5 Ways to Lift More

Our expert offers tricks for gaining muscle while staying lean.

Our expert offers tricks for gaining muscle while staying lean.

Here’s the thing about lifting more weight: It’s great for you.

People might worry about bulking up too much if they start lifting more weight. But it doesn’t have to be that way. “Having functional strength is so important in everyday life,” Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute Expert Mike Ryan says. “And also, if you develop more muscle, it takes many more calories to feed the muscle. You’re going to be burning fat more efficiently. You’re going to be stronger and leaner, and in better shape.”

For one thing, you can’t get huge if you’re not increasing your calories. “It’s just impossible,” Ryan says. “You’ll have the same frame but you’ll just be pushing more weight. You won’t grow exponentially.” While you might feel a surge of blood to your muscle—that’s what lifters call “the pump”—it will only last for about 15 minutes while your tissues and muscles are developing following a lift. After that, you’ll return to your previous size. We asked Ryan for some tips about lifting more weight without putting on the bulk.

Lift More, in Fewer Reps


You want to do something that is challenging but not uncomfortable. If you're going to increase your weight load, lower your reps. Try doing 16 to 20 reps—a typical number for low weight—and as you add more weight, drop that number to 10-12 reps. Ryan suggests that about 15 percent more is the correct amount to add. As long as you don't go with the powerlifter routine, which is 3-5 reps at maximum weight, you shouldn't add bulk.

Embrace the Drop Set


Ryan's a huge fan of drop sets, especially when building strength. Drop sets are performed by starting at a certain weight and number of repetitions. As your workout continues, reduce your number of repetitions while increasing your weight. For example, start with 12 reps of a move, then add 5 to 10 percent more weight. Next do 10 reps, then add 5-10 percent more weight followed by 8 reps, adding 5-10 percent more weight. Finally, do 6 reps, then drop the weight you’ve added and do 12 reps at the original weight. "You're taking a muscle that is growing and fatigued, and then you're overloading it," Ryan says. "It's also an ego boost. You're doing more weight and thinking, 'this is great.'

Have A Spotter


You want to have proper form and technique as you start lifting more weight, and you want to always have a spotter, especially when you're doing overhead movements. For anything where you have a bench movement or shoulder movements, where you have weights over your head or over your face, ask a buddy to spot you. They'll be able to help in a pinch, while making sure that your form stays consistent and correct to achieve your goal.

Don't Sweat Weight Gain


If you're doing it right, your weight will go up a bit. The reason? Muscle is denser than fat. "Do. Not. Panic," Ryan advises. "Don't be a scale monster. Don't even look at the scale." The goal here is to improve your body composition, so you will see your body go through a change. Although you will be putting muscle on, you'll notice that your body fat percentage will go down, eventually reaching the correct balance for you. You are going to be a leaner, more fit version of yourself. Your clothes are going to be looser in places where you want them to be looser. You're going to look good, and not overly buff.

Keep Up the Protein


If you're training and want to get a little stronger, the big thing is protein. Women should eat a gram of protein a day per pound of body weight, while men can go up to 1.5 grams (or 2 grams if they want to add bulk). As long as you're consistently lifting, adding protein will ensure that your muscles are well-fed and healthy.

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