Heavier weights with lower reps or, lighter weights with higher reps?

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    Aug 14, 2011 10:05 AM GMT
    Hello Men of Real Jock

    I'm seeking your advice in relation to a good workout for my chest and shoulders with a Smith Machine bench press.

    For ages I've been doing 5 sets of 6 reps of a lower weight and I am generally at the point of failure by the end of the 5 sets.

    I'm now thinking of doing 4 or 5 sets of 4 reps of heavier weights to see if it helps me to bulk up a bit and gain strength.

    Which do you think is best in terms of building upper body strength, heavier weights with lower reps/sets, or lighter with more reps/sets?

    All suggestions are welcome! icon_biggrin.gif

    Cheers

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    Aug 14, 2011 12:14 PM GMT
    If your progress has stalled out (either in the way you look or in your poundages), then any change in your loading will produce change. I think going down from 6 to 4 reps isn't going to change a heck of a lot, as the amount of weight you can lift by doing 2 less reps isn't going to go up _that_ much.

    You're better getting out of the Smith machine, IMO.
  • gcoastmark

    Posts: 83

    Aug 14, 2011 2:06 PM GMT
    My suggestion would be to incorporate free weights (barbell and dumbells), using the Smith for heavier weights only. The free weights will help definition (activating your stability muscles) and as you feel more confident, the weight can go up.

    The rule of high reps = tone and high weight = mass is probably proving itself out with your results.

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    Aug 14, 2011 2:08 PM GMT
    I also hate the smith machine because it isn't a natural range of motion; example: when you're doing squats, the bar is supposed to arc with your body, not go straight up and down. Though for bench press/military presses it could be OK. I understand the logic behind using the smith machine, but I haven't worked with it in years.
  • studflyboy87

    Posts: 194

    Aug 14, 2011 2:48 PM GMT
    If you want to build your chest, use dumbbells. I have had the best results with them because they also work your stabilizer muscles. You should also do normal bench press, along with cables and machines, but I would say I do close to 50% dumbbells because of how good they are.

    I'd recommend doing a combination of lower weight / high rep and higher weight / low rep. Sometimes I start off with 15-20 reps on the first set. Sometimes I end with 15-20 reps. Sometimes I do an entire exercise at high reps. Sometimes I do an entire exercise at medium reps (say 8-10 reps), sometimes low reps (~6), then I finish off with a drop set and keep doing 6-10 reps, but keep dropping the weight. The one thing I would NOT recommend is always doing the same number of reps. You should always be mixing it up. In general, my average number of reps is 10.
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    Aug 14, 2011 2:54 PM GMT
    i have been told that anything less than 6 reps is not enough to effect the muscles. more likely to strain then to build. also your muscles get used to a certain machine and movement so doing the same muscels but on a different machine or free weights will have a much bigger effect.
  • Spiritreaver

    Posts: 2086

    Aug 14, 2011 3:19 PM GMT
    Pretty much agree with the advice given already, keep your body surprised and don't lock yourself into a specific regime, however the other extreme is bad too, your body should really be allowed to adapt to a program before you switch it up. I often keep a routine going for at least 3-4 weeks before I switch things up, but everyone is different.

    My magic number has always been 8 reps, most commonly I will pyramid my weight (increase it each set) and aim for 8 reps in each said set, 6 minimum. It has been my bread and butter way of lifting for a while. If I hit 8 reps at my max weight two weeks in a row, I generally take it as a sign I need to switch things up in some way.

    Increase weight (lower reps)
    Decrease weight (higher reps)
    Change the exercise (angle, dumbbells vs barbells, cables)
    Change the routine (supersets, lower rests, drop sets)
    Change up days/muscle groups (Different body groups on different days, different pairings)

    I think you need to step out the heavy weight area for a while and work in some lighter weight exercises. Try dropping your weight a bit, increasing the reps and supersetting every exercise with some kind of bodyweight movement until failure.

    And yes, take a break from the Smith machine a bit. It's a great tool, but quite frankly is very limiting in what it can do for your body. I am still a big user of it for squats, although I get agree that normal barbell squats are better (heck just about any form of free weights will hit your body generally rougher) but mentally I adapt to Smith squats much better.
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    Aug 14, 2011 5:01 PM GMT
    Spiritreaver summed it up really good and smart.

    One super important part of working out successfully is proper form. A person can push and work hard and not be working the muscles they think they are, and causing injury.

    What I can add that I achieved more after I started using my mind and senses to be more in touch with my body and workout. I used to be somewhat frantic asking and getting all sorts of advice about what workout is the best, and trying it with a lot of determination. It worked somewhat.

