Heavy is always better, right? That’s the going mantra. Lift heavy things and you’ll grow and get stronger. I push this position myself, because I think it’s mostly right. If you want to reap gains from a strength training workout, you focus on the basics. Anything involving a barbell, picking it up, putting it overhead, or squatting it — or any combination thereof. Low reps, as few as one and as many as six, allow you to use challenging weights.
That’s the time-tested recipe, whether you’re trying to get big, build muscle, or get strong. I don’t think that ever changes. If you’re after strength or big muscles, the bulk of your training should revolve around that foundation of heavy, simple lifts. This is proven by the practices of strength athletes and by scientific research.
Lifting heavy weights teaches you how to lift heavy weights. The training is as much neurological as muscular; indeed, most of the adaptations to heavy lifting happen in the nervous system. When you load up enough weight and lift it, you produce very high tension in the working muscles, which in turn activates all your available fibers. High tension, which is usually cited as roughly 80-85% of the maximum voluntary contraction, is sufficient to bring all the motor units into the movement.
The heavy lifting mindset suggests that heavy, slow, and strenuous is enough to build a great physique. And I largely agree. Lifters following the minimalist approach inevitably build impressive bodies. The evidence is all there.
Bodies are built with heavy weights. Science validates the idea. You’d think there’s no reason to do higher reps if you’re concerned with maximizing the growth stimulus.
Those tidbits of information aside, bodybuilders all do it. Bodybuilders train with higher volume, if you measure total tonnage and muscular work done in a workout, and on average use higher reps, and more diversity in their rep ranges, than strength-focused athletes. Bodybuilders may focus their attention on work sets from single reps to 20 (or even more), with 10 being the unspoken average.