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weight training: toned vs bulky, reps vs weight

Anyone know if the "more reps = toning, more weight = bulking up" theory is true or a myth?

I have seen tons of articles that suggest lots of reps with lower weights will tone your muscles without making them look bulky.

I've equally also seen tons of articles that suggest that the above idea is BS and that you need to increase the weight each week to see any results at all.

Which is true?
How many reps/sets should I be looking at?
And how should the weights feel?


Tue. Feb 28, 5:45pm

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I can personally bicep curl 15 pounds 12 times and have arms like Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2. Does she look bulky? Nope, she looks fabulous! Don't be afraid of the weight! It gets fast results, and muscle also burns fat.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006, 6:07 PM

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weight training

I agree that heavier weights are required to put on muscle. Light weights will tone. You can still use light weights while adding muscle. I start out with lighter weights and more reps, each set add weight and drop reps. It's amazing how quickly your body will adapt. What seems impossible one week is fairly easy the next.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006, 7:39 PM

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you builkd muscle by tearing them. You tear them by lifting more wieght than their used to. If you want to build muscle mass, you have to continue to gradually increase the wieght you lift. Now as women, that doesn't mean we're going to wind up benching 200lbs (We could, but most of us aren't interested...). But you don't want tiny muscles underneath. Muscles burn fat and add shape. After you been lifting for a couple months evaluate how much bulk and shape you have, and whether or not your satisfied and take it from there.

The idea of lift whatever you can lift for 12-15 reps is a good start. Once that's easy, add a little more weight, and continue the pattern for a couple months.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006, 8:52 PM

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both high weight and high reps

Why don't you try mixing it up, one day that you work your desired muscles try a lot of reps and the next do more weight and less reps. You will be using your muscles differently and you will see better results. Instead of just doing it one or the other, do both. Whatever you do just keep on moving.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006, 10:06 PM

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I disagree. Muscles need to be rested to repair themselves and therefore increase their mass. You're to work them hard, then give them a days rest- sometimes even two days. If you want to "use them differenty" then do an aerobic exercise that works that group (like rollerblading for the lower body, swimming for the upper). Body needs rest at times. Never forget that.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006, 10:38 PM

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When I work out my muscles I vary the weight and reps in the same workout. I start with a light weight and do several reps. Then I switch to a medium weight and do a few less reps, then I switch to a heavier weight and do less reps. For example:

Bicep Curls:
Set 1 = 5lb weights and 20 reps
Set 2 = 10lb weights and 12 reps
Set 3 = 15lb weights and 6 reps

I've found this really works for me - it tires out my muscles much better than if I were just to do the light or the medium weights. However, there is no way I would be able to do 3 sets using the 15lb dumbells.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006, 10:54 PM

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both high weight and high reps

I didn't mean that you should workout back to back days. I meant when you are ready to work the same body parts again. Of course you have to rest your muscles.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006, 8:06 AM

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The studies the OP referenced coud both be true, and I believe that they are. Here's what I've learned through years of internet search and research, confirmed by a number of other people with similar backgrounds (i.e. we don't claim to be experts, but have done a good deal of work looking into these things):

To build tone without bulk, lift what you can do 3 sets of 12 reps with. You should be worn out at the end, and unable to do a 4th set. That's how heavy a weight you should use.

To build more muscle mass, do the same, but with enough weight that you can do 3 sets of 6 or 8. So, heavier weights for less reps.

Light weights with more reps does not mean lifting a 2lb weight 40 times in a row, and not being all that tired in the end. You should be getting a good, hard workout either way. Your muscles should be tired afterwards. You should need to stretch well afterwards. When you first start a program, you should be sore the day after. If you aren't working hard, you're essentially wasting your time.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006, 5:23 PM

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Technique is critical also

Good info hear. Most women just don't have it in their genes to "bulk up". My stepdaughter competes in fitness competitions and works out VERY hard. She can do more chin-ups and dkps than most the men in the gym. But she is far from bulky. Her arms and shoulders are very shapely but smooth. So I wouldn't worry about bulking up. You do have to challenge your muscles. If it feels too easy for you - it is. Bump your weights up a notch. The last couple of reps should be difficult for you to complete. But don't go so heavy that you are using all the wrong muscles to lift the weight. Focus on the muscle you are working and use controlled movements. Your negative resistance should be just as controlled as the lift. For instance, with bicep curls, loweing the weight in a controlled motion gives benefit to the muscle, just like lifting the weight does. If you're slinging the weight, your not using the right muscles. If you're arching your back to lift a weight that's too heavy for your bicep, you're using the wrong muscles - and you're going to hurt yourself. Take your time, focus on what your doing, and you'll be amazed at how fast you grow stronger!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006, 11:17 PM

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OP here, thanks for all the feedback. I like the idea of progressively increasing weight, then reps, then weight. I will try that and I will follow the suggstion of doing it for a few months and then evaluating the results, to make sure I don't get even bigger (I guess I should measure).

I had been doing 5x10 for the last month, and had already increased the weights once. So from today i will try 4x12, then more weights, then 3x15, then just more weights as is necessary.

One thing is that with 5x10 I don't necessarily feel like I can't do one more rep when I reach 10 (I do on some moves, but not most), BUT I would definitely not be able to do any reps with the next weight up (like 1 or 2 with bad form at most). So, alternating reps vs weights increases will be ideal.

Thank you all!

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