Light weights for longer, leaner muscles?

The long and lean fitness model look. Male or female, most of us aspire for this. That look of long, toned muscles that aren’t too bulky or too skinny equals body goals for an overwhelming majority. I often hear of people saying they are lifting light weights in order to achieve that toned and lean look. This school of thought is pervasive and has often been repeated, even by fitness trainers.

Let me clarify a very important point here.  When we lift weights with the intention of growing muscle, and our muscles do indeed grow, there is no specific weight that we should use to make them look longer or leaner. It’s either our muscles grow, or they do not.

The toned and lean look is more a function of decreasing body fat— in order to give the appearance of muscle definition. However, having toned muscles as a result of lifting weights does help complete the look.  But does that necessarily mean that lifting light weights is the way to go? Yes and no. For muscles to grow, we have to progressively overload them. This simply means making them work hard enough over time, so that they are able to adapt and handle the new workload we impose on them. And how do they adapt? By growing in size. Muscle growth is a form of adaptation. It grows because it needs to handle the work you are giving it.

This muscle overload can be in the form of lighter weights but with higher repetitions, or with heavier weights but in the low repetition range. The key here is to work the muscle hard enough for it to grow.

Activities that stretch the muscles, such as yoga and Pilates, while beneficial for increasing range of motion of our muscles—among other countless benefits—do not necessarily grow, let alone lengthen, them. There are a lot of things we can do with our muscles, but making them longer is not one of them. Make them stronger, sure; bigger, check; strain them, most certainly. Don’t get me wrong, we can work on having that long, lean look, but it does not involve physically elongating muscles.

So what to do if we do not want to get too big and bulky like the bodybuilders we see on magazines? Rapid muscle growth will not take place overnight, or by lifting weights here and there. Ergo, that is something not to worry about. If the long and lean look is what we aspire for, first and foremost on our to-do list would be to bring down body fat for muscle definition to be visible. As for what weights to lift, whether we choose light or heavy, both can result in toned muscles so long as they are done in a progressive overload where our muscles are challenged enough to grow. Heavy or light, the choice is yours so long as the method is on point.

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