To build muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger, there’s surely only one way to go about it: lifting the heaviest weights possible. Right? Well, according to the man himself, that’s not necessarily the case. In his latest newsletter, the 75-year-old addresses the ‘go big or go home’ myth, debunking the idea that lifting heavy is the only way to get jacked.
Referencing the progressive resistance principle, Schwarzenegger uses one of his idols as an example, the legendary bodybuilder Eugen Sandow, who became known for performing lots of reps of light weights when he was ‘the strongest man in the world’.
‘Eugen Sandow was the first person to really popularise strength sports and bodybuilding at the turn of the last century,’ Schwarzenegger writes. ‘He was known for doing 125 reps with very, very light dumbbells. So if heavy weights make you happy, go for it. But if little weights make you happy, you’ve got good company! Do whatever you enjoy that makes you train.’
If, like Sandow, you’re considering progressive resistance training, Schwarzenegger says it’s important to avoid one common flaw. ‘The big mistake is thinking that you can just do endless reps of a lighter weight and grow,’ the newsletter continues. ‘There’s an art and science to training. Intensity determines your outcome. You need to challenge your body and push towards failure, which means you could find yourself doing 20 or 30 reps in some instances.
‘Simply doing a lot of reps isn’t enough; you need to near the limit of what your body can do, and that’s when your body will grow. So each time, you need to be adding more – whether reps, sets, or weight; that’s the progressive in progressive resistance.’
The newsletter goes on to explain which types of exercises the higher rep method is best suited for. ‘You might think a set of 30 reps on squats with 100 pounds would be ‘better’ than 300 pounds for 10 reps, but it’s not that simple. Those 30-rep squats could cause fatigue in other ways, which could leave you more susceptible to injury (possibly your back) or cause bad reps that leave results on the table.
‘In general, compound movements (presses, rows, squats, and deadlifts), are best done in the 5 to 12 rep range. Whereas more isolation movements — think lateral raises, calf raises, and biceps curls — might be safer to push at higher rep ranges.’