Lifting Heavy vs Low Weight/High Volume

Weight lifting for endurance athletes is always a touchy subject. A lot of coaches seem to think it works wonders, but a lot of athletes are reluctant do put good effort into it for fear of gaining weight. I’ll try to keep this article short in the interest of keeping confusion to a minimum, but here are the two opposing sides of the argument.

Lift Heavy at Low Rep
The main argument of this school of thought is that you should increase your maximum strength in order to increase your submaximal performance. Meaning, if you have a goal of pushing 200 Watts on the bike, but your maximum strength only allows you to go 250 Watts at maximum effort, you’re going 80%. You can only sustain that for a relatively short period of time before your body runs out of energy stores. However, since power is the product of speed and strength, if you increase your maximum strength, you increase your maximum power. And increasing maximum strength is done through low rep, high weight exercises. If you can, through strength training, increase your maximum power to 300 Watts, then your 200 Watt goal is now only a 67% effort. You can sustain that relative effort for much longer than an 80% effort, regardless of the absolute amount of power you are producing. As for the fear many athletes have of gaining weight and muscle bulk, this can be avoided. Studies have shown that strength training followed by endurance exercise can switch off the body’s hypertrophy response (the body’s response to build bigger muscle).

Lift Light at High Rep
This school of thought advocates for doing weight training with low weight, doing small motions, and building endurance in the weight room. The idea is that you do enough volume to negate the body’s hypertrophy response and not gain weight. This type of training can work the small, weaker muscles that are used in small movements, creating neuromuscular connections that don’t occur as much in traditional heavy weight lifting. Endurance, stability, and specific movements are key here.

But which way works?
Really, a combination of both types of strength training is beneficial. With a combination, you get a best of both world’s scenario. There are things that you can’t get from each method. Heavy lifting doesn’t always work the small muscles and specific movements, and the light lifting doesn’t properly stimulate the big muscles to get them stronger. Just like everything else, its good to get a mixture of different types of workouts in order to keep a well balanced body and keep improving!