We’ve all heard about the importance of including rest days each week in our workout regimen. We grow while we sleep, not while we’re in the gym. The pump we experience in the gym is simply the engorging of the muscle group with blood, and it’s only temporary, completely dissipating in the 30 to 90 minutes after we train. Rest for the muscles on their own day is good, but occasionally we should rest the body – even on training days – using the practice of alternating heavy and light days.
There are several reasons to alternate heavy and light days. First, the muscles aren’t the only system in your body, which benefits from rest and recovery. Each muscle group in your body is supported by a system of joints and tendons, which also share some of the workload when you move heavy weights. Over time, they become worn out from this workload. After all, they don’t have the ability to grow as our muscles do. Many common injuries in the gym don’t come from muscle tears. Rather, they arise from a joint or tendon giving out under a strenuous workload. For this reason, light days are beneficial for giving the body’s joints and tendons a break.
Additionally, lightweight days equate to higher-repetition days. If you’ve been training for years with high weights, you have likely been stuck in the 4 to 10 repetition range. It’s not east to move heavy weight 14 or 16 times. So the slow-twitch muscle fibers often go for years with very little stimulation. Its time to make them do some work, and start some growth!
What kind of ratio is most effective? Heavy weights for low repetitions are the standard for gaining muscle weight. That will never change. The use of light days should be sporadic – perhaps every fifth or sixth workout per body part. A good idea is to have one light day per week per body part. Week one: Use higher repetitions on chest day, and go all-out heavy on all your other workouts. Week two: Use higher repetitions on leg day, but stay heavy on everything else, including chest day. Never put more than one light day into a week, or you will start losing size.
Remember, light day does not mean “easy day”. You can work just as hard – even harder – when you’re using lighter weights and higher repetitions. You are able to stimulate the body in new and unfamiliar ways – use it occasionally and use it wisely!