Light Weights vs. Heavy Weights (Science, Bodybuilders & My Experience)

Whether you’re starting or working out for a while, you definitely want to know the difference between training with heavy weights vs. light weights.

There are myriad answers available on the web about it, yet it is not clear to many people. That’s why I’ve decided to share my own experience, opinions of bodybuilders, and the scientific studies on lifting heavy weights vs. light weights for strength and muscle gain.

This information will allow you to properly design your workout program and help you achieve optimal results in the long run.

You’ll see in this article:

  • My Personal Experience with Heavy Weights vs. Light Weights Training
  • Bodybuilders on Lifting Heavy vs. Light Weights
  • Studies and Research on Light Weights vs. Heavy Weights

My Personal Experience with Heavy Weights vs. Light Weights Training

Heavy Weights vs. Light Weights

I’ve been doing strength training for the last four years. And before that, I used to do bodyweight workouts at home. When I joined the gym, I was lean and wanted to grow my muscles.

As I have already done the bodyweight exercises at home, I started lifting the weight from the very first day. It wasn’t easy at all. I feel the pain and sores for the first couple of weeks.

Usually, I trained with light to moderate weights for the first few months to bolster my fundamental strength.

As my goal was to gain muscles, I slowly started increasing weight. However, with heavyweights, I wouldn’t be able to perform more reps and sets.

However, I still decided to continue lifting heavy weights for the next few months.

After a few months, I saw the improvement I wanted to see. Not only did my muscles grow, but I was also able to lift more weights.

I mostly did free-weight exercises, such as the deadlift, bench press, squat, overhead press, floor press, pull-ups, dips, and lunges.

I gained approximately 10 pounds in just three months without a special diet.

Verdict on My Personal Experience…

Both lightweight and heavyweight exercises are good. In my case, lifting heavy weights helped me increase strength and mass faster than lifting light weights.

Lifting heavy weights made me feel more powerful, improved my overall strength, and helped me gain muscle mass.

Working out with light weights isn’t bad, but the progress will be slow, and your muscles will take time to grow. However, it is safe compared to heavyweight training. So, you can go with lightweight training if you want to train safer.

If you also don’t want to increase strength, then lifting light weights is the best option for you.

I would say try mixing both light weights and heavy weights in your training to promote strength and hypertrophy.

If you want to build muscle, increase the load from time to time because the study suggests increasing the load frequently (progressive overload) can grow your strength and muscle faster.1 Peterson, Mark D et al. “Progression of volume load and muscular adaptation during resistance exercise.” European Journal of Applied Physiology vol. 111,6 (2011): 1063-71. doi:10.1007/s00421-010-1735-9

Bodybuilders on Lifting Heavy vs. Light Weights

Light Weights vs. Heavy Weights

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold’s training programs often include heavy weights for building strength and muscle size during certain phases of training because he believes that lifting weights is essential for creating a strong and solid foundation, which is crucial for muscle development.

He also used to lift lighter weights with higher repetitions for muscle definition and endurance. He suggests that incorporating lighter weights into workouts can help target specific muscle groups and enhance muscle detail, especially when preparing for bodybuilding competitions.

Ronnie Coleman

Ronnie Coleman, eight-time Mr. Olympia, says bodybuilding is not about quantity. It’s about quality.

Whether you lift heavier weights or lighter weights, whether you do five reps or 15 reps, you should continue doing so until you feel a good full pump in your muscle.

If you don’t feel the good pump in the muscles even after 15 reps, then that won’t be effective. The rule of muscle growth is to select the right exercise and train harder until you feel the full pump in the muscle.

Dexter Jackson

Former Mr. Olmpia Dexter, “The Blade,” Jackson says that bodybuilding is all about muscle gains and intense muscular contractions, i.e., achieving a good full pump in the muscles. It’s not just about lifting a heavier weight or a lighter weight.

“If you want to increase muscle gain and build a solid foundation, you need to lift heavy weights, but after a certain point, you have to be smart with your training. – he further said.”

Dex is now used to working out with machines and lifts lightweight because he wants to avoid injuries. He does his proper training with lighter weights and still maintains his size.

He feels there’s no reason to lift heavier weights like other bodybuilders who are now paying the price for the continuous long-term harm to their bodies.

All three of them are the champs…Ultimately, they suggest lifting heavy weights, and light weights are good if you know how to manage it according to your physique and fitness goals.

Studies On Light Weights vs. Heavy Weights

The traditional concept of bodybuilding or muscle building says that the heavier weights you lift, the more muscles grow.

Many well-known bodybuilders like Branch Warren and Ronnie Colman say that if you want to gain muscles, you should lift heavier weights.

However, modern studies are challenging the traditional concept of bodybuilding.

Let’s take a look at the modern studies on lightweight vs. heavyweight workouts:

1. Journal of Applied Physiology

This study has shown that doing more repetitions using lighter weights is just as effective as doing fewer repetitions with heavier weights, with the exception that one has to lift the weight until he isn’t able to finish his last rep (until he is totally fatigued and has no power left to do even one rep). 2Neither load nor systemic hormones determine resistance training-mediated hypertrophy or strength gains in resistance-trained young men– Journal of Applied Physiology

2. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

Research published by the Journal of SCR indicates that both high-load and low-load training to failure can stimulate similar muscle growth among well-trained young men. However, it has also shown lifting heavy is superior for maximizing strength adaptations.3 Schoenfeld, Brad J et al. “Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research vol. 29,10 (2015): 2954-63. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000958

3. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine

Another research has demonstrated that lifting heavy loads maximizes muscular strength, and moderate loads increase muscle hypertrophy when the number of sets is equated. However, Volume load appears to be more important to increases in muscle hypertrophy compared to absolute strength.4 Schoenfeld, Brad J et al. “Differential Effects of Heavy Versus Moderate Loads on Measures of Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men.” Journal of sports science & medicine vol. 15,4 715-722. 1 Dec. 2016

Conclusion and Takeaway

ComponentHeavy LoadLow Load
StrengthMore Effective
HypertrophySlightly Effective Than LL
EnduranceMore Effective
Muscle DefinitionMore Effective
SafetyHigher Risk of InjuriesSafer Than Heavy Load
Skill RequiredIntermediateAll Fitness Level
Compound EffectMore Effective
Isolation ExerciseMore Effective

Muscle growth is based on the optimization of three factors: mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage.

You can optimize mechanical tension by doing 2-6 reps with 90-100% of maximum strength with a resting time of 2-5 Minutes between Sets.

To optimize metabolic stress, you need to do 8-12 reps with 70-80% of maximum strength with a resting time of 1-2 minutes between Sets.

And the muscle damage can be optimized by doing supersets or drop sets with lighter weights.

Lifting heavy weights and light weights, both are good if you know how to manage according to your physique and fitness goals.

Every rep helps you increase muscle strength and muscle growth. All you need to focus on is the quality training.

It is best to focus on both and try combining all forms of the workout in your training, such as body weight, machine weight, and free weights.


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Murshid Akram
I'm an online personal trainer, fitness blogger, and fitness enthusiast. I love researching and writing about exercise and nutrition. I share science-based, practical, and logical information that can help you achieve your desired fitness goal.

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