Lifting Light in a World of Heavyweights
Misty, mother of two, runs at least twelve miles each week as part of her base of training, simply because she can and because it feels good. Every other day, she hits the trails and returns 45 minutes later, feeling accomplished, relieved and imbibed. She regales me about her efforts me only occasionally, during our sessions, though her consistency and work ethnic are omnipresent.
Sometime in the mid-eighties, when I was still mastering the inherent nuance of Atari’s Commando, Misty stopped running. She never explained exactly why she stopped, but that reason surely exists in some ether now.
Some twenty-five years later, the relatively older than the other mothers-of-youngsters she calls colleagues and friends, Misty, today, is in the best physical shape of her life.
One of our weekly orders of training, that which enhances her mile runs is weightlifting – a process Misty embraced with an uncommon courage and openness.
Our weightlifting is endurance and aerobic based, and sometimes includes functional exercise and bodyweight supersets. And, by her admission, has made her a much better runner.
Incorporating light lifting in anyone’s fitness program creates amazing results by way of the aerobic energy system, which burns 80% fat and carbs for force production about 30 minutes in, using the thin, ripped fatigue resistant type 1 muscle fibers as the catalysts.
When we practice lifting light, we actually enhance our running through a bunch of processes which include the increase in lactic acid threshold, the increase of lean muscle (hypertrophy and hyperplasia of fatigue resistant muscle), decrease steady-state heart rates, and increase in our core stabilization and activation.
Sure, maybe thoughts of weightlifting portend to something entirely opposed to running. But, consider, not many include light weightlifting, as weightlifting.
And what is considered light lifting and lightweight training depends on the intensity and duration of your lifts.
For example, bodybuilders for decades have been lifting light dumbbells at high rep tempos to increase their definition before showtime. At best, these body sculptors perform light weight lifts, because they know inherently, definition comes from the exercises with high rep counts.
Consider instead that light weightlifting produces aerobic effects.
Our aerobic energy system kicks in around the thirty minute mark in any form of training and predominates the energy (metabolism) used for continued exercise.
And yet, whenever we lift any weights, our Type 1 muscle fibers, the fatigue resistant ones, help initiate the work – they contribute very little to force production early on though, say within five to 60 seconds. After about ninety seconds, these thin defined, ripped muscle fibers do most of the work as the huge fibers need to recycle energy during rest.
Consider a light weightlifting set with a high rep count (20-30 reps) probably takes about 90+ seconds to finish. In those 90 seconds, your body begins to employ the fatigue resistant muscle fibers.
This effect is compounded after multiple sets, especially if the rest is short and rep count is high. That is, time work (sets) with rest at ratios of 3:1, or even 4 or 5 to 1.
For example, if you do deadlifts, load the bar so that you can reach 30, meaning, the weight is light, then if it took you ninety seconds, you have earned a thirty second rest. Biologically, this prevents your bigger muscles from recovering fully, giving your smaller, leaner, and more ripped and fatigue resistant muscles top billing to perform aerobic lifts.
So, when we weightlift, we employ a similar regime. We lift for tens of reps, then either superset with agonist muscle groups or simply combine two exercises until a rep range of 20-30 is reached.
Here’s how it’s Done
30 reps to 12 reps
Set 1: Load up enough weight to easily do 30 reps of a compound exercise (deadlift, overhead press, bench press, back/front squat etc.)
Take a 1 minute rest
Set 2: Add minimal weight but aim for 20-30 reps of the same exercise
At most, rest for 1 minute
Set 3: Keep the weight the same, go to at least 20
1 minute rest
Set 4: Add a decent amount of light weight and pass 12 reps
60 to 90 second rest
Set 5: Remove a little weight for at least 18, but shoot for 30 at most.
90 seconds at most rest
Your target heart rate should be in the 150 zone. And, you just effectively lifted enough weight to build very lean muscle.
Let’s move on to another muscle group, and another way to set and maximize light weightlifting for results.
Magic Number Sets (Number goal based)
Set 1: Load up a bar or grab bells that have you fatigued around 18 reps. Perform at least 20 reps and stop
Set 1.5: Go to a pull up bar, or TRX or anything that is bodyweight movement-based and continue until you reach a combined 30 reps from set 1.
Rest for about 60 seconds
Set 2: If you performed under 20, lighten the weight and go to 20
Set 2.5: Bodyweight to 30 combined reps
Rest for a minute
Set 3: With the same weight, get to about 15-18 reps
Set 3.5: Bodyweight reps (BW) until 25-30 reps are completed
Rest 60-90 seconds
Set 4: Load up to double Set 2’s weight load, and perform 10-15 reps
Set 4.5: Finish with BW to at least 20 – 25
As your heart bounds between 150 and max, we are working very light muscles in one or maybe two muscle groups. Notice if the set and its superset combo was especially challenging, you probably needed either a longer rest or lighter weights. This is optimal because we are building lean, fatigue resistant muscle.
And, the if the set took longer than ninety seconds to complete, that is even better for your aerobic system – keep the rest period the same, maybe lighten the weight, and dig deep.
Exercise 3 (push and pull set)
1: Go to a pushing exercise like push press or leg press or front squat and perform with enough weight that 20 is failure
1.5: Finish with pulling muscle to 30
2-6 sets, repeat the above regimen.
Expect your long runs to feel shorter, to have more energy throughout and do feel more productive during runs, meaning, expect less wasted effort. Also, notice how after a month of light weightlifting your legs feel more durable – because they will be.
The newly introduced and innervated motor units in your legs will transform into mini dynamos, metabolizing and oxidizing the slow-twitches of those long runs, filling and fueling you with energy.
Your heart, responding to expending less energy over time, will adapt by beating a lower rates especially after threshold, which conserves oxygen. With lower oxygen consumption, you are awarded a higher threshold and a less painful run.
Misty flashes me her iPhone every few weeks, presenting her splits, those telltale measures of a happy and healthy run. Sometimes, she snickers at her first split, which always fails to resemble her proceeding five, and I can imagine her taking to the trails in an arduous dash from the 9 to 5 inertia, finally breaking its orbit in just under eleven and a half minutes.
As her trainer, I congratulate her, of course, meanwhile scheming the shaving of precious seconds from that first split using any helpful technique. Anything that makes her runs easier, makes her run better, and makes her validate her choice to pick up the sport of it again – now a mother of two – she’s all too ready to accept and compete.