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High weight, low reps or high reps, low weight?


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Sorry if this is a duplicate post--I'm new, and I did look for another post like this but didn't see one.  If you know of one and can link it or something that would be great and then mods can delete this one, but if there isn't one, then I need to find an answer!  Thanks.

Ok, after my long disclaimer, here's what's going on.  I'm a 194 lbs female, and I'm trying to lose weight (i.e. fat).  I'm eating about 1330 calories on non-active days (i'm supposed to be eating 1250), and 1450 on active days (i might not be eating enough on these days) ((active = 30 minutes jog/walk + 30 minutes lifting weights)) (((I also know i need to eat more protein--i don't think i'm getting enough (average of 18-19% of what i eat a day)))).  While I will continue 30 minutes or so of cardio, I don't know what type of weight lifting to do.  I've read that you can't build muscle while losing fat, so I just want to keep as much muscle as possible while losing fat/toning.  To do this, I've gotten mixed advice.  My stepmother, who is a nurse, told me I should be doing very low weights (like, 5 lbs at most) and very high reps (50-100).  And I'm wondering if I should be doing strength training (i.e. 6-8 reps, highest weight I can lift to muscle exhaustion). 

Any advice on what to do is greatly appreciated!  Thanks!
18 Replies (last)
Doing that many reps with little weight is only going to build endurance.    to build muscle you have to work the muscle.  Do heavier weights less reps and 3- 4 sets.  I do "pyramidying" of my weights.  I'll do 10 lbs for 12 reps then 12 or 15 lbs for 8- 10 reps then back to the 10.  If it gets too easy to do the middle set for 10 or 12 reps then the next time I do that muscle group I'll start at the higher weight and increase my middle weight again.  You want those last reps to be so hard that you can hardly complete it then you know your weight is correct.

You are correct in that you won't "build" muscle while your cal intake is less than the burn, but you will firm up those muscles under the fat so when the fat is gone you'll have nice muscles to show for it.  I've been doing weights for a year now and although my lb loss has been gains, I am down a couple sizes.
Huh?

I've never heard that you can't build muscle while losing fat. You CAN build muscle...but if there's a layer of fat on top of it you won't see it but it'll be there. So do strenght training so you can gain muscle, which in turn will help you lose weight faster. Do enough cardio to slim down. When you lose enough weight, you'll see the muscle.

Doing 50-100 reps seems to much...I mean if you wanted to do 2 sets of 6 exercises it will take you half the day. So forget about that. Do 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps using enough weight to fatigue by the final rep with good form.
#3  
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A beginner to weight training will gain some muscle no matter what at the start, but shouldn't expect that to continue while in calorie deficit.  Only the genetically gifted and (illegal) steroid/hormone users can expect to continue gaining significant muscle mass while in calorie deficit.  One other exception is people who previously lost significant muscle mass -- then regaining (some or all) lost muscle is common in mild calorie deficit.

"The reason" is simple at base:  burning fat is a catabolic process, while building muscle is an anabolic process, and it's physically impossible for the human body to be in both states simultaneously.  With heroic effort you can try to flip-flop between the states just right, but without exceptional genetics (or illegal drugs) that's unlikely to work well.

The real points to strength training during calorie deficit for most people, most of the time, are two-fold:  (1) to minimize (even prevent) muscle loss; and, (2) base metabolic rate gets a significant boost for a full day after a hard weight session (while low to moderate intensity aerobics has very little effect on BMR).

danaisha, "lift moderately heavy".  Failure at 6-12 reps in the last set is the best range for most people to increase muscle mass when in calorie surplus, and also the best range to minimize muscle loss when in calorie deficit.  Be sure to get enough protein.  Lifting to failure breaks muscle down, and protein is needed to rebuild it.  A protein shake (like whey protein powder in skim milk) immediately after a workout will be helpful.  So will eating a protein + carb meal soon after post-workout showering.

Take it very easy at first.  Lifting places new stresses on the body.  For example, only do 1 set the first week, and only 2 sets the second.  Don't lift to failure for the first few weeks either -- use light weights at first, as your muscles, nerves and brain need to learn proper form for your lifts, and tendons and ligaments need a gentle introduction to the new demands you'll be placing on them.

