Arnold Schwarzenegger Explains When to Use Lighter Weights for More Gains

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Arnold Schwarzenegger is still training hard at the age of 75, and he regularly shares advice and insights into staying fit and building muscle and strength in his newsletter, the Daily Pump. In a recent edition, Schwarzenegger addresses the myth that lifting heavier is always better, citing the example of one of his idols, legendary bodybuilder Eugen Sandow, who helped to popularize strength sports in the early 20th Century.

"He was the strongest man in the world and became incredibly famous on multiple continents for his body. And he was known for doing 125 reps with very, very light dumbbells," he wrote. "So if heavy weights makes you happy, go for it. But if little weights make you happy, you’ve got good company! Do whatever you enjoy that makes you train."

"The big mistake is thinking that you can just do endless reps of a lighter weight and grow," the newsletter continues. "There’s an art and science to training. Intensity determines your outcome. You need to challenge your body and push towards failure, which means you could find yourself doing 20 or 30 reps in some instances."

However, he continues, it's not just a matter of churning out high volumes of reps at a light weight: it's about understanding your body's failure point and approaching that in your workouts in order to achieve the desired result.

"Simply doing a lot of reps isn’t enough; you need to near the limit of what your body can do, and that's when your body will grow," he adds. "So each time, you need to be adding more -- whether reps, sets, or weight; that’s the progressive in progressive resistance."

He also clarifies which exercises are worth lifting lighter on, explaining that the same qualities and limitations don't apply to all movements for a number of reasons:

"The higher rep approach won’t necessarily make sense for more complicated exercises. You might think a set of 30 reps on squats with 100 pounds would be “better” than 300 pounds for 10 reps, but it’s not that simple. Those 30-rep squats could cause fatigue in other ways, which could leave you more susceptible to injury (possibly your back) or cause bad reps that leave results on the table. In general, compound movements (presses, rows, squats, and deadlifts), are best done in the 5 to 12 rep range. Whereas more isolation movements — think lateral raises, calf raises, and biceps curls — might be safer to push at higher rep ranges."

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