I was working out in a mediocre gym and the ‘bro-scientist trainer’ over there told me-
“Cut down में heavy क्यों मार रहे हो”? (Why are you lifting heavy during your cut down)” Do light weight high reps”
His suggestion didn’t bother me, I just smiled back and continued doing my thang. Oops, but he was butt-hurt with his ego.
Unfortunately, I heard this from many of the gym-bros in sophisticated gyms too. Own judgements are often made just by looking at the weights the person is lifting. Heavy for bulking, and light-weight high reps for fat loss.
“Hey man, you’re losing weight right? You shouldn’t train heavy”
“Less weight more reps is the rule for fat loss”
“Light-weight high reps all the way”
Are you the one following this? No? But there are 99% chances that you might have heard such things.
The majority of the so-called gurujis & trainers have even made this as a hard & fast rule during the cutting phase, I see! But sadly, this is one of the biggest weight loss myths floating around in our fitness industry!
Myth? Umm okay, not so soon, let’s not make such random statements like them and dig in scientifically.
Why Light-Weight High Reps for Fat Loss? Their Logic
- They strongly believe that heavy lifting is for muscle gain/bulking and you should do the quite opposite i.e less weight more reps during fat loss.
- Low weight high reps will pump your muscles toning them and the muscle-burn you get doing high repetitions would burn more calories.
- Using lighter weights is a low-intensity exercise that would work like aerobic exercises majorly using “fats” as an energy source, hence more fat will burn.
But what’s the actual thing??
Calorie Deficit – The Main Key
Well, If you read my last article regarding the fitt principle, I have dedicatedly created a paragraph for “training while fat loss”. Especially during your fat loss journey, NUTRITION plays the most important part and the major role which has maximum impact on your results!
“Calorie deficit” is the key for fat loss and training is just a tool which helps you to create that deficit by directly influencing your calorie expenditure.
End of the day it all boils down to calories i.e CALORIES IN (the calories you consume) vs CALORIES OUT (the calories you burn/expend). Ultimately, CALORIES decide whether you lose weight or gain weight.
Every individual has different “maintenance calories” as per their body, and for losing fat you need to create a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit can be created either by consuming lesser calories than your maintenance calories or by expending more than you consume.
For Example: Suppose your maintenance calories (calories which you need to maintain your current weight i.e neither you’ll gain weight nor lose weight) are 2000 and you eat 1500/day. So it’s a 500 calories deficit.
Similarly, you can create that deficit by adding training into the mix i.e consuming 2000 and burning 500 with the training. Again a deficit of 500 calories. So it’s a calorie calculation considering both of the things: Nutrition & Your training.
You’ll find the internet flooded with debates regarding the CICO vs Hormones. Well as I always say, they both matter. It’s not just about losing weight but also good health.
Regardless of your hormones, you won’t lose weight if you’re not in a calorie deficit state. This is not any such debate, so let’s just not complicate things getting into endocrinology and stick to our topic. Most of them would complicate it to sell different diet-plans and stuff to you, but I won’t!
Now coming to the training perspective for fat loss ↓
Training For Fat Loss: Light Weight High Reps?✕ Train Intense✓
What most people generally forget that is – Apart from being a great tool for creating a calorie deficit, training HEAVY specifically can do one more most important thing during cutdown → “PRESERVE YOUR HARD EARNED MUSCLES & STRENGTH”
Lifting heavy is highly anabolic for you providing both the benefits: i) preserving your muscle mass and strength during the cutting phase and also ii) maximizing your body’s anabolic hormonal environment.
Ideally, your goal during the fat loss journey would be to preserve as much muscle and strength you can while ripping off those pounds of fat right? (fat loss, not just weight loss)
Then why the hell would you all of a sudden reduce your loads on which you have been progressively overloading upon to develop them? Also, what’s the point if you lose fat along with the muscles you carry?
It’s not about the scale on the weighing machines, but about your body composition. The ideal goal should be to lose BODY FAT while preserving the lean body mass and strength as much you can!
Though you lose some strength and muscle during your calorie deficit/cutting phase as you’re on a negative energy balance, your struggle would still be to progressive overload and challenge yourself!
Lifting heavy & intense can majorly minimize this. Even they would burn more calories. INTENSITY and PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD will always be the key when it comes to training, irrespective of the goal!
Let’s dig in more into training and intensity looking at the bigger picture.
Light-Weight High Reps Training: The Bigger Picture
Every type of training has its own place. Firstly you gotta understand the types of muscle fibers and muscle growth about which I have mentioned in the above article which I have linked.
Your training output/results depend upon the goal you’re training for. Along with dropping body fat, are you looking to increase your muscle-endurance or preserve your strength and muscles?
Light-weight high reps training will recruit and target majorly on your Type I muscle fibers. They’re also known as slow-twitch muscle fibers which are more fatigue resistant than type II.
Light-weight high reps will mainly work on your ‘endurance’ i.e increase the repetitive-strength of your muscles which is the ability to endure the pain for scoring more reps. But won’t help in increasing/preserving the maximum strength & power of your body.
Yes, Light-weight high reps will help you achieving the PUMP, but again ask yourself, why would you train just for getting a pump? The PUMP would neither burn a substantial amount of calories nor put any stimulus on your muscles giving them a reason to stay. As a result – Muscle Atrophy.
