You don’t have to lift very heavy weights to build muscle. In fact, performing more reps with less weight can be an effective strategy for a variety of fitness goals whether you are a beginner or have more experience with lifting. Try this approach a few times each week and you will soon notice a difference in strength, endurance and definition. Consider keeping a training journal to monitor your progress.
The Benefits of Light Weights
There are many benefits to using lighter weights for our workouts. Light weights:
- Encourage muscular endurance and build muscle strength.
- Help your muscles move across a greater range of motion.
- Improve lean muscle mass.
- Improve technique and form.
- Are easier to add to a workout routine because they are available on more types of equipment.
Light weights may not seem to offer as much of a challenge, but they do reduce the risk for injury and still help with muscle growth, mass, and endurance.
When to Use Light Weights
We can use light weights when we want to perform higher rep ranges while lifting weights. With a less-challenging weight set, we need to have more reps. This is usually in sets of 8-12 reps.
To find the sweet spot, choose a weight that is heavy enough to challenge you but that makes it so you can’t complete another repetition by the end of your set.
Tips to get started
- The muscle you are exercising should feel tired as you reach the end of a set. For example, if after you do 20 bicep curls you feel like you could do 10 more, your current weight is too light. Try a heavier weight for the next set of reps. Conversely if you can’t do 20 curls with your current weight it is probably too heavy. Switch to a lighter one.
- Watch your form. Move the weight with control and precision. Observe yourself in the mirror if one is available. Notice where you are feeling the exertion. You may need to adjust your form if poor mechanics involve muscles you are not isolating.
The Benefits of Heavy Weights
Heavy weights have their own benefits. Heavy weights allow us to:
- Build muscle strength.
- Burn more calories while increasing your metabolic rate.
- Build muscle mass.
- Avoid excessive repetitions.
As a part of our workout plan, heavy weights can help us bulk up, increase how much we can lift, and increase the power behind our movements.
When to Use Heavy Weights
Using heavy weights is useful when we want to start running faster, begin running uphill, improve our jump height, or improve our “explosive” energy.
When we always work in lower weights or the same repetitions, our body will get used to it. That’s why we should consider changing up the rep ranges and weights here and there.
Primary Goal – Increasing Strength
If our primary goal is to increase strength, the first thing to consider is heavy lifting. Lighter weights won’t help as much with increasing strength, though they will with many repetitions.
Heavy weights apply more external stress to our body, so include them in your fitness program if you want to start boosting your strength.
When using light weights, perform 8 to 10 reps for muscle hypertrophy (muscle building).
Primary Goal – Optimal Fat Loss
Heavy weight lifting as a part of our exercise regimen will burn more body fat than lifting light weights. That’s because they use fast-twitch fibers in the muscles. Since our muscles may be under more stress during the workout, they’re also burning more energy (and more calories) once the workout is complete.
Primary Goal – Building Muscle
To build muscle, use heavy weights. Keep in mind, though, that we need to be cautious about how much weight we use. Don’t constantly up the weights since this could lead to exhaustion.
A good way to avoid exhaustion is to have one day when we use heavy weights and then to have another where we use lighter weights with more repetitions. While the workout might take longer on those days, light weights give our tissues and nervous system time to recover from heavier-weight workouts.
How Do I Know When It’s Time to Increase My Weight or Reps?
Everyone is different, but there is a general rule of thumb that helps determine when it’s time to increase our reps or the weight we’re lifting. The main rule is to perform a set of repetitions with the weight we’ve selected. If you can complete all the reps with good, proper form but cannot do more, then the weight is right for you.
If you finish your reps and find that you still have the energy to do two or three more sets, then it is time to increase the weight to improve your workout and results.
Benefits of the more reps, less weight strategy
- More repetitions take longer and will burn more calories overall during exercise.
- You can also expect to build better muscle endurance over time because you are teaching the muscle to work to exhaustion. The gains will come as you continue to challenge the muscle and allow for appropriate recovery. That will include rest days and adequate nutrition, including protein.
- More reps with less weight can help you avoid injury. Weights that are too heavy are a prime culprit for weight training related injuries.
- If you have already been injured using the more reps, less weight strategy can be effective for your rehab plan.
Lifting less weight for more reps may not get you bragging rights but you will get a leaner, stronger physique. The bonus is you get those stronger muscles with reduced risk of injury. If you still want the challenge of lifting heavier weights consider doing so in combination with a high rep, low weight plan. When it comes to weight training the goal really is to build muscle and strength with regular lifting. A sidelining injury takes you out of the game and you start to lose muscle gain in 3 to 5 days. Plan a lifting program that keeps you strong as well as safe.