Are you Lifting Heavy Enough?
The weight you lift during your workouts and for each body part is relative to ability and proper execution. You could ask someone how much they squat and they say something impressive like 200lbs. The next day you see them in the gym squatting 200lbs and the form is an absolute nightmare, their knees buckle in, their waist folds in half and their chest and head are down, and they go maybe ¼ of the way down. Would you say they lift 200lbs? Well sure, I guess they can technically lift 200lbs but it’s not done with proper execution and likely not going to be progressive or beneficial to the person’s ultimate goal. They are simply lifting for weight and ego, not lifting for execution or smart progression.
- Weight is relative to ability
- The weight/load means nothing if the exercise is not executed properly.
When I say weight is relative to ability, I mean this…if I perform a 15lb bicep curl with perfect form and execution, and you curl 5lbs with perfect form and execution, both of us should be lifting the weight with the same intensity level, and the same muscle fiber recruitment. Just because I can lift more than you for example, does not mean your 5lb weight did not have the same effect on the muscle body as my 15lb. Weight is relative to ability, but ultimately if you are lifting a weight but not connecting properly (mind to muscle), engaging properly (rep tempo and rep phases), or putting the body through the proper range of motion, then the exercise will ultimately not be effective.
- Using 5lbs to 15lbs as an example, eventually your biceps will not get as much out of the 5lb weight. You will feel you are able to perform the reps and sets with more efficiency and less struggle, you may not illicit as much of a cardio response as you did when you first started. These are signs your muscle body has increased in strength, so now you have to go up in weight to mimic the initial 5lb feeling. This is called progressive overload, and it is extremely important for you to understand!
- Overload = overloading the muscle fibers with a weight i.e. load sufficient enough to illicit a strong nerve impulse, therefore taxing and tiring the muscle fibers. The stronger the nerve impulse, the more muscle fibers are engaged. The louder the thunder in a storm, the more people will hear. The stronger the nerve impulse, the further it will reach and wake up the muscle fibers most responsible for growth.
- The only way to deeply engage muscle fibers is by overloading their capabilities with a weight heavy enough that will force the fibers to “step up” and “rise to the occasion” (get stronger).
- When 5lbs becomes easy, you must progress to the next level up, like 8-10lbs, and then work on performing the exercise with absolute perfect form and execution at this new weight. After 2-3 weeks you will become stronger again, and will then be forced to increase your weight again.
- If it does not challenge you, it does not change you. It will never and should never be easier, it will only get more enjoyable as your hard work and effort pays off.
Don’t Forget to Target Type 2B
We have 3 types of fibers in each muscle belly, and we are born with a blend of each. Three types are: Type 1, Type 2A, and Type 2B. Let’s use the Olympics as an example to showcase each muscle fiber:
Type 1: Marathon runners. This fiber does not get very big at all, does not have much growth potential. However, this fiber type is highly aerobic, so it mostly responsible for cardio purposes. If your exercise routine does not have a lot of load/is mostly cardiovascular, then you are hitting the fiber type that get’s more “fit”, not necessarily bigger or stronger. Marathon runners have long thing muscles, this is because marathons are highly aerobic and therefore the type 1 fiber type is most dominant in their sport, hence why their muscles are not big or round and they may not be strong, but they can run circles around you. Rep Range = 25+, Sets = mostly timed format, interval training, reps for time, etc.
Type 2A: Typical Athlete. Type 2A is a blend of Type 1 and Type 2B. It’s the jock or athletic fiber type. It has growth potential and therefore can make your muscles bigger and more dense, it adds strength and power potential, but it also holds aerobic capacity. The muscles are round in appearance due to Type 2A’s growth potential, but are still slightly lengthened and not overly bubbly or massive. In order for muscle fiber type 2A to kick in however, you are going to need to add load. Body weight possibly to start, but this muscle fiber type is going to need progressive overload and more powerful nerve stimulation (i.e. heavier weight) quickly if you want to keep growing your muscles and waking type 2A up. Rep range = 12-18, Sets =2-4.
Type 2B: The Powerlifter. Type 2B is the bouncer, the big guy, the heavy lifter, the power house. Type 2B is all growth, power, and strength potential, with very little oxidative or aerobic potential. This is why you don’t see marathon runners in power lifting, and power lifters in marathon running. This muscle fiber type is by far the most ignored and hated among the vast majority of Women in our society. Why? Because Type 2B is a SLEEPING giant, and if want to wake it up, then you are going to need a BIG LOUD nerve stimulation and that nerve impulse comes from lifting heavy weight. This is why powerlifters do 5-6 sets and a 1-6 rep range. The muscle gets BIG, and this is an AMAZING thing for you because muscle is metabolically active and the more muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate needs to be and you will look way more toned than you ever have before. Not only are you changing your resting metabolic rate, but you are also increasing the size and density of your muscle bellies which is what makes someone look more toned to begin with. Rep range = 1-10, Sets = 4-8.
You might be saying, “okay Kendall, but I don’t want to look like a bubbly powerlifter”, the good news is you don’t have to! Blending all the different types and styles of muscle fiber type training, incorporating more type 2A and type 2B with type 1 training will give a beautiful toned shape over time. You will only look a certain way if you train specifically ONLY that style, for example only ever training for power i.e. power lifting, then yes you will begin to have bigger and bubbly muscles due to constantly targeting Type 2B. Just like a marathon looks the way they do because they primarily train and exercise type 1 fiber type. A sculpted and tight physique comes out of progressive overload and blending styles of training, but ONLY if you are willing to dig deep and ignore the massive bulking myth that lifting heavy means you will look big and bulky. Please ignore this myth, and start progressing beyond spin classes, body weight training, and start incorporating way more muscle specific loading exercises. Start lifting serious weight, target the muscle fiber that makes you STRONG and powerful. Cardio is great, but let’s start progressing and evolving women’s fitness shall we? You are stronger than you think, if you are hitting a plateau and have not switched out of body weight training then progressive overload is your answer.