Do You Need to Lift Heavy to Get Big?

I want to provide you with some advice on how to spend less time at the gym in this post. To do this, we must first examine the structure of our workouts and the demands placed on us during a regular bodybuilding workout.

Any weightlifting program's primary objective is to develop strength or muscular mass. This can be accomplished through a variety of workouts that focus on particular muscle groups and are performed with light weights and high repetitions (3 sets x 12 reps).

These workouts are frequently referred to as "bodybuilding" because they concentrate on muscle growth rather than conditioning or power enhancement.

You will eventually need to lift greater weights if you want to get stronger or gain muscle.

The capacity to gradually increase the physical stress you place on a muscle is necessary to continuously challenge it so that it can continually be adapting and strengthening; otherwise, your potential to get strength outcomes will be compromised.

There are many ways to accomplish it in strength training. The professional trainer at Fitness Formula Clubs Union Station in Chicago and online instructor Caroline Juster tells SELF that you can accomplish progressive overload by increasing sets and reps, taking less rest, utilising better form, or executing more difficult workout variants. However, just lifting greater weights is the most efficient approach to achieving progressive overload.

The best method to see and track your personal improvement over the coming weeks and months is by lifting greater weights, which also happens to be the fastest way to achieve the "Damn, I'm strong!" feeling. "The self-assurance boost that strength training provides.

Any professional training programme includes progressive overload, but it can be challenging to know how to do it if you aren't following one or working closely with a trainer who is telling you "Here's how much more you need to lift today" and figuring out exactly which weights to lift (along with when and exactly how to increase the poundage over time). But it's crucial to know what to anticipate and how to gain weight healthily if you want to accomplish your goals without getting hurt.

Everything you need to know about picking a beginning weight, determining whether you're ready for a larger load, and precisely how to lift heavier weights are covered here.

What weight should a dumbbell be?

Carry out 14–22 bicep curls. Start with dumbbells that are 5 pounds (2.3 kg) lighter than what you're currently using if you can't even complete 14 reps without your arms giving out. Add 5 pounds (2.3 kg) and repeat the test if, after 22 repetitions, you aren't experiencing the burn. Your beginning weight will be the one that causes your muscles to ache between 14 and 22 reps. [3]

  • Add 5-10 pounds (2.3-4.5 kg) to each dumbbell on a regular basis as you begin to complete exercises more easily. After 2-3 weeks of exercise, this should begin to happen for the majority of people. You won't advance if you aren't even working up a sweat.

Slow oxidative fibres are one type of muscle fibre

Type I muscle fibres, or slow oxidative fibres, are often used terms. Due to poor Myosin ATPase activity, these muscle fibres contract slowly when activated first. Type I fibres use aerobic glycolysis to synthesise Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), or energy, even though they have high myoglobin concentrations.

They are best suited for endurance sports like distance running since they have a slow rate of fatigue and a high oxidative capacity as a result of the many capillaries and mitochondria they contain (Marieb, 2004).

Quickly Oxidizing Fibers


During exercise, Type IIa muscle fibres—fast oxidative fibres—are recruited second. Similar to Type I fibres, Type II fibres feature a lot of capillaries and mitochondria as well as a high myoglobin concentration. They are generally fatigue tolerant because they have moderate glycogen levels as opposed to low glycogen storage.

Additionally, they are ideally adapted for activities that utilise both the anaerobic and aerobic Glycolysis energy systems, such as running, due to their rapid contractile rates and Myosin ATPase activity (Marieb, 2004).

Fast-metabolizing Fibers

Type IIb muscle fibres that are fast glycolytic are recruited third during activity and do not utilise oxygen as a fuel source.

There are not many capillaries, mitochondria, or myoglobin in type IIb fibres. Although Type IIb fibres have high glycogen stores and only rely on it for energy, they tyre easily. They are ideally suited for quick, strong motions like those utilised in resistance training because of this as well as their potent contractile ability and quick Myosin ATPase activity.

