Lifting Light Weights is Just as Effective as Lifting Heavy

Ask almost any personal trainer or avid gym rat about weight training and they’ll probably mention the benefits of overloading the muscles with heavy weights. The idea behind training with heavy weights at a lower rep count is that you do it super slowly without the momentum of a high rep, lighter weight workout to break down the muscle fibers so they can grow stronger and denser during recovery.

Makes sense, right? If heavier weights do such a great job at breaking down the muscle, it seems natural that they’d be supercharged to recover and adapt to become stronger for next time.

Well, according to new research, lifting heavy weights at lower reps may not actually be any better than lifting lighter weights at higher reps. This is great news for people who strongly dislike lifting heavy weights or don’t have access to heavy equipment.

Researchers from McMaster University took several experienced male weight lifters and separated them into two groups. One group lifted lighter weights that were 30 to 50 percent of their maximum strength at 20 to 25 reps while the other group lifted heavier weights that were 75 to 90 percent of their maximum strength at 8 to 12 reps.

Both groups followed their respective lifting protocols for a 12-week period where they completed three sets of their lifts, four times a week. Both lifted until they reached muscle fatigue.

After the 12 weeks, the researchers took muscle and blood samples to be analyzed. Muscle mass and muscle fiber size increased in both groups and were nearly identical. In addition, none of the gains were a result of testosterone or growth hormone — two hormones that many in the fitness community commonly assume to spark gains.

According to Dr. Phillips, senior author of the study and kinesiology professor, the key to getting stronger is to lift until you can’t lift anymore. Then men who participated in the study all lifted until almost complete muscle fatigue, suggesting that whether lifting light or heavy, the changes that take place at the cellular level during that exhaustive point are what drives those gains.

The next steps will be to conduct research on the cellular mechanisms that spark muscle strength and growth from lifting weights and to examine whether the same effects occur in other populations. At this point, however, knowing that you can get virtually the same results with light weights as you can with heavy weights leaves no room for excuses to not lift weights at all.

Lifting lighter weights is less intimidating. You don’t have to worry about looking silly or weak when you try to go and pick up those 40-lb dumbbells at the gym to squat with, because you won’t have to!

Lifting lighter weights allows you to focus on proper form. Simply gripping and holding heavy weights can be a difficult job of its own, and it can distract you from focusing on maintaining proper form if most of your attention is on trying to maintain your grip.

Lifting lighter weights is safer. Speaking of proper form, a good way to hurt yourself is by lifting too heavy. Focus on really mastering good form with lighter weights, keep a regular lifting schedule to build strength and then you can move up in weight from there if you like.

Lifting lighter weights is more affordable. Gym memberships are expensive. Buying your own heavy equipment is also expensive. It’s easy enough to pick up maybe 1 or 2 sets of light weights (2 to 5 pounds, 3 to 7 pounds, 5 to 10 pounds, etc.) for much cheaper.

You can use household items as light weights. You don’t have to buy light weights at all if you don’t want to. Use a couple of large cans of tomatoes to do your bicep curls or do some lunges while holding two jugs of liquid laundry detergent.

You can use your own body weight. Who says you need light weights at all? You can create a similar light weight effect with your own body by maintaining proper form while actively squeezing your muscles as you do your bicep curls, shoulder presses, chest flies, pushups, planks, lunges, squats and other common exercises.

So if you’ve been thinking about starting a weight lifting routine, now couldn’t be a better time to do it. Happy lifting!

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock


John B
John B1 years ago

Thanks for sharing the info.

Wendi M.
Wendi M2 years ago


Lisa M.
Lisa M2 years ago


Ab. K.
Ab K2 years ago

This is a wonderful artical.It doesn't matter what one does..just DO IT.Find out what works for yourself and never give up.Kudoooosss to all that do some form of exercise.You are the ChAmPiOnS!
Care2,Tks for artical and to all for replys.
Enjoy the day/aft/eve to all :)

Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen2 years ago

Thank you

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne R2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

M. M.
M. M2 years ago


Mark J.
Mark J2 years ago

While I'm too lazy to do the research to find other studies that refute this one, it definitely contradicts what the professionals are doing...but it depends on the goals you have. If you want burst strength, you focus on hitting near your maximum effort for a shorter number of repetitions, if you want endurance strength, you focus on a lower level of effort that can be maintained for a longer period. There's a reason that sprinters work out differently than marathoners, or football players versus soccer players.

The article says it took 'several experienced weight lifters' and separated them into groups...any study that tries to draw general conclusions from a sample size of 'several' is automatically suspect.

Claudia S.
Claudia S2 years ago

Thank you

Chevy R.
Chevy R.2 years ago