⇒ “Oh boy, but the MUSCLE-BURN you get chasing the pump burns more calories”.
NO!! The pump and the burn in the muscles you get because of it is just due to the buildup of lactic acid in it. That burn has nothing to do with the fat burn.
And for increasing the volume you don’t necessarily need to do high reps. It’s about the overall volume of your workout, not a particular set. OV should be more which can be even achieved by increasing the no. of sets making your workouts last little longer.
↑ The overall volume of your workout = ↑ total work done and higher calories burnt!
Intensity – The Most Important Variable
I have already mentioned about intensity and recovery (which is very crucial) in my “FITT Principle” article.
Intensifying your workouts will keep your heart rate elevated throughout, making them challenging for you!
Did you know this Interesting fact? → When your heart rate is high during the type of training you do, which happens in heavy-weight and high-intensity exercises, your body burns more calories.
In fact, you burn calories after the workout, even while resting or sleeping. This is because of the slight EPOC effect which elevates your REE i.e Resting Energy Expenditure for longer hours.
Also, a new study says that High-Intensity Workouts at Home are as effective as GYM. Surprisingly, you can burn the same calories (probably more over-time) in much less time.
Yes, even with lighter weights you can increase the intensity of exercises. Decreasing the rest-period between sets and increasing the TIME UNDER TENSION are two of the ways to do that. But again, by taking shorter-rest periods you won’t be able to lift as hard as you can.
Same INTENSITY & metabolic advantage you can achieve by lifting heavy and focussing on progression overload. You can try mix & matching heavy lifting with shorter-medium rest periods. You can even add up low-intensity steady-state cardio into the mix. Remember about periodization? I have talked about it in my previous articles too.
Fat-Loss and Energy System of Our Body
This light-weight high reps belief sounds so convincing to them because of the different energy pathways our body uses for low-to-high intensity exercises.
When the intensity of your workout is light i.e not moderate or vigorous enough, your body majorly uses ‘fats’ as an energy source. A greater percentage of “fats” are used/burnt as a form of energy.
In heavy vigorous exercises, majorly GLYCOGEN i.e CARBS are used as fuel. Proportionally higher amounts of CARBS are utilized as an energy source. This is how our body’s energy systems work!
So basically as per this logic, doing light-weight high reps will be burning “fats” which is equivalent to FAT LOSS right?? – NO!!
Well, YES, technically as per the energy system of our bodies this sounds goddamn right. But this is not how FAT LOSS works.
The Actual Thing
1) Even though if your body is using fats as an energy source, it doesn’t mean that it magically starts using it from your stored body fat i.e your adipose tissues. Obviously, it firstly taps on the “dietary fats” which you have consumed. This light-weight high reps myth sounds as silly as “eating FATs will make you FAT”.
2) Also, with this aerobic pathway despite your body is majorly using fats as energy, total calorie expenditure would be very less compared to intense heavyweight exercises.
Calories still come into play. In layman terms, Low-Intensity Exercises = Less energy needed, hence less burnt. High-Intensity Exercises = More energy needed and more burnt! End of the day still CICO will dictate your FAT LOSS.
3) Heavy-lifting uses huge amounts of carbs which will increase your daily carbohydrate quota and glycogen storage capacity. You can load up on more carbs and look more fuller this way even on a cutting/calorie deficit phase. This technique is known as “glycogen super-compensation” widely practiced by athletes. Now you know why they say that heavy-lifters require more carbs?
So how should you train?
Low repetitions with heavy weights would increase/preserve strength & muscles, whereas light-weight high reps will work on your endurance. You can definitely play around with the training styles and get the best of both worlds by periodizing light and heavyweights. PERIODIZATION.
I generally do split-workouts and hit each muscle 2x a week. So I go heavy on the first day and light-moderate on the other or add 1 blast set of light-weight high reps after my heavy sets. I make sure I’m working on all my muscle fibers this way. See what works for you and work as per that.
Note: High-intensity exercises are more taxing to your Central Nervous System as well, proper RECOVERY is crucial.
Nutrition (Calories you consume vs calories you burn) will be the major determinant in your fat loss. No matter what sorta training you do, you won’t lose fat if you’re not in a calorie deficit state.
Training wise, INTENSITY and PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD will still be the key no matter whether you’re on a cut or a bulk. They’re anabolic.
The total amount of calories burnt should be more of your concern that the type of FUEL (carbs or fats) majorly used.
Low-intensity exercises proportionally use “more fats” as an energy source but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re burning more “stored body fat”. Also, the total energy expenditure in low-intensity exercises would be low as compared to heavy high-intensity exercises.
Your emphasis should still be challenging yourself and lifting as hard and intense you can.
This would pretty much be fruitful to both, sparing your hard-earned muscles/strength and burning more calories eventually resulting in maximum fat loss!
More the muscle = Higher the resting energy expenditure.
Light-weight high reps have their own place but, making it a thumb rule during fat loss is utter bro-science and just another myth circulated and widely followed.
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- Resistance training with diet decreases body fat ad preserves lean body mass
- Resistance training on calorie-restricted diet prevents muscle loss
- Weight training a better option than cardio – for older adults
- Longer inter-set rest period wins in terms of muscle & strength gains
- Different rest intervals between the sets and their effects