Lift Heavier Weights With Fewer Reps For Toning And Weight Loss

It's a commonly held belief that lifting heavy weights builds bulky muscles, and if you want to slim down and tone up, lighter weights and higher repetitions are the answer. The New York Times' health writer Anahad O'Connor explains otherwise:

The notion is not supported by science. Producing bulky muscles requires not just heavy weights but heavy calorie consumption as well, typically far above the 2,000 daily calories recommended for many adults. For people who lift weights to tone up and slim down, experts say, a regimen that includes a combination of challenging weights and fewer repetitions can help significantly.

The post cites two studies backing up the heavier-and-fewer-is-better claim, leading the author to a pretty simple bottom line: "For better tone, try fewer reps and more challenging weights." (Sounds pretty good, considering even 10 minutes and three days a week is a solid start for shaping up.) Photo by jontunn.

The Claim: For Better Muscle Tone, Go Lighter and Repeat [NYT]


    There is no such thing as toning muscles.

    You can increase or decrease muscle mass and you can increase or decrease fat mass.

    The amount of muscle you build from lifting weights depends on your energy intake as the article mentioned. Lots of resistance training will not build muscles if you do not have the energy (food calories) to build them.

    What is mistakenly called 'toning muscles' is actually maintaining muscle mass while reducing fat mass, this is what gives you muscle definition that results in visible abdominal muscles.

    If anyone in the fitness industry mentions 'muscle tone' then it is a fair indicator they do not understand the basics of human biology. This is not an argument about semantics, it is a point that muscle 'toning' is actually fat loss.

      excellent explanation.

      Increased calories (with adequate protein) + weight training = muscle gain / muscle strengthening.

      Normal calorie intake + weight training = fat loss / muscle strengthening.

      One argument for low weight / high reps while trying to lose fat is that you can move a larger total volume of weight in a single session and therefore, if physics are on your side, expend more energy in that session.

      If you challenge your muscles as promoted in the article however, you get a greater benefit once you leave the gym as your muscle continue to consume calories.

      Best thing is to do BOTH, either in the same session or just mix it up from week to week.

    A while back when I started pumping weights, I came across Arnold Schwarzenegger's encyclopedia on body building.

    From memory he advised to do 5-6 rounds of 5-6 reps of a weight that you were just capable of doing 5-6 times.

    This technique worked for me - I doubled the amount of weights I could do in only a year and a half.

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