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Light Or Heavy Weight To Build Muscles?

March 14th, 2013 · 1 Comment ·


If you look at the most popular post in this blog, How Ryan Reynolds Build His Body, you will find many interesting comments left by the readers. All have valid points. Some people say heavy weight with low repetition is the only way to build your muscle. On the other hand, some believe that moderate/light weights should be used with more repetitions with the reason – pump as much blood as possible to the muscle and perform more repetition until failure.

Who is right?

Speaking from the experience – each has his own valid points and therefore, no right or wrong. In fact, we should use both methods.

The bottom line comes down to intensity which is the key to muscle growth. Basic science applies here, if we can increase the intensity of the workout in proper way, we will be able to build more muscle. When I say increasing intensity, it simply means increase the difficulty of the exercise.

So, how to increase the difficulty? You can either add more weights for more resistance or shorten the rest time between sets. The latter is difficult because you do not allow your body to fully recover before you pump the iron again. At the end of the day, you want your body to take on the new demands which make your body stronger.


Now, back to the question – light or heavy weights, which adds more intensity?

Given a choice, I prefer to train with heavy weights and I have to agree that heavy weights add a lot of intensity. However, I am not able to take heavy weights on each and every exercise, especially on compound exercises which more than one muscle groups are involved. By using heavy weight in compound exercises, movements are so much difficult to do. That explains why not many people go for compound exercise. I can always use the squat rack to do squat or deadlift without lining up, unlike other resistance machine which most people are lining up waiting for their turns. For most, compound exercise with heavy weight is simply too taxing on the body. Like it or not, this is one of the most effective ways for increasing your overall intensity levels.

Now, what about light weights?

For building muscle, light weights do have a place, but not in the same way heavy weights do. For me, light to moderate weights are there to “burn” the muscle. May be like what some say, light weights help flush the muscle with blood and pump the muscle up.


I have tried both techniques and have had a certain degree of success with each technique.

My only problem with using heavy weights is the strain it put on my body. My joints were constantly under pressure, especially my wrist. I hurt my wrist before. I have also trained so hard before until my chest was injured and I was out for almost a month.

I have tried using light to moderate weights for compound exercise. Even with high repetitions, my body did not respond the same way it did when I was using heavy weights.

Regardless heavy of light weight, correct form is important. No point to “cheat” or doing it wrong with super heavy weights. Not only it does not help in muscle growth, doing it with incorrect form may hurt you too.

Some people are using light weight to help muscle definition. Whether this objective is achievable, I will say it really depends on body fat. No matter how “defined” a muscle is, if we have the body fat layer, it is hard to see the muscles. One good example is the highly sought after 6-pack.


So, the conclusion I made – using heavy weights for core compound movements is challenging on the whole body. Using light weights for individual muscle groups is taxing for that particular muscle group. Correct form is a must.

I know. My conclusion may not be what you want. But, but this is where I use both strategies to ensure I get the optimal amount of intensity. Compound exercises with heavy weight is performed first in my workout, followed by isolation exercise with moderate or light weight.

Train with different tempo occasionally – to beat the boredom and NOT to allow the body to adjust too long to the common workout routine. Otherwise, it will hit a plateau, so to speak.

Always go for free weight (dumbbell followed by barbell) and finally the resistance machine.


Bear in mind, what I have written are my solely personal views about training with heavy and light weights. Most seasoned weight trainers have their own way of training. Once you start to get a feel for the weight and start to understand how your body reacts to weight training, you can start to gradually increase your intensity levels with different types of training method. At the same time, you should learn about your body limitation too.



Category: Weight Training

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1 response so far ↓
  • bobo // Apr 4, 2013 at 7:51 AM

    Firstly great website !
    I’ve a few questions that I was hoping you or one of your readers could answer.

    I also hurt my wrist, I believe from increasing the intensity of my pressup routine from 80 reps 3 times per week to 100 reps 5 times per week.

    It has affected my wrist and fingers, to the point I can’t do press ups or lift weights or play guitar. How do I fix this problem?

    In this article you mention light weights v heavy, I read your previous article on how do I know if i’m lifting heavy enough, but if I’m honest I still don’t get it, I understand that my heavy would be different from your heavy (ie you probably can lift a lot more then me) how long would it take for me to notice the muscle being built? I’m not on about when am I going to bulk up? I mean how can I tell I am improving? Is it purely based on strength?

    Thank you
    Sorry for my bad English it’s not my first language.


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