“I’ve been lifting the same #12-lb dumbbells since college.”
This is what you told me over the weekend. You were wondering why you weren’t getting stronger. You asked me for help.
I asked you what exercise you were doing with the #12-lb. dumbbells and how many reps you were able to complete.
“I do bench press with them. I usually do about 18 reps or until it starts to get tiring.”
My response: “That’s your problem.”
Before I address the actual problem, I need to mention muscle decline and aging.
Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle mass as you get older. Surprisingly, it will start to play a role in your life as early as age 40 and is the leading cause of functional decline and loss of independence in older adults. Sarcopenia is also a predictor of a shorter lifespan and worse recovery times after surgeries.
However, sarcopenia shouldn’t be your only motive to start lifting weights. Your muscles are essential from a metabolic perspective and can have dramatic consequences for adults. For example, loss of muscle mass contributes to poor health outcomes, fatigue, loss of function, disability, fall risk, frailty, and death.
If you want more energy, less pain, and a more functional life, you need to be lifting weights. And they should be heavy weights.
A lot of doctors and exercise scientists will use the phrase “resistance training” as a synonym for “lifting weights.” While they are technically the same thing, the strength and conditioning world would disagree.
“Resistance training” is performed with lighter loads. It improves your stamina, endurance, accuracy, balance, coordination, and agility.
“Resistance training” begins to become “lifting weights” when the external object is 80% or more of your 1-rep max (the maximum amount of weight you can lift). Skills like strength, power, and speed cannot be achieved unless you are moving near-maximum loads.
To argue otherwise is to say that you get faster by running at your marathon pace… it’s just not going to happen. Muscle is built by lifting heavy. Period.
Returning back to your concern about the #12-lb dumbbells: the issue isn’t necessarily the weight — it’s the weight relative to your maximum capacity. If you can only lift #12-lbs three times, than #12-lbs is the perfect weight.
But in your case, you’re lifting it 18 times. It’s time you pick up the #25-lb dumbbells and do the same exercise.
You look concerned when I say #25-lb dumbbells. You respond with, “I’m scared of getting injured…”
Fear of Being Weak > Fear of Injury
You and the vast majority of the exercising public are no different — you justify not lifting heavy weights. Your concern is that of not knowing proper technique or having some form of back pain.
These are excuses and the reasons you aren’t getting stronger. I’ll address them briefly.
“But I don’t know proper technique.”: Hire a coach. The money spent on a coach will be far less than the medication and surgeries you will endure in the years ahead. At RxFIT, we on-board those that have never lifted weights in our very first session. Lifting properly is not as technical as you may think.
“I have a bad back (or bad knees)”: The injury you sustained years ago in a car accident maybe started the pain — but it doesn’t need to stay like that. The reason your pain has persisted for so long is because you handicap yourself. The exact movements you avoid (deadlifts and squats), will actually help you. Just ask Brandon Judd. When he joined us at RxFIT, his back pain wouldn’t allow him to get out of bed and walk to the bathroom without holding on to something. Now he’s pain-free and deadlifts over #250-lbs.
I will admit that minor injuries will happen if you lift weights, but they are dwarfed in comparison to the injuries you will face by being weak. Lifting weights is no different than running — you may get plantar fasciitis or foot pain. Don’t interpret a little bit of discomfort the next day as a sign that you shouldn’t be doing that exercise.
Your issue has never been technique or pain; nor has it been the fear of getting injured.
Your issue is your mind — you are in a habit of using excuses.
The only reasonable fear here is the effects of sarcopenia. You should fear frailty.
My recommendation is that at least one session every week should be dedicated to “lifting weights” — real, strenuous weight lifting.
I’m talking about the kind of weight lifting where you get pinned underneath the barbell and need a spotter to get you out. There’s no growth in the comfort zone.
It’s time to put away the #12-lb dumbbells and pick up the #25’s.