Weight lifting can be used in a variety of ways, but the three most common types of weight training programs are based on strength training, endurance training, and mass training. It is important to realize that there is some degree of overlap between these programs, and advanced lifters often incorporate aspects of each training type into their overall plan.
For example someone who is engaged in mass training might perform an exercise in a way that is considered to be endurance training to achieve certain goals. The point is that once you understand the effects of each training style you can draw from this knowledge to maximize your own workout plan.
Let’s begin by briefly discussing each of the major weight training programs.
On one end of the spectrum there is endurance training. This is a very vigorous type of weight lifting that requires the lifter to use a weight with which they can effectively perform 12-15 repetitions. In other words you will be using a lighter weight and you will be doing more repetitions (reps).
Your body responds to this type of training by increasing the vasculature (blood vessels) to the exercising muscle. New blood vessel formation means that your body has the ability to deliver more blood, carrying oxygen and other nutrients to your exercising muscle.
As a result you develop the ability to utilize your muscles for longer periods of time without rest. This means you have increased stamina or endurance. This type of training will increase your cardiovascular fitness and provide you with more muscular definition in terms of your physique.
On the other end of the spectrum lies mass training also called bulk training. The primary goal of mass training is to bulk up; to increase the size of your muscles (hypertrophy). To engage in this type of training you should use a weight that allows you to correctly perform an exercise with 6-8 reps. Some trainers recommend doing 8-10 reps for mass training; but my research and personal experience suggest that maximum results can be attained with a weight that can only be correctly lifted in 6 reps and in some cases only 4 reps.
To understand the rationale behind determining the best number of reps for mass training, consider the effects that mass training has on your body. When you engage in mass training you are using heavy weights to place a load on your muscles that they aren’t used to supporting. This causes micro-tears in your musculature and during the repair process your muscle fibers increase in size (hypertrophy) and contractile force.
Even though this happens to some degree with all of the weight training programs, the theory behind mass training is that using heavier weights will result in bigger muscles. So it makes sense that if you are doing less reps your muscles can support heavier weights. Keep in mind that you must consume enough calories and water to support to support bigger muscles or you won’t see the results you are seeking with mass training.
Strength training falls in the middle of the two aforementioned weight lifting styles. In strength training the primary goal is to increase the contractile strength of the muscle fibers; in other words, as the name implies, it makes you stronger. Typically, you should use a weight that you can lift to properly execute with 8-10 reps.
The bonus with strength training is that in addition to increasing muscular strength, you will experience an increase in the size of your muscles (hypertrophy); and you will improve muscle stamina. In a sense, you get the best of both worlds, and you can always tweak your weight training program by incorporating aspects of the other training styles in order to focus on specific goals (e.g. mass or definition).