Why you should be lifting heavier weights

8 March 2017 by
First published: 8 July 2015

The lighter-load/more-reps combination isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, so here’s why you should be lifting heavier weights next time you hit the gym.

The myth that women lifting heavy weights will get ‘bulky’ has long been debunked. It’s physiologically impossible for women to gain muscle mass at the same rate that men do – we don’t have the right balance of growth hormones or testosterone that our male counterparts do so our muscle growth is much subtler.

Unless you’re on a mission to become the next female BFF champion and are on a vigorous training and heavily supplemented nutrition plan, you don’t need to worry about bulking up.

Another misconception is that performing lots of reps with small weights will help you to ‘tone up’. There are two things wrong with that sentence. Firstly, you can’t ‘tone’ or ‘shape’ a muscle – you can only build or lose muscle, just like with fat.

And secondly, lifting small weights for high reps will build endurance, but not tight, dense muscle mass. Lift as heavy as you can for fewer reps and you’ll torch fat, boost metabolism and increase bone and muscle strength, giving you the strong, sculpted body you’ve been working so hard for.


Losing weight: running vs weights

While sports like distance running are obviously brilliant for your general health, fitness and endurance, lots of steady cardio like this isn’t an efficient way to burn fat.

This is because the body uses the aerobic energy system and many of us use carbohydrates to fuel our bodies for those long, slow miles. I ran a PB at Brighton Marathon this year, finished strong and had plenty left in the tank – that’s because as well as training smart for months leading up to race day I paced myself well, started slow, and fuelled correctly, keeping my muscles topped up with glycogen by downing energy gels and drinks along the 26.2-mile course.

Strength work is an essential component to any runner’s training plan to make you leaner, stronger and keep those legs loaded with power. The great thing about weight training is the after-burn.

Lifting heavy breaks down muscle tissue and requires more energy to rebuild and repair – ie, calories. You know that all-too-familiar DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) you get the day after a tough workout? That’s your muscles regenerating, burning more calories throughout the day even when you’ve finished your workout!

A pound of muscle burns nine calories a day as opposed to just two for fat. So the more muscle you have, the more efficient your body is at burning calories. The heavier you lift, the more muscle you’ll build. It’s a no-brainer!


Girls who lift




You only have to check the #girlswholift hashtag on social media or look at fitness bloggers and weight-training advocates like Carly Rowena and Julia Buckley to see the benefits for yourself.

Julia knows only too well the struggles of spending hours of cardio and not seeing the desired results. Her book, The Fat Burn Revolution, outlines how to train for fat loss, focusing on short, fast bursts of high intensity cardio with lifting heavy weights.

‘I learned to train in a way that would boost my metabolism and increase my strength with “real” weights,’ she explains. ‘I switched to more intense sessions with moves that challenged my whole body and left me totally spent in quite a short amount of time, gearing my body towards fat burning and explosive power.’


Top 5 tips for beginner weight lifting

If you’re new to weight training and are unsure where to start, fear not – here are our top five tips to get you going!


  1. Book a PT session

The weights area can be a daunting place, even if you’re already a regular gym-goer. Book a session (or few) with a PT and learn what to do, when do to it and, more importantly, how to do it with correct form.


  1. Mix it up

Mix up your circuits to keep progressing and work different muscle groups. Barbells and dumbbells are great, but don’t forget the medicine balls, TRX, power bags and kettlebells. Again, make sure you know what you’re doing and do it safely.


  1. Work to failure

Choose a weight that challenges you, and work until you simply cannot lift anymore. You’ll burn twice as many calories lifting heavier for eight reps as you will with lighter weights for 15.


  1. Listen to your body

Don’t overdo it and get injured. If your knees are hurting when you lunge, adjust your form or do something else. You shouldn’t feel pain when working out – just that lovely muscle burn.


  1. Make it a habit

It takes 21 repetitions to make something a habit – two or three sessions a week and you’ll be on your way in no time!


Read Tess Agnew’s blog at thefitbits.co.uk