How do you bulk up using only dumbbells?

The amount of effort required to perform 30 reps with 10 pounds (4.5 kg) and 3 reps with 100 pounds (45 kg) should be equivalent, right? Not exactly. Resistance training with low weight and high repetitions will help you tone up, but if you want to gain muscle, you need to keep the weight heavy enough to tyre your muscles after about 6–10 reps. [5]

Add weight when you reach a level of strength where your muscles aren't worn out after a smaller number of reps. You can build bigger and bigger muscles over time by gradually increasing the weight you lift.

How to determine the appropriate starting weight

Strength instructor and Shock training app inventor Hayden Steele, a licenced personal trainer with a base in Oklahoma City, advises SELF, "Let the reps decide the load.".

Choose the number of reps you want to complete in a set, and then zero in on the weight that will both challenge you and allow you to complete every rep with excellent form.

Your objectives will determine the range of reps and the number of sets you should perform: Lifting extremely heavy weights for 2-6 sets of 6 or fewer repetitions is perfect for developing maximum strength, whereas lifting heavy-to-moderate weights for 3-6 sets of 8-12 repetitions is the best strategy for developing muscular hypertrophy. Last but not least, the majority of specialists advise training with 2-3 sets of 12 or more repetitions or more to increase muscular endurance, or how long a muscle can function before tiring out.

For a variety of reasons, the majority of exercises in most training plans are performed in the 8–12 rep range. It's crucial to establish a strong base in this range before attempting to perform at your maximum strength with extremely high loads. You will lift weights in this range that are moderately heavy compared to your previous attempts, but not so heavy that they give out after two seconds of exercise.

Second, training in this range helps you to accomplish a lot without taking an eternity with each workout. Third, even though this rep range is mostly for muscle growth, it still accomplishes a little bit of everything, boosting strength and endurance as well.

The majority of exercises are generally safe to practise in this range, although specialists generally advise against performing single-joint workouts like biceps curls and triceps extensions with few repetitions and heavy weights since they risk damaging the joint. Strength coach Erica Suter, C.S.C.S., of Baltimore, tells SELF.

Pick weights at the beginning that you know you can lift but are unsure of how many reps you can manage. Rest for a few minutes and try again with a different weight if you tyre out after fewer than 8 reps or still have plenty of energy after 12 reps (lighter or heavier, depending on how your last set went). Repeat until you feel comfortable with the weight; it should be difficult but manageable.

Your starting weight was successfully determined through testing. Use the same weight for all sets the following time you do the exercise—possibly in a few days or a week. You may "create a base" this way, work on your form, and gain confidence for future weight increases.

Mechanisms Of Muscle Growth

Muscles adapt and transform when they are utilised. The type of exercise, the muscle fibre types used, the weight applied to the muscle, and the speed and length of the contraction all affect changes.

Muscular adaptations and alterations include muscle growth, often known as muscle hypertrophy.

Chronic anaerobic, high-intensity resistance exercise, such as lifting weights for resistance training, is the main cause of muscle growth.

Resistance exercise results in neural adaptations that alter muscular strength and endurance as well as, eventually, muscle growth.

Without increasing the total number of muscle fibres, resistance training increases the cross-sectional area (CSA) of all muscle fibre types.

How to lift bigger objects securely

No of their goal, Juster adds, "I want all my customers to increase their weights." He explains that this is a certain approach to enhance both physical and mental power. However, how heavy you must go and how you must go exactly depends on your aims.

According to Suter, it's ideal to consider weight gains as a percentage of the weight you've previously lifted. For instance, increasing the weight with shoulder raises from 5 to 10 pounds can be equivalent to increasing the weight with deadlifts from 100 to 105 pounds, but one demands double the weight while the other only accounts for a 5% increase in weight. In general, you should keep weight increases from week to week for any given lift to a maximum of 10%.

If you wish to increase it at all, you might occasionally need to use more of the weights that are accessible to you. In that scenario, always pay attention to your form, listen to your body, and trim your reps as necessary to complete them all without compromising form.

