Big debate – Can you build muscle with lighter weights?
In the blue corner we have the hardcore ” gotta lift heavy” crew who has tons of injuries to show for, in the red corner it is the ” gotta chase the pump, dude” gang
Who is right?
Lets us go to the videotape.
First we must discuss what we mean by lighter weights.
Let’s settle on 12-20 reps, 30 at most.
Now let us look at the conditions needed for muscle growth and if they can be fulfilled by smaller weights
Can light weights recruit all fibers?
Yes, because fiber recruitment is not dependent on the actual weight, but on effort. Meaning if you create enough effort during the set, you will recruit all fibers.
But don’t the type 2 fibers only fire during heavy loads? Not quite. First off, most of us do not have a lot of type 2 fibers
Can you create metabolic damage aka fiber tearing?
To create damage, don’t I need constantly higher weights which require progressive overload and low rops?
No because you can create overload through different avenues.
Such as better execution. The better you execute each rep, the more damage you will create in the muscle.
It can also be done via higher reps. More reps, done in proper fashion will go a long way to tear fibers.
You could also add more quality volume, such as more sets or add another exercises. All this will save your joints and produce gains.
Can you create Metabolic damage using lighter weights?
What is metabolic damage in the first place? It means essentially, meaning does the the muscle get sore because you run out of lactic acid.
That is even more doable with smaller weights than with heavy weights since you can perform longer sets aka more mechanical work
Lastly, there is muscular tension .
What is that ?
The short version is that muscular tension sets of which sets off protein synthesis and nitrogen retentions.
Meaning” It means more protein is being build than destroyed, so you are anabolic vs catabolic = you are building muscle.
This works even better with light weights than with bigger weights since you can actually isolate and contract the muscle better.
The better you can contract it the more mechanical work is there , more gains!
So , yes smaller weights will do just fine!
But hold there is more! Smaller weights will also allow you to train more often since it is less stressful on the central nervous system. That means you can set more impulses to grow without burning out.
It is also beneficial in the sense that injuries are less likely than from heavy lifting. Here we can divide in tow categories: 1. catastrophic injuries such as tears or breaks caused by heavy weights.
2. repetitive overload injuries caused by too much stress over time. Both will derail the gains train!
So do not get pigeonholed into thinking that you must do x. Always consult the science and make decisions from there.
Smarter gym rats have bigger muscles!