Lifting Weights: Do they Need to be Heavy?

Less is Just as Good When Lifting Weights


I don’t know if anyone taking my Tuesday night weight class in the last decade has noticed but I stopped trying to push people to lift their heaviest weight anymore. Usually I’m a “just suck it up and do it” kind of gal. So when people came to lift weights in my class I assumed they meant it and I tried to push them to their limit to build muscle. I would sternly coach “if you’re not having trouble lifting the last few repetitions you need more weight!”

Now I have a higher more enlightened point of view that appears to have merged with science. You can lift lighter weights and do more repetitions to get the same results. I humbly came to this conclusion when my own injuries and aching body forced me to lighten my weight load. It seemed to be easier on my joints and caused my body less stress while recovering the next day.  Surprisingly I didn’t go soft but continued to build strength and maintain strong and sculpted muscles.

A new study in the Journal of Applied Physiology put 49 men into two groups. One group lifted 75-90 percent of their maximum weight for eight reps while a second group lifted 30-50 percent of their maximum weight for as many as 25 repetitions. Both groups saw similar significant gain in muscle strength.

Researchers had done similar studies before showing this but this was a larger study, at the McMaster university in Hamilton, Ontario that recruited men who were already weight training.  That means guys who were already strong and fit still were able to progress with less weight. The spike in testosterone and human growth hormones were the same.

Lifting Weights

Lifting Weights

This means “no pain, no gain” is a misnomer and YOU CAN make changes to your body with less lifting discomfort yet more time.

The difference seems to be pushing your muscles to fatigue whether you do it faster with heavy weights or stretch out the work with lighter weights.

This is good news for people who want to build muscle but are intimidated to lift heavy weights. Or like me, tired of the joint aches and pain associated with hoisting heavy weights.

The key to lifting success is still the same, consistency.

Whether you lift heavy weights a dozen times or lighter weights for two-dozen or more reps you must show up and do the work two to four times a week.

Building muscle shifts the definition of your body and helps you look better in your clothes while making you stronger to take on life’s daily rituals of carrying and climbing. Another bonus is muscles burn more calories!

Most of the ladies who work out me will do cardio all day long but the thought of lifting weights sends them running to put on their skirts. I’ve heard excuses from “I don’t want to bulk up” to “it’s just hard”. Maybe the promise of getting stronger muscles and bones by taking it easy and including weights in their regular exercise routine might seem less daunting. After all, being strong and fit builds confidence as well as quality of life. Remember to discuss trying new exercises with your doctor.

Journal Applied Physiology:


Davida Wright Galvin

About Davida Wright Galvin

Davida is a fitness professional and former award winning health and science television reporter. As a mother and wife she juggles the daily challenges of raising three children, working and staying active. She likes to make fitness fun and helping people find joy in exercise so we can cure the obesity epidemic in our country. --------------------- UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, BACHELOR OF ARTS, Journalism; Certifications (Present and Past): AFAA Group Training, BodyPump, Zumba, Balletone, SCW Personal Training Certification, Turbo Kickboxing, YMCA Personal Training Certification, Vegas Stiletto Fitness, Reebok Core Board Training Certification, CPR/AED & Infant CPR; YMCA Fitness Instructor Certification -------------------- If you’re in the Denver area find her class or fitness events at Have fun, feel fit #withDavida!
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