This is a question that seems to come up a lot in the bodybuilding community. Can you build muscle with light weights but high reps?
If you talk to anyone who has experience in building muscle, the general consensus is that you need to lift heavy weights in order to build muscle. But what if you don’t have access to heavy weights? Can you build muscle with light weights and high reps?
The answer is yes, and in this article, we are going to talk about what it is going to take for you to build muscle with light weights but high reps.
Before we get started, I encourage you to download our app All Workouts: Personal Trainer (iOS | Google Play). If you are serious about building muscle, this app is going to get you to where you need to go.
Volume over everything
This isn’t that difficult to understand. But it might be a little bit confusing at first. If you are working out with light weights but high reps, you simply just need to factor in the weight times reps to get the volume.
We are told that if we want to build muscle, we need to lift heavy weights with low reps. Ok, that is easy enough to do.
But when we don’t have heavy weights to lift, things could get complicated.
Let’s say for example, you want to curl 40 lb dumbbells for 5 reps and 3 sets. So with some quick math, we can tell that the volume of each set is 200 lbs, or 40 x 5. For a total of 600 lbs volume for each grouping of sets.
Now, what if you don’t have access to 40 lb dumbbells. Can you still hit that volume amount? Of course! All you need to do is calculate out how to get to those numbers with the weights that you currently have access to.
If all I have is 20 lb dumbbells for example, I am going to need to do 10 reps instead of 5 reps. And if all I have is 10 lb dumbbells, I need to do 20 reps to hit that 200 lbs threshold per set.
At the end of the day, all that matters is that you find out what volume that you would need to be doing if you were lifting heavy weights, and match that with extra reps with lower weights.
Don’t believe the people who tell you that you absolutely need to be lifting heavy weights in order to build muscle. That is certainly not the case. Take what you can get, be consistent, and make it happen.
Are you eating enough?
There is something that is inherently more important than lifting weights. And that is making sure that you eat enough food. But why is it so important?
You can workout every day of the year and still not gain an ounce of muscle if your diet is not dialed in. But you are still asking, can you build muscle with light weights but high reps? If you aren’t eating enough, then you are wasting your time.
You have probably heard the saying before “abs are made in the kitchen.” What this means to me is that nutrition matters more than working out. And I can corroborate this because I spent more years than I would like to admit not caring about my nutrition, and it didn’t pay off.
I worked out so hard and so much, but never gained any muscle. That is until I figured out that you cannot build muscle while in a caloric deficit. You have to be in a caloric surplus so that the extra calories that you consume will go towards fueling your muscles.
But how do you know if you are eating in a caloric surplus? You first must learn how to calculate your maintenance calories.
From here, you will know what your baseline is. Then start by eating 500 calories per day over that maintenance number. Your goal is to be gaining at least a half pound per week. But I always aim for a pound per week.
Remember, no matter how hard you workout, you will not put on muscle if you are not eating in a caloric surplus. And you will know that you are eating in a caloric surplus as long as you gain at least a half pound per week.
Reps until failure
It doesn’t matter if you are lifting heavy weights or lifting light weights, everyone can agree that reps until failure is one of the keys to building muscle. But what does reps until failure mean?
All it means is that on your last 2-3 reps of each set that you do, you want to be struggling to lift it.
So what does that mean for our initial calculations? In the first section, we were able to forecast that lifting 5 reps of 40 pounds is the same as lifting 10 reps of 20 pounds, or 20 reps of 10 pounds.
But those are just our guidelines. For example, if you are lifting your 20 pound dumbbells and you hit your 10 reps and you feel like you can keep going, then by all means keep going. And go until the last 2 reps that you do are extremely difficult.
A wise bodybuilder once taught me that when you are doing your reps until failure, you want to go until you literally cannot lift your last rep. Even if you are trying with all of your might, your muscles have failed and that’s it. Time for a rest.
This works especially well if you are trying to build muscle with light weights but high reps.
When you only have access to light weights, you need to make the best out of what you have. And going until failure is going to help push you over the edge when it comes to solid muscle growth.
Don’t let the idea that you need heavy weights hold you back. You can even check out our muscle building workout plan without equipment. You don’t even really need weights in order to build muscle.
Main Point: Can you build muscle with light weight but high reps?
If you have made it this far, you can probably now answer our question, can you build muscle with light weight but high reps? The answer is yes, you absolutely can.
In fact, I believe there is a massive misconception in the bodybuilding community that heavy weights are a requirement for building muscle.
Here is the thing. If all you have access to is light weights, then you are just going to have to find creative ways to make the most out of what you have.
You learned that the volume of what you are lifting matters the most over anything else. So just estimate how much you would be lifting if you had access to heavy weights, and match that number with the smaller weights by adding additional reps.
But don’t forget the most important part of any muscle building campaign. That is of course eating at a caloric surplus. There is nothing more important than eating enough calories. Without the caloric surplus, you will not put on muscle.
Let me give you a quick illustration of how this works. When you lift weights, your muscles create micro-tears on them. If you are in a caloric surplus, those extra calories in your body rush to repair those torn muscles. If you are in a caloric deficit, those muscles aren’t going to be repaired, meaning they aren’t going to grow.
Lastly, I cannot stress enough the importance of reps until failure. Make all of the calculations that you want. But at the end of the day, make sure that each set ends with rep failure. Your body will thank you as your muscles grow.