    The difference today for me is being conscious of how I feel and what is happening:
    - thinking of the specific muscles or area you are working on contracting while you contract them.
    - try to feel them contract.
    - as you go through your exercises, work towards feeling like your muscles have been worked. Pushing to exhaustion or not having any energy left to do the workout is not the same thing. Not all muscles feel as worked out as others.

    What I wrote can be achieved by following what Spiritreaver and others wrote.
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    Aug 14, 2011 5:03 PM GMT
    Everytime I read one of those articles on the worst machines to use in the gym, Smith machine always comes up.

    I do something similar to you. But I stalled. I went from 5 sets of 10 reps to lighter weight doing 3 sets of 12 reps. I did that for a month. Now I am back to my higher set/weight. I plan on alternating this each month.
  • ATXnative

    Posts: 240

    Aug 14, 2011 5:08 PM GMT
    You should use a variety of machines, weight levels, reps, and excersizes and tempo.

    I mean, just think of it.. the way it really is.

    You're destroying, so you can rebuild. The way you tear it up, helps rebuild it, for strength, endurance, size etc.

    Generally, you should do 3 or 4 sets though.

    I have a lot of fun with supersets.

  • Spiritreaver

    Posts: 2086

    Aug 14, 2011 5:16 PM GMT
    As bad of a rep as the Smith machine gets, there is nothing wrong with using it, as long as you are aware of the limitations of the machine, and in all honesty, I would much rather see someone use any kind of machine than do any free weight exercise with improper form.

    Sad thing is I see more guys with terrible squats than I see guys actually squat in the Smith machine. Then there are the guys who actually don't do a proper squat in the Smith machine itself, that is just... well.

    If you aren't comfortable with your form, or just want to see proper form, ask for help, research the movement (videos etc).

    If you can't do that, use a machine.

    No machines? You can make wonderful strength and size gains with just your bodyweight. People highly underestimate the effects of calisthenics.

    Anyway, I hope this thread doesn't derail into a machine discussion. I just had to put in my two cents.

    And ugh, I hate that I give advice without any certification or background. I feel like a sleeze.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Aug 14, 2011 5:17 PM GMT
    Spiritreaver said.

    Sad thing is I see more guys with terrible squats than I see guys actually squat in the Smith machine. Then there are the guys who actually don't do a proper squat in the Smith machine itself, that is just... well..


    Welcome to my legs day icon_sad.gif
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    Aug 14, 2011 5:54 PM GMT
    Bulk up and gain strength are two different goals in the gym.

    If you really want to gain strength, your reps should be 1-5(and five is a max, something that should occur after spending a few weeks at lifting that weight...or transitioning to a strength plan). Like others said, the muscle won't be the same kind of fatigued as it will be if you do more reps at a lower weight, but it's a different kind of workout, and you really won't be able to do many sets at higher weights anyway without risking injury, so your workouts are shorter, EXTREMELY intense, and you're done without as much of that "swoll" feel you get when you burn the muscle out with higher reps as everyone else states.

    I find it interesting that many of the guys in this thread who have great physiques (great job guys) think low reps is 6-8. Academically that's still a hypertrophy workout which isn't as good for strength and power but more for short term muscular endurance and of course, hypertrophy, the All-American look.
  • Spiritreaver

    Posts: 2086

    Aug 14, 2011 6:29 PM GMT
    bluey2223 saidI find it interesting that many of the guys in this thread who have great physiques (great job guys) think low reps is 6-8. Academically that's still a hypertrophy workout which isn't as good for strength and power but more for short term muscular endurance and of course, hypertrophy, the All-American look.
    I was mulling over this in the shower just now, and this is exactly why I felt the need to add a disclaimer to my last post and is why I particularly dislike giving advice on anything fitness related that isn't particularly aimed at fat loss.

    Most of us speak from experience and not education which is why I have been strongly debating taking up a second degree more catered to fitness and personal training.

    In any case. I actually don't think 6 reps is a low amount of reps, but as you said I (and many others on RJ) train for reasons other than significant strength gains.

  • dc415

    Posts: 255

    Aug 14, 2011 7:04 PM GMT
    bluey2223 saidBulk up and gain strength are two different goals in the gym.


    bluey hit it right on the nose. you need to decide what your primary goal is... gaining strength will increase the size of your muscles, but not as much as a program designed for just hypertrophy. Personally I've been going for function first (strength).

    agree with posters who say to ditch the smith machine--risk of injury, muscle imbalance, etc. learn to do the barbell exercises with proper form, you won't regret it.
  • tuffguyndc

    Posts: 4437

    Aug 14, 2011 7:19 PM GMT
    WestAussieGuy saidHello Men of Real Jock

    I'm seeking your advice in relation to a good workout for my chest and shoulders with a Smith Machine bench press.

