Heavy/Light Bodybuilding Workout Routine

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There’s lots of conflicting opinions when it comes to bodybuilding routines, and what’s the best way to build an aesthetically pleasing physique…

In one camp you’ve got the people who say you should lift heavy, for example Dorian Yates and Mike Mentzer, who both liked to do high intensity, low volume training.

But, then in the other camp you’ve got people who say you should lift lighter and focus more on: technique, mind to muscle connection, and TUT (Time Under Tension). This kind of training favours more volume i.e. higher number of reps and working sets. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger would often do 30+ sets in each workout, compared to Dorian Yates and Mike Mentzer who would typically do 6-10 working sets per session.

But which one is best, heavy and low volume or light and high volume?

Lets discuss further…

Heavy Training

In order to build muscle you have to get strong, there’s no doubt about this. You can still build an impressive physique without lifting crazy heavy weights, BUT if you look at some of the most impressive physiques of all time: Dorian Yates, Mike Mentzer, Ronnie Coleman, Kia Greene, Dexter Jackson, Phil Heath, etc – they all shared one thing in common…they were stupidly strong! Heavy training is very important when it comes to building muscle mass.

An example of heavy training program for back and biceps could look like this…

  • Wide pull up (2 warm up sets) – 1 working set (taken to failure) – 6-10 reps
  • BB bent over row (1 warm up set) – 1 working set (taken to failure) – 6-10 reps
  • One arm DB row (1 warm up set) – 1 working set (taken to failure) – 8-12 reps
  • BB curl (1 warm up set) – 1 working set (taken to failure) – 8-12 reps
  • DB hammer curl 1 warm up set) – 1 working set (taken to failure) – 8-12 reps

Light Training

That said, the other important component of bodybuilding is what’s called ‘hypertrophy training’ – where the aim is to get the muscles as pumped as possible during the workout. This is often achieved through higher reps, and overall more volume per session.

The pump explained…

Getting a pump is like blowing up a balloon, the more sets and reps you do… the more blood that enters your muscles, and the more they swell and inflate. This type of training involves lighter weights, but the aim is to increase the intensity by doing more reps, sets, and squeezing your muscles harder. You’re also able to control the eccentric and concentric portion of the rep more, able to switch it up and do slow reps. For example:

You could lift 50-60% of your 1RM and go for 8-12 reps – taking 4s lowing the bar to your chest, and then taking 2s to push the bar back up (6s per rep). You could also pause at the bottom (to make the exercise even harder).

An example of light training program (using slow reps) for the chest, shoulders and triceps could look like this…

  • Flat bench press – 4 sets x 8-12 reps (tempo 4:2)
  • Incline DB press – 4 sets x 10-15 reps (tempo 3:1)
  • Cable cross over – 4 sets x 10-15 reps (tempo 3:1)
  • DB Arnold press – 3 sets x 6-10 reps (tempo 2:1)
  • DB side raises – 3 sets x 10-15 reps (tempo 2:2)
  • Rear cable fly – 3 sets x 15-20 reps (tempo 2:1)
  • E-Z skull crusher – 3 sets x 8-12 reps (tempo 2:1)
  • Cable push down – 3 sets x 10-15 reps (tempo 3:1)
  • Overhead DB extensions – 3 sets x 15-20 reps (temp 2:1)

Also if you wanted to do normal paced reps (not slow), you could increase the rep range to 15-20 on all exercises.

Heavy/Light Bodybuilding Workout Routine

Some strength experts, such as Layne Norton, advocate doing both heavy and light training in the same workout session…

For example, you start with your heavy lift doing low reps e.g. deadlift x 6-10 reps, but then on your next exercise you increase the reps, and slow down the tempo. Thus, doing a mixture of the two training methods could look like this…

Leg Workout (example).

  • Back squat – heavy – 6-10 reps (1-2 working sets)
  • Leg press – medium – 8-12 reps (3 working sets) – tempo 2:1
  • Leg extensions – high reps – 15-20 reps (3 working sets) – tempo 3:1
  • Romanian Deadlift – heavy 6-10 reps (1-2 working sets)
  • Lying leg curl – medium – 8-12 reps (3 working sets) – tempo 2:1
  • Seated leg curl – high reps – 15-20 reps (3 working sets) – tempo 3:1
  • Standing calf raises – heavy – 6-10 reps (1-2 working sets)
  • Seated calf raises – medium – 8-12 reps (3 working sets) – tempo 3:1
  • One leg box calf raises – high reps – 15-20 reps (3 working sets) – tempo 2:1

Equally you’ll see good results if you simply train heavy for a few weeks, then switch it up and shock your muscles by lifting light and doing a lot more reps. Variety is the key!

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