If you were to pick up the latest copy of any beauty magazine and flick through to the health and fitness section, you'd likely be duped into thinking that training with light weights for high repetitions is best for fat loss. The idea that light training was the way to train for toning and muscle sculpting should have died long ago, it's still plaguing many women's training guidelines today. However, high rep training can help build a better upper body, if you use it wisely.
The Light Weight Myth
"Light weights" don't necessarily have to mean you can only lift 3-pound dumbbells. Light simply means lighter than you'd use if you were doing a set of five or 10 reps. The notion that women should avoid training heavy for fear of bulking up is crazy. It takes hours and hours in the gym to build big muscles, Liz Neporent, a national spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, told "Shape" magazine. Generally, light is regarded as less than 60 percent of your single rep maximum -- the heaviest weight you can lift for one repetition.
To get the most out of your workouts choose exercises that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. These compound exercises hit more muscle fibers, burn more calories and provide an extra metabolism boost, according to Rachel Cosgrove, author of "The Female Body Breakthrough." Compound exercises should be the foundation of any woman's routine advises strength coach Charles Poliquin in his book "German Body Composition," as they're far more effective for fat loss. For your chest, shoulders and triceps, perform bench presses, dumbbell presses, dips and pushup variations, and hit your back and biceps with chin-ups, using an assistance machine if needed, pulldowns and dumbbell or barbell rows.
Just because you're lifting lighter doesn't mean your training should be easy. Don't be that woman at the gym pumping out hundreds of reps with ultra-light weights, hardly breaking a sweat. Aim to get close to muscular failure on each set. How many reps you manage depends on the weight you're using. If you're at 60 percent of your maximum, or only slightly under, then a set of 15 to 20 reps should be challenging, whereas at around 30 to 40 percent you may be able to get out 40 to 50 total reps.
Hit your upper body twice a week, leaving three to four days between workouts. Pick four compound exercises -- two for your back, one for your chest and one for your shoulders. Add in two isolation exercises for your biceps and triceps such as curls, push-downs or triceps extensions. Aim to increase your reps or use more weight every session, but don't drop below 15 reps per set. Remember, just because the weights you're using are lighter, it doesn't mean you can sit back and relax. If you leave the gym looking fresher than you did upon entering, and don't struggle to brush your hair the next morning, chances are you weren't training hard enough.
- Shape: 10 Health and Fitness Myths You Still Believe
- Rachel Cosgrove: Strength Training 101 - Getting Started
- "German Body Composition": Charles Poliquin: 2006
- Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images