome in an environmet where you’re surrounded by plentiful, calorie dense food.

As a matter of fact, heavy muscle building will usually increase your appetite dramatically, making it even harder to lose fat.

I’m having real trouble with cardio. Because I’m 27, I guess my heart rate needs to be up to 150-160 for cardio benefits. I tried to do this on an elliptical and on a stationary bike, and I felt like I was going to collapse. These machines have heartrate sensors on them, and it was only showing 140 at my peak, I’m-going-to-die-in-a-minute exertion.

Most of the advice in here is good. I want to reitterate a few points. First, form trumps all; I don’t care how much weight or how many reps you can do, if your form is bad you’re either not making maximum use of your effort or you risk hurting yourself. I would much rather see someone do too little weight too few times but with perfect form than trying hard to fit to a pyramid scheme and some set of reps based on max and having bad form. If you’re not absolutely sure what the correct for is, there’s plenty of resources; I would be wary of asking someone at the gym because even some of the guys who look like they know what they’re doing (decent shape) have bad form.

The advice on muscle confusion and high vs low is good. When you’re designing a workout, you really need to pinpoint what your goals are. In general, most people will probably either want to stick to the middle range or a scheme that achieves some of both ranges.

With regard to cardio, the whole HR zone thing is very generalized and not particularly helpful for most people. Chances are the heartrates on the machines probably aren’t very accurate either, and so while it may say it’s 150, it could actually be much higher. Instead, I’d recommend setting some sort of goal, like 20-30 minutes, and doing whatever difficulty you can keep up for that duration rather than trying to achieve some target HR and not being able to go long enough to get aerobic benefits.

I do have to say I’m a little concerned though, because you also mentioned being exhausted after a single trip through the circuit and not being sore. It sounds like endurance is much more your sticking point right now than strength. Did you see a doctor before starting working out? How is your diet? Do you get enough sleep? You may be wearing out early simply because you’re not getting proper nutrition, not getting enough sleep, or may have some kind of condition

I see a cardiologist because I have high blood pressure (actually, “had”, because through medication it’s excellent). He’s been encouraging me to work out because of my low “good” cholesterol and the history of heart disease. My EKGs are always normal, and I don’t have any other major conditions that I know of.

I don’t sleep well due to immense stress (I’m a doctoral student), and my diet is probably not good either. I’m taking in roughly 1000 calories/day. I eat a 200 calorie Slim Fast bar in the a.m., a couple of snack (100 calorie) bars during the day, and a Healthy Choice meal that is about 350 calories, and an apple. Then I have some baked chips as a snack at night if I get hungry.

Frankly, I’m not sure if it’s exhaustion, or just boredom. I strongly dislike going to the gym. There’s nothing there I like. I don’t like playing sports, I don’t like the elliptical, and I don’t like lifting weights. I don’t get any kind of stress relief like most other people get; in fact, I get more stressed. The only reason I’m still going is that I have a small chance of looking better, and therefore not disliking myself in the mirror as much.

Yeah, in my experience the heartrate monitors on cardio machines are next to useless. They are usually both inconsistent and wrong. I never obsess about my heartrate when i’m doing cardio.

1000 calories a day? I’m surprised you’ve got enough energy to walk around, let alone do something as intensive as lifting weights or extended cardio. My 5 mile run, by itself, burns about 600 calories.

First off regarding heart rate - I’ve done some triathlons (up to the half ironman level) and some of the triathletes are crazy about heart rate monitoring. There are many different formulae you can use.

By the basic age related one you should have a maximal heart rate of 220-27=193 and train at 60-70% of that, ie 118 to 138.

Or you can say that 140 is your max since that’s when you feel like you are going to die, and calculate from there.

Or you can use that one that includes your resting heart rate in the calculation.

Or the MAF method, 180-27=153 and let’s assume you are just starting so subtract another 10, therefore 143 is your max aerobic zone.

OR just use common sense. If you are breathing hard enough that you can get out more than three words, but not a long complete sentence, then you are where you should be for a damn good aerobic work out. That’s always been my method anyway.

Nutrition. You need better nutrition. Period. A body cannot build muscle without adequate protein and you need some carbs to burn. How much protein?

