Can You Build Muscle Mass with Light Weights?

Weight training has proven its efficiency in increasing muscle mass and strength. Nonetheless, one question is still bothering the minds of lifters, especially beginners, who wonder if they could gain large muscles by training with light weights instead of lifting huge Olympic dumbbells. If it could be possible for this training to give the same results as heavy lifting, it could mean a shift in the way weight lifting is practiced today, and trainers who say that you need to lift increasingly heavier and push to failure may want to rethink their programs.

So, let’s explore this controversy and decide if you can stick to light weights for your whole life or you need the best adjustable dumbbells to gradually increase the volume and the intensity of the training until you get to lift heavy enough to become a pro. Moreover, we’ll briefly visit the way this training is executed and give you a few tips about how to stay safe while building amazing arms.

What Do Recent Studies Say?

One study performed by the McMaster University in Ontario completely changed the way light lifting was regarded. Thus, the study, which included 49 subjects, all men with an age around 23 years, tested if training with light weights (in this case, 20 to 25 lifts were executed by each subject – about 30-50% of one-rep max) can be as effective as training with heavy weights (8 to 12 reps – about 75-90% of one-rep max). All subjects trained to failure and executed a series of exercises. The study extended over three months, and, at the end, when the muscle mass and strength gained by the subjects were evaluated, it showed that both groups presented the same results.

How Is This Possible?

It is all about the muscle fibers engaged in the process. Thus, when your muscles are under pressure, they will engage either type 1 or type 2 fibers. The first type activates when the intensity of the effort is low, and this will happen with light lifting during the first few reps. As the muscle becomes more tired, type 2 fibers are activated. Actually, these have higher growth potential, so they are the ones you will want to use more often. During heavy lifting, type 2 fibers are activated from the beginning. Nonetheless, as the number of reps is more reduced, the high light lifting reps can compensate, thus resulting in the same effect.

Will Light Weights Work for Experienced Lifters?

While they represent a good start for any beginner and will continue to work for intermediate lifters, if you’ve already been training with heavy weights for some time and attained a high lifting level, it will be a regression to switch to light weights. For professional lifters who are looking for excellence, the only way to maintain and even increase strength is to use heavy weights and continue to increase volume, as well as the intensity and be creative with the exercises they execute.

Nonetheless, they can still combine the two types of exercises, as light weights can help build cross-sectional fibers. They can strengthen the neurological system and thus reduce trembling when the muscles find themselves under high pressure.

How to Train without Hurting Yourself?

Now that we have established that you can get big arms and strength in them just by using light weights, let’s go through some basic rules that will help you stay safe during the workouts:

  • Training to failure is not always the key – some trainers will recommend working to failure, which means doing enough reps until you feel that you can no longer continue. This is supposed to help you push the limits and get better results faster. Nonetheless, it also means muscle fatigue, which, sometimes, makes recovery more difficult and can also lead to injuries. You can instead try to reduce the number of reps, leaving two reps between your routine and failure.
  • Adding more volume is not always the key – yes, you’ll need to increase the weight gradually for the effects to show, but you can also use your creativity to make your training harder without adding extra volume. You can vary your movements, add new exercises, change your tempo. Thus, you will engage your type 2 fibers for longer and also get good cardio training.
  • Design a workout cycle and follow it – sticking to the same heavy lifting routine may not deliver the results you’ve expected. In fact, you may soon experience the effects of physical burnout or get yourself injured. Instead, you could try grouping your exercises in a cycle. You could start, for example, with a few weeks of light training, which will prepare your muscles for heavier work. Once you feel you are prepared, try a higher volume, and maybe increase the intensity with one rep.
  • Consider a trainer – you will get professional advice and a routine designed to match your training level. Plus, you’ll also have supervision, which will help you avoid injuries and muscle fatigue.

Final Thoughts

As shown, light weights are efficient in increasing both muscle mass and strength. Nonetheless, if you are looking for performance, it is important to gradually increase the volume and the intensity of the exercises. Light training will prepare you for those heavy weights and improve your neurological system, so, especially if you are a beginner, you should regard them as a crucial step in your evolution. On the other hand, remember that even light lifting can lead to muscle fatigue, so make sure you establish a number of reps that will push you but not lead to exhaustion.

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