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The Science Behind Repetitive Movement: Why Low Weights, High Reps Work
A few months ago, we discussed the benefits of small movements in The Bar Method. While these tiny movements are a significant factor in the scientific approach that The Bar Method takes with its methodology, there’s more to it than the size of the exercise! In addition to incorporating small movements, The Bar Method focuses on repetitive movements with low weight. Throughout this post, we will highlight the benefits of using low weights and high reps.
There has been a longstanding debate about the best way to strengthen muscles: heavy weights with low reps or light weights with high reps. Both approaches are beneficial to the body. In general, exercises that use heavier weights at low repetitions result in increased muscle bulk and power. Conversely, exercises performed with lighter weights and higher reps lead to muscle toning and muscular endurance. The Bar Method utilizes the latter option to produce long, lean muscles—the physique that The Bar Method is famous for.
Those familiar with strength training or weightlifting may be familiar with the term “one repetition maximum” or 1 RM. This is the maximum amount of weight that can be lifted for one repetition, or the maximum amount of force generated in one contraction. As weight goes up, typically the number of repetitions goes down. Individuals can use 1RM tables to help calculate the correct amount of weight to use during an exercise regimen to help target their fitness goals.
Benefits of Using Lighter Weights
Many students that take class at The Bar Method have the goal of strengthening their muscles without bulking up. Hence, using lighter weight or no weights for longer periods of time. This fitness approach targets the slow-twitch muscle fibers in the body, also referred to as type 1 muscle fibers. These muscle fibers provide the body with stamina and endurance. Take bent elbow lifts or shoulder walks as an example. Students are in this position for several minutes during warm up using two- to five-pound weights. This promotes proper form while sculpting the front of the shoulders, the anterior deltoids. It also challenges the body’s muscular endurance at the same time. This exercise would be nearly impossible to perform with weights over 10 pounds for the same amount of time!
Although most exercises in The Bar Method are performed without weights, the same concept of high reps/low weight applies. Instead of using external weights, many positions focus on using body weight or the body’s own resistance. Thigh work is a great example. This section of class lasts anywhere from five to seven minutes. The quadriceps are constantly contracting, strengthening the muscle without external weight at a high number of repetitions. The result? Strong, long, lean thigh muscles. This is also a reason why The Bar Method is a popular cross-training option for runners. Runners are able to strengthen their quadriceps in a different way while increasing muscular endurance and preventing injury.
Lighter Weights Reduce Risk of Injury
One of the biggest benefits to performing high repetitions with lower weights during exercise is the reduced risk for injury. Decreased load and decreased strain are placed on joints when movement involves little to no weight. There is also a decrease in muscular compensation. In other words, the intended muscle groups are being strengthened instead of accessory muscles. This is especially true when there is extra attention paid to a person’s form. Thank your favorite Bar Method instructor!
Providing a smart, safe, effective and fun workout has always been the pillars of The Bar Method. Thoughtful and intelligent classes have always been our specialty. The next time you take class, think about the science that aids in the magic of The Bar Method. You may find yourself even more in awe of the Method. We hope to see you at The Bar soon—find a barre class near you.
About The Author
Kerrisa Smith Manheimer has been a licensed physical therapist for over 16 years and has worked in a variety of settings throughout her career including orthopedics, outpatient neuro, acute rehab, skilled nursing, acute care and home health. Kerrisa has been a Bar Method student for over 10 years and an instructor for over seven years. She currently teaches at The Bar Method Boston. Kerrisa has been the Bar Method national physical therapy consultant for more than five years, and finds great satisfaction working with The Bar Method HQ team, studio owners and clients. Kerrisa lives in Newburyport, MA with her husband Jeff, and their Bernese Mountain dog Frankie. In addition to taking Bar Method classes, Kerrisa loves to travel and explore new restaurants with her husband and friends.