Weight training, a form of strength training that involves lifting weights, is one of the most effective ways to change the physical makeup of your body. Regardless of whether you are looking to lose weight (or decrease body fat), gain muscle mass, get physically stronger or tighten and tone your body, weight training should be a part of any fitness program.
Weight training, depending on the program, can result in three different physical outcomes:
- Increase in muscle size
- Increase in muscle density
- Increase in muscle size and density
Muscle size and muscle density are two totally different things. Although most people are looking to increase muscle density (the muscle is harder but not bigger), not all people are looking to increase muscle size. To better understand this let’s look at each aspect of muscular development in more detail because muscle size vs. muscle density represent two different types of training protocols.
A common misconception about weight training is that it will make you bigger. Most people are familiar with weight training workouts that are designed to increase muscle size. These workouts include exercises that target specific body parts, use moderate to high weights and include multiple sets and repetitions. This results in damage to the muscles. The muscles repair over time, get stronger and get larger in size. The increase in size comes from increases in muscle fiber width within the muscle cells and an increase in the fluid within the muscle cells. Unfortunately, these gains are temporary and disappear within days or weeks after you stop exercising.
Workouts designed to increase muscle size follow the protocols below:
- 8 to 12 repetitions per exercise
- 3 to 4 sets per exercise
- 3 to 4 exercises per muscle group
- 30 to 90 seconds rest in between sets and exercises
Free weights or selectorized equipment can be used to accommodate these types of workouts.
With the right type of workout, you can train your muscles to get stronger without necessarily making them larger in size. This can be accomplished by incorporating workouts that include higher weights and low sets and repetitions. With this type of training additional muscle fibers form in each muscle cell. The muscle cells get stronger and can produce more force but don’t increase in size. With ongoing training the muscles will gradually increase in size, but only once there are enough muscle fibers to fill the muscle cell and force it to expand.
Workouts designed to increase muscle density follow the protocols below:
- 1 to 3 repetitions per exercise
- 1 to 2 sets per exercise
- 1 to 2 exercises per muscle group
- 2 to 5 minutes rest in between sets and exercises
This type of training is very strenuous on the body. Weights or selectorized equipment can be used to accommodate this type of workout but a partner or personal trainer should be present if using free weights. bioDensity, an innovative technology that replicates this type of force load (force equal to multiples of body weight), is a safe alternative to traditional weight training. It is self-loaded and takes the risk out of weight training requiring very high weight and produces the same strength building benefits.
Muscle Size and Density
If you are looking to “work smarter not harder” there are real benefits to increasing muscle density while training to increase muscle size. When you increase muscle density with a high weight/low repetition workout you increase the number of muscle fibers in each muscle cell. The workouts designed to increase muscle size essentially damage muscle fibers to cause them to repair and get larger and stronger. If you increase the number of muscle fibers that means you have more fibers that will get larger and stronger with each muscle building workout.
Workout programs designed to increase muscle size and muscle density would include workouts for increasing muscle size (targeting all major body parts) where the ratio of workouts would be 2-to-1 (for every two size-building workouts on a body part you would do one density-building workout).