    For ages I've been doing 5 sets of 6 reps of a lower weight and I am generally at the point of failure by the end of the 5 sets.

    I'm now thinking of doing 4 or 5 sets of 4 reps of heavier weights to see if it helps me to bulk up a bit and gain strength.

    Which do you think is best in terms of building upper body strength, heavier weights with lower reps/sets, or lighter with more reps/sets?

    All suggestions are welcome! icon_biggrin.gif

    Cheers

    why not do both? i do heavy weight with higher reps. i try to increase the weight all the time.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Aug 14, 2011 7:24 PM GMT
    bluey2223 saidBulk up and gain strength are two different goals in the gym.


    +10000
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    Aug 14, 2011 7:27 PM GMT
    Spiritreaver said
    bluey2223 saidI find it interesting that many of the guys in this thread who have great physiques (great job guys) think low reps is 6-8. Academically that's still a hypertrophy workout which isn't as good for strength and power but more for short term muscular endurance and of course, hypertrophy, the All-American look.

    I was mulling over this in the shower just now, and this is exactly why I felt the need to add a disclaimer to my last post and is why I particularly dislike giving advice on anything fitness related that isn't particularly aimed at fat loss.

    Most of us speak from experience and not education which is why I have been strongly debating taking up a second degree more catered to fitness and personal training.

    In any case. I actually don't think 6 reps is a low amount of reps, but as you said I (and many others on RJ) train for reasons other than significant strength gains.

    Agree with the difficulty in offering advice. I will comment on a particular exercise or use of a machine or free weights, but when it comes to designing an entire program involving exercise selection, number of days per week exercising, sets, and reps, I generally prefer referencing a book or series of books that I believe are appropriate to the requester and can go into much greater detail and help the reader decide on those program details based on where they are and their goals.
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    Aug 14, 2011 7:30 PM GMT
    Spiritreaver saidI was mulling over this in the shower just now, and this is exactly why I felt the need to add a disclaimer to my last post and is why I particularly dislike giving advice on anything fitness related that isn't particularly aimed at fat loss.

    Most of us speak from experience and not education which is why I have been strongly debating taking up a second degree more catered to fitness and personal training.

    In any case. I actually don't think 6 reps is a low amount of reps, but as you said I (and many others on RJ) train for reasons other than significant strength gains.



    I wouldn't worry about that too much. I think first hand experience sometimes teaches you more than learning something from a class or a book, especially in this field. The only thing that must be kept in mind is that our bodies all work differently so what works for one person may not work for another.

    Personally, I took the NASM CPT training course because I wanted to learn more (mainly just for myself, not because I wanted to work as a CPT). Well, I can honestly say that I did not come out of it with that much more knowledge compared to the knowledge I already had from personal experience before going into it.
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    Aug 14, 2011 10:44 PM GMT
    Thanks for all the awesome advice and suggestions.

    I want to make a couple of points of clarification...

    The first being that we don't have a bench press bench at my gym, strange I know, but in their wisdom they simply don't have them...

    The second being that when I was using dumbbells for chest work, I was finding that I was getting lower back issues, I think from when I was returning the dumbbells to the floor via my lap. It seems to put a lot of strain on my lower lumbar. And the gym has a strict "do not drop dumbbells on the floor" policy. So, you may see my conundrum...

    All-in-all, the Smith Machine doesn't seem to hurt me and I seem to be getting some slow gains, but I was thinking I may be able to get better gains with a different attack!

    Thanks again guys its always great to hear from you all...

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    Aug 15, 2011 12:06 AM GMT
    You need a new gym. icon_razz.gif
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    Aug 15, 2011 6:47 PM GMT
    davo83 said
    Spiritreaver saidI was mulling over this in the shower just now, and this is exactly why I felt the need to add a disclaimer to my last post and is why I particularly dislike giving advice on anything fitness related that isn't particularly aimed at fat loss.

    Most of us speak from experience and not education which is why I have been strongly debating taking up a second degree more catered to fitness and personal training.

    In any case. I actually don't think 6 reps is a low amount of reps, but as you said I (and many others on RJ) train for reasons other than significant strength gains.



    I wouldn't worry about that too much. I think first hand experience sometimes teaches you more than learning something from a class or a book, especially in this field. The only thing that must be kept in mind is that our bodies all work differently so what works for one person may not work for another.