It can be positively helpful to eat more than a maintenance level of calories one or two days a week, especially on days after lifting.  Helps prevent muscle loss, and if you're always in calorie deficit your body may adapt by lowering your base metabolic rate.  Boosting calories from time to time prevents that.

Measuring your body fat percentage each week will give invaluable feedback.  Then you can know whether your fat and non-fat weights are each going up, going down, or staying the same each week, and can make effective changes in what you do the next week.

For example, a few weeks ago I lost 2.5 pounds in a week, but 1.5 was fat and 1 was muscle.  That's disastrous.  That alone suggested I wasn't eating enough, and in fact I already knew that (skipped too many meals due to life interfering ;-)).  What I didn't know, and couldn't know without measuring,  was how relatively large the muscle loss was.  So the next week I ate a bit above maintence level 3 days, never missed a meal, cut back on cardio work a bit, and put extra effort into my resistance workouts.  As a result, the next week's measurements said I lost about 2 pounds of fat and regained that lost pound of muscle.

Now here's the trick ;-)  I don't know whether  measurement after a measly week can actually identify a measly pound one way or the other reliably, but I don't care!  Even if it's just measurement noise, acting as if it were true causes me to change details each week, and that helps trick my body into not adapting to a fixed routine.  That really helps to delay the next plateau.  And that fat and non-fat measurements the next week usually move in the directions I'm aiming for suggests that, noise or not, the changes are serving good short-term ends regardless.
your workout should be set up to work all of the muscle fibers, so try and get a mixture of reps in so 8-15 should work for you. try two exercise for each body part for 3 sets and you should be good.
#5  
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Nice reply tgpish.  That all seems to make sense.  My question is (since I'm an avid counter) how many calories should I allow myself over maintenance on weight training days?  100?  300?  More?  I weight train 4-5 days a week and am maintaining my weight, just trying to gain muscle tone and definition. Typically in a day with my gym routine included I burn about 2400 calories.  Also on weight training days I try to increase my protein to about 35%.  Does this seem appropriate as well?
I would increase it to 40% and try and additional 200 calories a day.
Thanks bodyscience  =) 

I love high protein foods and it's still really hard for me to reach 35%. I can get to 30% without trying. LOL    I'll shoot for 40% tho.  Thanks for the tip.
no problem.
http://bodybuilding.about.com/od/bodybuilding faq/f/losefatga inmass.htm

Just making the link given by nena activated
#11  
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nymo, nothing extreme -- try just a few hundred calories over maintenance most times, but do "splurge" up to 500 occassionally to reward yourself.  The key is weekly measurement.  Over time that will tell you what does and doesn't work for you, and nobody else can do better than give you guesses (we're all different).

What seems to work best for me is not to "overeat" on a lifting day, but on the day after (I alternate just-cardio days with almost-just-lifting days, and that may be important to the results I get).  It's easy to rationalize away anything, so I won't bother, beyond saying that the bulk of muscle repair occurs on days off.

That said, I think it's important for everyone to get proteins and complex carbs soon after lifting.  I drink a protein shake immediately after lifting,  munching lightly on raw veggies while I'm mixing the shake.  Then I shower, and ASAP after eat a small, regular protein + complex carbs + unsatured fats meal.

I personally don't find it helpful to go above 30% protein (as a percentage of calories) while losing fat.  That's enough that, over time, measurement says I lose no lean mass whatsoever.  It's possible I'm fooling myself into accepting that as the best I can do, and could do better by boosting protein (which I certainly do when I'm trying to gain muscle).  But right now I have way too much extra fat, and losing that at a maximum healthy rate (without losing muscle) is overwhelmingly most important, and since that's coming along on schedule I don't want to experiment with bigger changes at this time.

I think it's difficult for most people to get protein above 30% of calories without using protein supplements.  Whey protein powder is available almost everywhere at good prices, but casein protein is also important.  When losing weight I rely on skim milk for most of the latter (the protein in milk is about 80% casein).
My 'casin supplement' is typically f/f cottage cheese.  heehee.  I also occasionally have milk with cereal or maybe yogurt for a snack.  I don't go too overboard on dairy cuz then the fats start sneeking in more than I'd like.  I do use protein shakes and bars as well. 

