While toning requires lighter weights for more repetitions, fit-seekers looking to bulk up for beach season do best following the opposite philosophy.
“The goal in growing muscle mass is lower repetitions and more weight,” says Susie Reiner, director of personal training at Club Fit in Briarcliff. Before starting a resistance program, Reiner advises clients to determine their one-repetition maximum—or the most weight they can safely lift one time—and use a percentage of that for each set. For example, take a man who can’t lift a 55-pound dumbbell, but can bring 50 pounds up and down once. He may want to start by lifting 40 pounds (80 percent of his one-repetition max) for eight to 10 repetitions. As the weeks pass and this gets easier, he’ll want to increase his load.
Lifting a heavier weight for 10 repetitions will encourage more muscle growth (hypertrophy) than doing cardio movements with two-pound dumbbells for an hour, explains Andrew Guida, fitness director at the Saw Mill Club. “To stimulate muscle growth, you’re most likely going to be in that strength mode of six to 12 reps.”
But with all that lifting, don’t focus so closely on one area that you lose sight of the bigger picture. Choose exercises that target different muscle groups on different days, such as presses (chest), rows and pull-downs (back), and squats and dead lifts (legs). One of Reiner’s favorite words is “superset,” which means moving from one exercise to the next without a break. Perform a superset that uses the same muscle groups by following a strength exercise (such as a bench press on a solid surface) with a stability exercise (such as push-ups on a stability ball). “It recruits more muscle fibers to stabilize the muscle group while they’re exhausted,” Reiner says, “so that you actually use more muscle fibers, and they grow in the end.”