5 Ways to Make the Most of Lighter Weights


Lifting progressively heavier weights from workout to workout is a surefire way to gain new mass. But all that iron can often lead to more than muscle growth — namely sore joints and injury and, worse, stagnation. So glory be to the lab coats who have determined exercise with lighter weights to be equally advantageous for gaining size.

New research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology shows that lifters who lifted lighter weights, reaching failure at 25 to 30 reps, experienced the same amount of hypertrophy as those who trained in the more traditional six- to 12-rep range. The ultimate message of that study is that reaching failure regardless of rep range is critical to gaining muscle mass, but because it’s also critical to mix up your workouts, you might consider trying one of these low-weight, high-rep techniques.

1 100s
As the name implies, this technique involves performing 100 reps of a single exercise with limited rest. Choose a weight that is about 20 percent of your one-rep max on a given exercise and start repping out. Your goal is to reach temporary failure somewhere around 70 reps. From that point, rest only as many seconds as there are reps remaining in the 100-rep set. So if you hit 75, rest 25 seconds. Then do 15 more reps, bringing you to 90, then rest 10 seconds. Continue in this fashion until you reach 100. Try this for one or two exercises on a given bodypart, either as a finishing technique or its own dedicated, high-intensity workout.

2 Tabata
Japanese scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata found that speed skaters who performed eight cycles of 20-second high-intensity work followed by 10 seconds of rest increased their anaerobic and aerobic capacity almost maximally. In other words, they built more power while also upping their endurance. As with 100s, choose any exercise — one to two moves per bodypart is plenty — and do eight cycles of 20 seconds of lifting and 10 seconds of rest.

3 Weights + Cardio
One easy way to up your metabolic stock is to let your weights and cardio comingle in the gym. Try this: Pick a compound move for your legs, back, chest and shoulders and use a weight that brings about failure at 25 to 30 reps. After your leg move, do 30 seconds of high-intensity cardio, such as running in place, jumping rope or shadowboxing with hand weights. Repeat in this fashion for the other muscle groups until you are through the entire, wind-sapping circuit … then do it again. Each week, add seconds to the cardio and a little weight to the bar, or go through the circuit a third time. Door to door, you’re looking at about a 15- to 20-minute workout (and you get to skip the treadmill).

4 Circuits
Don’t scoff at that preset machine circuit at your gym. Knowing that higher reps can boost muscle size, you can rest assured that these fixed range-of-motion machines can help you build appreciable mass. Move quickly from exercise to exercise, repping to failure at 25 to 30 reps on each move. The bonus? When you get fatigued, you don’t have to worry about getting a bar stuck on your neck.

5 Speed Reps
By varying the speed at which you complete reps on a single exercise, you can greatly enhance the number and type of muscle fibers that you reach with a single set. Using push-ups as an example, start out with seven to eight plyometric push-ups (fast-twitch fibers), then do another seven to eight push-ups in which you take as long as eight to 10 seconds on the positive and negative portion of each rep (slow-twitch). Finish off with seven to eight regular-pace reps (one to two seconds up and down) to exhaust any muscle fibers that may have gone untouched.