Timing also matters. A decent carb snack within the hour before an intense work out, along hydration during, will keep you going and allow to get the most intensity out of the session. Getting a snack with both carbs and 10-15g of protein in the hour window after gives a body what it needs to both replenish the glycogen stores and help the process of building the muscles mass and repairing the damage that occurs over the next several hours. Without that nutrition you will not maximize the amount of gain per unit pain.

The diet you describe is just not enough to build a fit body with. Or even to keep your brain as fit as it should be. Heck that Slim Fast bar and Helathy Choice meal together have no more than 30gm of protein, and there is essentially no protein in anything else you listed. If you weigh even a mere 60Kg (132#), then you are still at only 0.5 gm of protein/kg, less than a third of what you should optimally be consuming. And I’m not even going to start on the fact that you are not getting enough vitamins and minerals or even a hint of valuable phytochemicals.

And you need sleep to build muscle and to make those neural connections too.

And have you tried other forms of exercise? Biking? Swimming? Kickboxing? Pilates? Some sort of organized class? Any of them will firm your muscles if coupled with good nutrition and adequate sleep. Maxxed out muscle mass is not what many of us even want to look like, nor what most potential partners are most attracted to in a male physique. There is no need to do weights at all. (Personally my best physique was in that half-ironman year and I did virtually no weight training during that season.)

Forget about what exact lift would max out your strength gains. Find some exercise that you can actually enjoy and eat better and your mood and intellectual performance will likely improve along with your body’s physique.

And you may want to talk to your doctor about that combination of difficulty sleeping, not much appetite, poor mood, sense of all-pervasive stress, and lack of enjoyment in day to day living. I am not diagnosing or giving medical advice but that describes someone with clinical depression.

This is more or less the same method I use to figure out how hard I’m working myself and I generally recommend it over heart rate based methods because of the poor reliability of HR monitors on the machines at gyms and that the HR formulae seem about as useful as BMI. For instance, I still feel reasonable comfortable well above where my heartrate “should” be.

This. Your nutrition and sleep habits are likely what’s causing your premature exhaustion. Eating what you are, especially with trying to be active, is no where near sufficient. You definitely need to make some major improvements there, not just for working out, but for general health. Definitely consult your doctor and you’ll probably want to get refered to a nutritionist.

I’m a PhD student too, and I know how hard it is to get sufficient sleep and eat well, but ultimately I’ve found that maintaining a good diet, exercise, and sleep regimen has been more helpful because I ultimately require less sleep than I did when I was less active and I have more energy and am more productive when I work. Certainly, it will make you more stressed when you simply don’t have the energy to work out or to properly recover after a workout. More than a few times I’ve worked out when I probably shouldn’t have (ie, sick, injured, very little sleep, etc.) and I felt more stressed coming out than going in.

I would agree with DSeid that you are exhibit some possible symptoms of depression. For me, at least, I felt very much like that during the most stressful parts of my education and it largely went away when the stress went away, but it may or may not be the same for you. Definitely fix your diet and consider getting looking into that, especially if it persists after addressing your diet.

I do have clinical depression, have had it for years. I started seeing a psychiatrist because the therapist I was going to suggested that it might be time for a med check, since my mood and energy were going down fast.

The psychiatrist I’m seeing put me on Lexapro. I told him I thought it wasn’t working as well as it should, and that I was feeling, to use a cliche, like I was on an emotional rollercoaster. He suggested exercise would help improve my mood. He seemed puzzled that exercise didn’t give me a rush like it did him. “You don’t feel a high after exercising?” “No.” “Hmmm…That’s odd.” I’m set to see him again on Wednesday. Maybe he’ll believe me this time that I really need a stronger dose.

Right now I find it very difficult to eat, period. I rarely (< 1x/month) ever eat restaurant food. I also, unfortunately, don’t like salads. I do love vegetables in things, but not by themselves. I also love all fruits (except maybe durian; never had it :)).

No one’s mentioned a nutritionist before. Maybe that’s something to look into. In the meantime, why don’t you both (DSeid and **Blaster Master) **tell me what you eat?

Same here. I also find that going by exertion levels seems to work better for me than going by the numbers on a heartrate monitor (I use one of those Polar chest-strap monitors.) My resting pulse is fairly low (dips into the 40s), but when I run, it tends to run high for the perceived effort. I go by feel. If you can hold a conversation with someone, you’re in your aerobic zone. If you can only get out three or four words at a time before gasping for air, you’re crossing into your anaerobic/lactate threshold, if you can’t talk at all or only one word at a time, you’ve gone anaerobic.

