3 min read.Updated: 05 Apr 2021, 10:40 PM ISTPulasta Dha
Most exercise spaces can become competitive to the extent it can lead you to risk injury by ego-lifting very heavy weights
As you grow stronger, you must challenge the muscle to lift more for general progress of your strength
It’s natural to be daunted when you walk into a gym and see people lift weights that are five times heavier than the ones you lift. Without this being the intention, most exercise spaces can become competitive to the extent where “ego-lifting" leads to injuries. You might feel bad because the guy next to you is benching 100kg while you can’t go beyond 50. But should you? As far as your fitness is concerned, does it really matter how much weight you’re lifting?
Muscle growth does not depend on the amount of weight you lift. It is a myth that one must lift more weight to bulk up. If you’re regular and patient with lighter weights, you can achieve similar results. It all comes down to two factors: the number of reps, and the way you perform them in order to achieve muscle fatigue.
“The goal of your workouts should be to work your muscles to the point of fatigue (i.e., when you can no longer do another rep) no matter how much weight you are using. So whether you are doing five dumbbell curls with a 20-pound weight, or 20 reps with a 5-pound weight, as long as you are getting to the point of muscle fatigue, you’ll get stronger," writes US-based wellness journalist Mercey Livingston in an article called Lifting Heavy Weights vs. Light Weights: Why One Isn’t Better Than The Other.
I usually get frustrated with bicep exercises. I can’t go beyond 7-8 reps on something as light as two 7.5kg plates on either side of an EZ bar. Years of working out means I can give you 40 reps of handstand pushups (which are surely tougher than bicep curls) over five sets, but biceps, no, that is something that I haven’t been able to crack. So after accepting this, I have rejigged my arms day to working with light dumbbells and doing sets in a 45 seconds on/15 seconds off pattern. Five basic bicep exercises over 10 minutes with that formula leads to more muscle fatigue and a better day at the gym. Sometimes, by using lighter weights, you can also master form and technique. It is only recently that scientific analysis has been made to find out if lighter weights are as effective to build muscle, and not just endurance.
A 2016 study called ‘Pumping Iron: Lighter Weights Just As Effective As Heavier Weights To Gain Muscle, Build Strength’ published in the Journal Of Applied Physiology found something interesting. It compared two groups of experienced lifters over a 12-week period in which one group used lighter weights (up to 50% of maximum strength) “for sets ranging from 20 to 25 repetitions. The other group lifted heavier weights (up to 90 per cent of maximum strength) for eight to 12 repetitions. Both groups lifted to the point of failure." The conclusion, using muscle and blood samples, said that gains in muscle mass and muscle fibre size were “virtually identical".
“Lift to the point of exhaustion and it doesn’t matter whether the weights are heavy or light," said Stuart Phillips, who was the senior author of the study (conducted by McMaster University). At the time of publication, Phillips was a professor in the Department of Kinesiology.
While it is entirely good practice to start with lighter weights and more reps, it may not be a good idea to always stick to the same weights.
Over a period of time, as you grow stronger, it is important to challenge the muscle to lift more for general progress of your strength.
However, the sheer fact that lifting light can help as much as lifting heavy means that a lot of gym-goers can perfect a formula that works for them. Enjoying and feeling good after a workout is as important as sweating it out and creating fatigue. It also opens up new ways of using home equipment for workouts, like water bottles, for a shoulder workout. There’re other advantages of light weight-heavy reps workouts. They are not as injurious and they won’t give you the over-muscled bulky look you may not be going for. To get the best out of a light weight workout, remember to eat enough to be in a calorie surplus.
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.