Bigger. Faster. Stronger. That’s the name of the game in sports. And with recent developments in sports science and social media, most athletes can access cutting-edge research right from their phones and immediately implement it in their practice. Getting bigger, faster, and stronger in the most efficient ways possible has never been easier for athletes.
We have long known how to get big and strong. Eat a lot, and lift heavy weights, get bigger and stronger. It’s a simple formula. However, research is constantly shedding light on new methodologies, and recent research shows that heavyweights aren’t always necessary to get bigger.
In my personal opinion, heavier weights will always be superior. However, especially for younger and more novice athletes, using light weights can be nearly or sometimes just as effective for building muscle.
There’s nothing magical about lighter weights. It’s about what using lighter weights allows you to do.
- The technique is usually better with lightweight
- Light weight allows for more volume
- More volume means more time under tension
- Most perceive the weight as more manageable, allowing the athlete to improve the mind-to-muscle connection
Let’s be honest. If you’ve spent any appreciable time in a weight room, you’ve seen some goofy stuff. Young men putting way too much weight onto a bar, making them look like a newborn giraffe when they try to squat it, or perhaps using a machine in a way that it CLEARLY was not meant to be used.
However, taking a more humble approach and using light weight will inherently reduce or completely eliminate the compensations that arise from too heavy of weights. That, accompanied by good coaching, will improve safety, technique, and results!
Obviously, less weight means you can do more reps and sets. A large body of research shows us that perhaps the most important factor in building muscle is the amount of volume one performs.
Now, a word on volume. Most people know that volume includes reps and sets, but they forget that the amount of weight is part of the equation too.
3×10 reps with 50lbs is half the volume of 3×10 with 100lbs. That has to be taken into consideration.
However, (and you’ll have to experience this for yourself), most people find it easier to complete more total volume when using a lighter weight and attempting higher set and rep counts.
More Time Under Tension
Time under tension (TUT) refers to the amount of time the muscles are spent in a state of contraction. This goes with more volume. More reps mean more time spent contracting, allowing for a greater muscle-building effect. The pace is key, though. You can fly through the reps, but that reduces TUT. I recommend going slow on the eccentric (the lowering phase of the lift) and fast on the concentric (the raising phase of the lift).
Mind to Muscle Connection
Moving lighter weights doesn’t sound as daunting as lifting super heavy weights. This allows the lifter to focus solely on contracting the target muscles better. Many people cheat and use bigger, stronger muscles to complete the lift. Remember, your brain doesn’t know you are trying only to work the biceps in a curling exercise. It just knows you need to lift the weight up. Sometimes the chest or shoulders will take over, which isn’t what you are trying to accomplish.
The Key to Building Muscle
Rarely is there universal agreement in the strength and conditioning world. However, there is a pretty good consensus that hypertrophy (muscle-building gains) doesn’t matter so much whether the weight is heavy or light. The key is INTENSITY! Lighter weights demand proportionately more rep volume to match the heavier weight intensity.
What matters is you. Some people like to go heavy. They thrive off lower sets and rep ranges but with very high intensity. Others do better with lower weight and higher rep ranges. Regardless of your strategy, meeting the challenge of fatiguing muscles to exhaustion with proper techniques will help build and continue to build muscle.
So if you struggle or don’t enjoy lifting heavy, going light is perfectly fine. You still need to bring the energy. This is by no means a muscle-building hack. You won’t get jacked without bringing your game face to the gym. Whichever, light weights or heavy weights allow you to fatigue your muscles more, that needs to be your preferred method of lifting. But variety is always a good thing. Don’t exclusively start lifting light weights only. If you really want to build a lot of muscle, you need to incorporate both strategies into your training regimen. There are probably many factors that benefit from lifting heavy lifting and many others that come from lifting light weights. Variety and balance are always good things. Regardless of your goal, train with intent. Happy lifting!