As for exercise giving you a high, I really don’t think that happens to everyone. When I started getting in shape again, for the first two months or so, I felt spent after exercising and not at all energized or “high.” But I did feel satisfied that I had accomplished my task for the day. Perhaps I overexerted myself, but I didn’t feel like it. After awhile, though, it happened to me that I did actually start feeling psychologically “fresher” and physically invigorated after a run. But it took several weeks of exercise and my body adapting to it before I felt it. That said, it’s not really a “high” so much as I felt refreshed mentally and physically after an exercise, rather than slightly beaten down.

You said you’re eating 1000 calories a day, which is way too few for sedentary person, let along one who is exercising. What do you eat? How did you calculate your intake?

I am happy to hear that you are not only getting the services you need but are also willing to aggressively advocate for your care.

As far as what I eat … honestly I don’t think that information would be of value to you. I’m a very different person in a very different phase of life. I love food. I enjoy eating. I enjoy cooking. I have a wife and two kids still in the house to cook for. And I live in a good restaurant area of a great restaurant city with a wife who loves food nearly as much as I do and finds the best eats around before anyone else does. What I don’t eat would be a shorter list: mussels (they give me migraines) … and durian. :slight_smile:

As for you, in the words of my grandmother (Bubbie) “Bubbeleh. You’re wasting away! Eat! Eat! Have little nosh!”

Seriously your poor tone may be because your body is literally eating its muscle for calories and certainly can’t build any new muscle. If you can’t swing a vitamin fortified cereal at breakfast (like Total maybe), with a piece of fruit maybe, then at least switch to a bar that has more vitamins in it, like Balance bars, have something real for lunch and buy some veggie fruit juice blends to drink at home, have a bannana or a Power bar at least before your work-out and something like a grilled chicken sandwich or turkey on whole wheat or a yogurt after, or another protein bar, or an Ensure if you must. A Healthy Choice dinner is fine every so often but have some real food sometimes too, even if it is just making yourself a bowl of Udon noodles with an two eggs (or some tofu) and some cooked veggies mixed in.

Good Luck!

Well, I have been eating a Slim Fast meal bar in the morning (200 cal), a couple of snack bars during the day (2 x 100 cal each), and then a ~400 calorie Healthy Choice or Lean Cuisine dinner. So that’s 800. Then I’ll usually have an apple (~150 cal. maybe) and, later in the evening, a few baked chips as a snack.

I’ve heard several times that 1000 calories won’t cut it. But I also hear that in order to lose weight, calories in must be < calories burned, which makes sense. When I exercise, I put my age and weight into the machine so it can do some calculation to give me a calories burned count. I usually burn 350-400 calories in 30 minutes, according to this indicator. The most physical exertion I get is in the gym, so how am I burning the other 600 calories? Just by living?


Your body burns calories all day, every day. Exactly how many you burn depends on your body type, fat vs. muscle ratio, exactly what you’re doing, etc. etc. There are some reasonably complicated ways to work out each of these variables and calculate exactly how many calories you burn, but there are also some fairly decent rules of thumb. On a per hour basis, you can burn anywhere from 70-90 calories an hour while at rest. Another measure i’ve seen is 10-12 calories per pound of body weight per day.

Even if these figures aren’t completely accurate for you, you can see that, even at the very low end, you’d be burning well over your 600 spare calories just by doing nothing. You really need to eat properly, and 1000 calories a day just isn’t going to cut it.

You said earlier in the thread that, after exercise, your “legs and arms feel like rubber afterward, but they don’t get sore.” This is probably because you simply run out of energy. And that’s what calories are: energy.

I know you’re trying to get rid of your paunch and other areas of fat accumulation, but you shouldn’t let that stop you from eating properly. Make sure you get enough calories, including enough protein and vitamins and minerals, and some carbs for energy. As i said earlier in the thread, i’ve dropped from 207 to just over 180 in the past year, and i really don’t eat any less than i did before, at least not in the proper meal department. I cut out chips, and i try to eat less chocolate (although i still eat it quite regularly), but my meals are as big as they ever were. I just make sure my meals are reasonably healthy. Not only do i weigh less, but my muscle to fat ratio is much improved.

Also, if you have enough energy for lifting weights, then putting on some muscle will also help you out. Even at rest, a pound of muscle burns a lot more calories than a pound of fat.