    Personally, I took the NASM CPT training course because I wanted to learn more (mainly just for myself, not because I wanted to work as a CPT). Well, I can honestly say that I did not come out of it with that much more knowledge compared to the knowledge I already had from personal experience before going into it.


    Yes, I agree that the certifications out for training people are horrible and there really isn't any particular certification (they tell us to get ACSM as degree holders) that really teaches you what you want/need to know. This is the problem: those without the education are indistinguishable from those with formal education to the general public. It's not like it's a recognized credential like an MD. If you ever have a chance to vote, vote for more regulation in the health/fitness industry to support the RD as the legit nutritionist credential and whatever they decide to make the fitness credential be. I personally haven't bothered to get any certifications until I'm done with school and working full time, but I did decide the RD credential is worthwhile enough to distinguish my knowledge from others.

    Plus, the kinesiology degree these days is a LOT of physical activity research on health benefits of physical activity, stuff that the MDs don't seem to know as well as we do, but you don't have to take one personal training course the whole way through if you don't want to, which I see is a huge problem in academia.
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    Aug 15, 2011 6:51 PM GMT
    Am I way off base by saying that I've always thought of as "high reps" in the 12-15-20 number and "low reps" being 6-8 reps?
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    Aug 15, 2011 7:12 PM GMT
    bluey2223 said

    Yes, I agree that the certifications out for training people are horrible and there really isn't any particular certification (they tell us to get ACSM as degree holders) that really teaches you what you want/need to know. This is the problem: those without the education are indistinguishable from those with formal education to the general public. It's not like it's a recognized credential like an MD. If you ever have a chance to vote, vote for more regulation in the health/fitness industry to support the RD as the legit nutritionist credential and whatever they decide to make the fitness credential be. I personally haven't bothered to get any certifications until I'm done with school and working full time, but I did decide the RD credential is worthwhile enough to distinguish my knowledge from others.

    Plus, the kinesiology degree these days is a LOT of physical activity research on health benefits of physical activity, stuff that the MDs don't seem to know as well as we do, but you don't have to take one personal training course the whole way through if you don't want to, which I see is a huge problem in academia.


    I agree with that. I also agree that a degree in kin is probably the best preparation to become a CPT (as well as many other health related fields). If I could do it all again, that's what I would pick in undergrad.
    I was actually thinking of the MD example my self as a counter example to what I said before. You should not be going around spreading medical information from your own experience, that could be quite damaging to others. Always see a real doctor ;)
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    Aug 21, 2011 3:06 PM GMT
    WestAussieGuy saidThanks for all the awesome advice and suggestions.

    I want to make a couple of points of clarification...

    The first being that we don't have a bench press bench at my gym, strange I know, but in their wisdom they simply don't have them...

    The second being that when I was using dumbbells for chest work, I was finding that I was getting lower back issues, I think from when I was returning the dumbbells to the floor via my lap. It seems to put a lot of strain on my lower lumbar. And the gym has a strict "do not drop dumbbells on the floor" policy. So, you may see my conundrum...

    All-in-all, the Smith Machine doesn't seem to hurt me and I seem to be getting some slow gains, but I was thinking I may be able to get better gains with a different attack!

    Thanks again guys its always great to hear from you all...



    No bench?
    You can do chest presses on the floor, if your gym has a slightly padded floor as it should. Keep your knees bent and feet flat on floor. I see guys doing this occasionally whether there are benches available or not.

    Lower back problems
    You may know this. If not, to prevent back injury, keep your abs flexed and pulled in so your lower back is as flat as a board, and do not arch your lower back. This is considered by many trainers and physical therapists as proper form for any exercise whether standing, sitting or laying. (I read/heard of some exercises saying to arch the back, but not for people with back problems.)

    This is easiest if laying flat on the floor, with knees bent and feet flat on floor. Flex and your abs in to press your lower back flat against the floor throughout the whole press. Do not arch your lower back. You can do this laying on a flat bench. It is easier to keep your back flat if you put your feet on the bench. You have more power and balance if you feet are on the floor than on the bench, but this is harder for those with lower back problems.

    Discussion on giving and reading advice on a forum
    I can relate on both sides. I figure that a forum like this is meant for anyone to contribute. So it is OK to say what you wish. Still, I say or feel like saying "I'm not a trainer, or what do I know, or this is just my thought" if I say something on the forum or talking with people at the gym. I learned and still learn a lot by asking questions. It also makes me confused. Certified and experienced trainers and people with degrees in this and related fields give me totally contradictory information sometimes. It looks as if this is just as much an art as an science. It's what works for you.