Days that I most let go are the weekends, and my workouts on Fridays and Saturdays are mostly cardio and carbs.   I'm sure to balance everything 20/30/50 for fats/protein/carbs right up 'til dinner.  What happens after that is all paid in cardio.  (read as dig a big calorie deficit on the ArcTrainer or out for a run to be filled with other weekend treats).

Sundays I try to take off even tho I resist off days.  Even today I was at the gym for some light activity for a half hour.

Mon- Thurs are my weight training days and calories and percents are watched hard core.  There's no resting or cheating here.   Even with being out in the boondocks this weekend and miles away from a civilized gym, I'm bringing my own weights with me out of town to get the best workout I can manage.


Nymo I know it's hard, but you need to really learn to take a day off. Your body will need the rest and you will see improvements from it. you are so disciplined in your diet, you should approach your day off the same way. Rest is good.
Thank you everyone for all the good info!

I know that I'm not eating enough protein--a problem I intend to fix once I go to the grocery store tonight/tomorrow. 

As for the mixing it up once a week or so, I kinda do that accidentally (hehe), but I think i'll take tgpish's advice on protein and food after lifting.

The type of lifting I have been doing is lifting to failure in 8-10 reps, and I have been taking it easy (first week, I wasn't lifting to failure but 15 reps or more), last week was messed up for me, so I think I only lifted once, but it was to failure, and this week, i went yesterday and lifted hardcore, and i'll go again today but lift less (i'm only going today because weight room not open tomorrow :-(  and then I'll get back on a switching days schedule).  I usually try to do about half hour cardio, half hour weight lifting, and if I weight lift two days in a row, then I'll work out different parts of my body.

I don't have a way to measure body fat percentage though....Not sure where to do that or how or who, either....

My biggest problem is eating ENOUGH protein--i'm averaging about 20-20-60 (fat-protein-carb), and I think to change that, I'll get snacks for the evening that are more carb-based.

Again, thanks for all the great info!
#15  
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danaisha, 20% protein is pretty sure to be too low to avoid losing muscle.  I love meat, fish, eggs, and skim milk, but even I can't get much above 30% of calories from protein via "real food".  Protein shakes (like mixing relatively cheap whey protein powder in whatever you like) can change that from "hard" to "easy".  You can find such powders almost everywhere; for example, even Target sells tubs of the stuff.

If you go to a gym, simply ask a trainer there about measuring body fat percentage.  Or call a personal trainer in your area.  This isn't anything exotic -- they'll know exactly what you're asking for.

There are also ways to do it at home, although a pro will probably be more accurate.  But absolute accuracy isn't nearly as important as consistency, since you're primarily interested only in whether your fat and non-fat weights are each going up, going down, or staying the same.

If there's some area on your body that carries a lot of fat (for example, maybe thighs or belly), then a simple tape measure can (usually) tell you whether or not you're losing fat.  But measuring there can't tell you whether you're also losing lean muscle.  Alas, both pieces of info are crucial to long-term success.

If "dieters" losing inches had an obvious way to see what they were doing to their lean mass too, they'd be shocked,  and futile cycles of yo-yo dieting would largely become a thing of the past (lose lean muscle and your base metabolic rate drops significantly, so you have to eat less & less to keep "losing weight", and you'll regain all that weight much faster after the doomed diet ends since you've knocked your metabolic rate down to its knees).
do you have to be a member of the gym to get measured?
#17  
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danaisha, just call local gyms and ask.  There isn't a federal law covering this ;-), they each have their own policy.  A personal trainer will almost certainly do it for you, and it can also be a good idea to hire one to help you work out an exercise & eating plan that meets your goals.

For about $20 you can buy an Accu-Measure caliper and do it yourself.  It may or may not give an accurate result for you, but if you practice enough to measure in exactly the same place and way each time, it will give consistent readings, and that's the most important thing.
Well, with your situation i would advise you to stick with a toning weight program. This means that you use low weights which will vary due to the muscle you are working out. You should do anywhere from 10-15 repititions. This will tone the muscle while still keeping the strength that it has. Now if you wanted to just build muscle you would want to do less repititions such as 4-8 and up the weight. Also protein is a wonderful thing. Think of this...when you go to the gym and work out a muscle by either running or weight training, you are ripping the muscle, protein is what helps heal the muscle and feeds it to make it stronger depriving the muscle of its neccessary food is starving it so it will not grow and help you lose the weight.
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