High Reps and Light Weights for Muscle Growth

Young man teaching a young woman in a gym

Light weights have traditionally been thought to be a waste of time if you were trying to build muscles. New research, however, is challenging that notion and suggesting that light weights, when lifted for higher reps, can indeed be just as effective as lifting heavy weights for strengthening your muscles and building mass.

Small Weights, Big Results

A study published in April 2012 issue of the, "Journal for Applied Physiology" concluded that lifting less weight for more repetitions is as effective as lifting heavier weights for lower reps. The research authors noted that the key to achieving optimal results is to lift to the point of failure. An earlier study published in the August 2010 issue of the journal, "PLoS ONE" went one step further and concluded that lifting light weights for high reps is more effective than using high weights for lower reps for inducing muscle growth.

More Reps, More Benefits

High rep, light weight workouts offer several benefits. They are particularly helpful for new or older exercisers or people with joint issues who might be afraid or unable to lift heavier weights. Even seasoned lifters can benefit from incorporating this type of training into their workouts. Changing the way you train every few weeks prevents your muscles from hitting a plateau. Your muscles gradually get used to your workouts and stop growing -- so if you’re lifting heavy, choosing lighter weights will confuse your muscles and you will continue to see strength gains.

Lifters Beware

Some fitness experts, including Jeffrey Potteiger of Grand Valley State University are skeptical about the "Journal of Applied Physiology" study. He notes that it used newer exercisers and that the results could have been different with more seasoned exercisers. Other critics point out that the study focused on just a few study volunteers, all of whom were men in their early 20s with high levels of testosterone, which could have also helped them build muscle more quickly.

Safety First

Regardless of how heavy you lift, always start your workout by lifting lighter weights to prepare your joints for the work ahead. If you have not lifted before, speak to a trainer to learn the proper form of lifting weights. Lifting with improper form can lead to injury. Stop exercising immediately if you feel sudden or sharp pain as you lift. Always end your weight training session with a stretch of the muscles you have worked. Weight training can shorten your muscles so stretching will help maintain your range of motion and help your muscles recover.