What Does It Mean to Lift 'Heavy'?

4 min read
fairly easy
Lift heavy to build muscle: that's advice you've probably seen in a million places. But how heavy is "heavy," and how do you know if your workout qualifies?
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There's no specific number of pounds that will constitute "heavy" for everyone. What's heavy for a teenage girl picking up a dumbbell for the first time will be a lot less than what's heavy for a pro strongman. (If you do want to compare your lifts to other people, sites like Symmetric Strength can show where you stand—but please consider these comps as just for fun.)

Training "heavy" is shorthand for resistance training that is in a low-rep range and gets heavier over time. This is the type of training that gets you the biggest gains in strength and muscle size.


Training this way is not the only way to build muscle, but it's a very effective one. So let's look at what does and doesn't count as training heavy.

How many reps are you doing?

Training for strength usually has you doing 1-5 reps in each set. Training for hypertrophy (bigger muscles) is often in the 8-12 range.

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The truth is there isn't much difference in results between the two; getting stronger gives you bigger muscles and getting bigger muscles makes you stronger. I'd say that as long as you're doing 12 reps or fewer, you're in an appropriate range to say you are training heavy.

Once you're doing much more than that—15, 20, 50 reps—you're training your muscular endurance more than strength. You can build some strength this way, but it doesn't really count as training…
Beth Skwarecki
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