In fact, it's very normal if you begin with a larger weight and first struggle to complete your rep schedule. You will be able to increase your weight again after a few weeks. For instance, if you were performing overhead presses in three sets of 12 repetitions, increasing the weight may only allow you to complete three sets of 10 repetitions. It's entirely great if you're still in the 8–12 rep range; eventually, you'll feel like 12 reps are simple and be ready to up the intensity once more.

Additionally, be aware that if you're not yet prepared to lift a greater weight, there are other strategies to advance your training. Juster advises against killing yourself trying to gain weight every week. Instead of increasing the weight when you're having trouble with an upper-body or isolation exercise, concentrate on increasing the sets and reps, improving your form, or developing a stronger mind-muscle connection (really paying attention to which muscles should be working and consciously squeezing them). You may be able to lift bigger weights after doing this.

Exercise Splits

Depending on your level of training (beginning, moderate, or advanced), you should use a certain sort of training split.

For instance, a beginner or newcomer to resistance training would benefit most from two to three sessions per week, targeting every muscle group, as doing so creates more anabolic hormones than focusing only on the upper or lower body.

3-6 day body-part splits are advised for experienced or veteran trainees because they require more than just 2-3 sessions per week or just full-body work to stimulate further muscle growth. They can also better tailor their training sessions for higher muscle recruitment and concentration on a particular muscle or muscle group.

Exercises for Resistance Training

Compound, multijoint exercises are ideal for increasing muscular mass because they use more body parts, which activate and recruit more muscle fibres.

The squat and deadlift work almost all of the muscles in your body, making them the ideal compound exercises for hypertrophy. The pull-ups, dips, bench presses, shoulder presses, and power clean are additional complex workouts that are beneficial to include.

How can I use dumbbells to build up my arms?

To develop bicep muscles, perform bicep curls

Holding both dumbbells in your hands while maintaining a straight back, stand. Raise the dumbbell in each arm slowly to your shoulder to perform a normal curl. Your entire body should remain motionless as your arms move. Count one rep once you have raised and lowered each dumbbell to its starting position.

To develop your shoulder muscles, perform lateral lifts

Allow the dumbbells to hang at your sides as you stand upright. Next, engage your core muscles as you gradually raise the weights to your sides. Holding the weights at shoulder height, gradually lower them to complete one rep. As much as possible, maintain a straight back and legs.

To add size to your triceps, perform overhead extensions

One dumbbell should be held behind your head with both hands as you sit on a chair. Keep your elbows 90 degrees bent at all times. As you gradually lower the weight a few inches behind you, take a deep breath. As you raise the dumbbell straight up and extend your elbows to count one rep, exhale.

How to know if you're lifting too heavy


Although adding additional weight can be fantastic, there are some undesirable side effects. The main one is DOMS or delayed-onset muscular soreness.

According to Suter, every time you exert greater tension on a muscle, more microscopic damage happens within the muscle cells. As the muscle repairs itself, this causes an increase in pain in the 24 to 72 hours following your workout. Being DOMS hurts, but it doesn't necessarily imply it's a negative thing.

It's a typical instance of your body adapting to the situation. It's crucial to distinguish between DOMS and potential overuse issues, though. You may need to reduce the amount of weight you are lifting if a muscle bothers more than three days after a workout or if the soreness develops quickly during training rather than gradually afterwards.

The risks of "ego-lifting" should also be avoided. It can be tempting to become fixated on shifting more weight to the point that you start to sag on the form. According to Juster, sacrificing technique in order to lift more weight increases your chance of injury. (Do you have the proper form? Use your phone to record yourself speaking to ensure accuracy and catch mistakes you might otherwise miss.)

Giving yourself the appropriate amount of rest, both between exercises and between reps, will help you maintain proper form as you lift greater weights and lower your chance of injury.

