The debate between light and heavy weights is a recurring one in the fitness world. Is it better to do more repetitions of a strength-training exercise using less weight or fewer repetitions with more weight? The jury’s still out on which is more effective. However, studies back the theory of using lighter weights to deliver pretty impressive results. Furthermore, Caleb Backe, certified personal trainer and health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics, explains that this method of using fewer weights is proven to increase levels of testosterone in men. This is definitely an added bonus. “Additionally, using lighter weights usually means [that] you will have better form, better range of motion, and can isolate muscle use,” he adds. Here are some ways to take your strength workouts with light weights to the next level.
Train with lower rest intervals.
It’s no secret that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is one of the most efficient ways to stay in shape—and that goes for strength training, too. Light weights are ideal for HIIT-based strength workouts. “In addition to burning more calories and increasing metabolism, lightweight high-intensity workouts increase the amount of lactic acid you produce,” says Backe. “This organic compound is produced in your muscle tissues. [It] can accelerate the number of growth hormones your brain makes.” Decrease your rest time between sets of reps to keep your heart rate elevated and your muscles burning.
Add different rotations.
“With lighter weights, we can play with different rotations to challenge our muscles differently without stressing our joints,” says Lisa Corsello, celebrity fitness instructor and founder of Burn Pilates in San Francisco. “For example, turning your palms in, out, and up with free weights can work accessory muscles in your upper body. Turning your toes out and changing your stance can make the lower body work more intense.”
Try different rotations and directions when performing moves, such as squats and shoulder press. Small changes with light weights can have a major impact on targeting muscles you might normally miss.
Focus on good form.
Shifting your focus towards maintaining proper form is one easy way to get more out of your workout. An added bonus is it helps prevent injury. “The proper form allows you to maximize your energy output, allowing you to get even more reps in each set,” says Backe. “Better efficiency means more oxygen flow. [This] also contributes to more reps.” Lastly, he adds that using the correct form enables you to target the intended muscles. Therefore, you don’t need the unintended, compensatory muscles to pick up the slack. This also helps you to avoid injury.
Take advantage of resistance training exercises.
Strength training with the use of resistance to build muscle doesn’t require heavy weights. Resistance training with light weights is a great way to build and maintain lean muscle mass, according to Backe. “In essence, resistance training works to increase muscle endurance and tone. [It] forces the muscle cells to contract and tear, ultimately to be rebuilt bigger and stronger,” he says. “Additionally, these workouts raise metabolic rates. In turn, [they] help maintain a healthy body weight.”
Do some combo movements.
With lighter weights, it’s safer to combine lower and upper body movements, according to Corsello. “Sumo squats with shoulder presses can put a lot of strain on the lower back with heavyweights,” she says. While, with lighter weights, you can get more extension and focus on form. These are two important factors that help intensify your strength workouts with light weights.
Add light weights to your legs routine.
The combination of light weights and high reps may or may not be ideal for toning. However, according to Backe, it is great for practical muscle uses. “By incorporating light weight exercises to your legs routine, you can begin to challenge your muscles and develop remarkable endurance,” he adds. “This is especially important for runners, cyclists, and all other athletes who are looking to gain an edge.”