I get tired of seeing people in the gym toiling away for countless reps with meaningless weights. Well, not tired, I guess. It doesn’t affect me in any meaningful way. They’re the ones who get tired. But still, it amuses (or more accurately, bemuses) me. People go to the gym to improve their physical fitness, and lift weights specifically to get stronger. Why, then, do people waste so much time doing 1,000 reps with 1 lb. weights when they’d be better served doing 1 rep with 1,000 lb. weights? The answer is because people, and their prevailing wisdom, are retarded.
Somehow, at some point, we got into our heads the idea that lifting big weights will make you big, and lifting small, sleek weights will make you small and sleek. Women are especially guilty of this. It’s probably due to the fact that yes, the largest weights in the gym are typically lifted by the largest people. In fact, the opposite is mostly true. Lifting a lighter weight to exhaustion will tell the body to increase the number of muscle fibers, thereby making you bigger. This has its benefits, namely increased size (if you’re looking for that) and muscle endurance. For some people, that’s really important. Anyone who works a job that requires them to lift moderate loads over extended periods of time, mostly. But for the rest of us, the casual weight lifters just looking to get stronger? Lift heavier.
Weightlifting, like any other physical exercise, is something we get better at with practice. If you practice lifting light things over and over, you’ll get better at that. Conversely, if you practice lifting heavy things fewer times, you’ll get better at lifting heavy things. Consider the functional applications of that kind of strength. Do you anticipate a time where someone will approach you and say “Excuse me, would you mind helping me lift this moderately heavy thing up and down several times?” Doubtful. Instead, you’re more likely to have someone say “Please sir, will you help me lift this extremely heavy thing beneath which I am trapped, so that I may live?” Suddenly, those bicep curls don’t seem like such a good idea. Big biceps are nice, but having a strong back, legs, and shoulder cradle is a lot nicer.
If you’re still of the “lift big to get big” mindset, maybe rethink your strategy. Why do 20 lat pulldowns when you could be eeking out 10 pull-ups? Why do a bunch of pointless leg extensions when you could power through a set of 5 heavy squats? I’m not saying there’s a problem with lifting for size, or that you can realistically have one without the other (you can’t), but remember: Lift heavier, and get stronger.