When you elevate the intensity, it's important to increase rest and recovery because "most people think rest and work are opposites when they're synergists," adds Steele. "You can work more effectively by taking more breaks. Rest is increasingly important when you work harder.

Juster recommends allowing yourself 90 to 120 seconds of rest while performing difficult exercises or any sets with fewer than 8 reps each, and at least 45 to 60 seconds of rest between all sets (and hence, very heavy).

And if your technique or strength is off before a particular workout because you are too exhausted or sore, Steele advises cutting back on the weights and increasing your recovery efforts in terms of sleep, nutrition, stress management, and active recovery exercises like foam rolling.

The benefits of lifting heavier weights in the gym end when it becomes impossible to recuperate from them, according to him. "Rested more on days of higher training intensity. Pay attention to the typical symptoms of overtraining, such as fatigue, lack of energy, persistent soreness, performance decline, and lack of drive.

It's critical to feel fully prepared to exert all of your efforts each time you approach the weights. You will undoubtedly have good workouts and "meh" workouts, but the objective is for your training, energy, confidence, and strength to all point upward over the long term. Be attentive to your body. And remember that you always have the option to increase the difficulty whenever things feel too easy.

Finally, may I exercise every day?

No, you need a day off to recover after doing the hard lifting.

However, this does not necessarily imply that you shouldn't engage in any physical activity. Take a day off after each dumbbell training session to stretch, roll out with a foam roller, or work on your cardio by going on a bike ride, swimming, or running. Maintaining an active lifestyle on your off days can help you maintain a healthy metabolism and get the toned physique you desire.

As long as you're working out different muscle groups each day, you can lift weights. For instance, if you work out your arms one day, work out your legs the following day.

Taking break days is especially crucial if you're lifting higher weights. Excessive exercise and daily workouts can lower your performance, raise your chance of injury, and worsen sleep quality and mood fluctuations.

Can light weights increase muscle?

If you lift light weights to failure, you can grow muscle. As long as the overall volume (sets x reps x weight) is matched, pushing small weights to failure can create equivalent or even more muscle growth than lifting large weights.

How should I pick my goal weight?

Experience, technique, preference, and availability determine the weight you lift for your goal. Use a percentage of your one-rep max (1RM) to choose your weight. If you want to gain muscle, utilise 60-80% of your 1RM and do 8-12 reps per set with proper form. Online calculators or formulae can estimate your 1RM based on your performance.

How long should I rest between sets and workouts?

Goal, intensity, and volume determine rest time between sets and workouts to get huge. When lifting small weights for high reps, rest for 60–90 seconds, and when lifting big weights for low reps, rest for 2-3 minutes. Depending on performance and preference, rest intervals can be shorter or longer. Shorter rest times increase muscle metabolic stress and hormonal reaction, whereas longer rest periods allow you to lift more weight and generate more force.

How can I gain weight?

To grow, you need calories, protein, carbs, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. Example foods:

  • Lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy, soy, beans, nuts, seeds, or protein supplements.
  • Oats, rice, potatoes, pasta, bread, fruits, vegetables, or carbohydrate supplements.
  • Nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, butter, cheese, and fatty seafood.
  • Vitamins and minerals: fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, dairy, meat, fish, eggs, or multivitamins.
  • Water, milk, juice, tea, coffee, or sports drinks.

How can I track my big-time progress?

Tracking your efforts and results when trying to get huge can help you adapt your plan. Measurement methods include:

  • Weighing yourself weekly or monthly on a scale. Divide your weight in kilogrammes by your height in metres squared to find your BMI.
  • Measuring yourself regularly with a tape measure: chest, arms, waist, hips, and thighs. WHR can be calculated by dividing waist circumference by hip circumference.
  • Photographing yourself at regular intervals with a camera or smartphone. Apps or software can compare photos over time.
  • Testing yourself: regularly measuring your strength (1RM), power (vertical leap), endurance (VO2 max), and body composition (body fat %). Performance-based online calculators or formulae can estimate these values.

Frequenly Asked Questions about lifting weights

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