Can You Build Big Muscles With Light Weights? Maybe those pink dumbbells are there for a reason?

There are a lot of ads promising nice and sexy muscles through working out with light weights. The models used in the advertisement campaigns usually have really impressive physique – lean and big. They often claim that they were able to accomplish that sexy muscle by just pumping them muscle with light weights. Can you really build muscle by lifting your grandmother’s weight set?

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Pump Vs. Growth Stimulus

There is a big difference between getting a pump and stimulating your muscles to grow. The pump is nothing more than blood rushing into the muscles and can be achieved with extremely light weights that do not represent a challenge. However, that will never promote growth since there is no stimulus for such event to occur. That way exercising becomes merely a warm-up and joint lubrication. In order for the muscle to grow it must have a reason and that reason could only be achieved with heavier weights. Getting tired ain’t getting you there.


Having larger muscles is simply an adaptation response to stress. It’s like building callouses – a minuscule form of evolution in way. To achieve that, however, one must damage the muscle on micro level so that the amino acid uptake increases. To break down your muscles and make them grow back stronger you need heavier weights and adequate recovery.

What do you mean by ‘amino acid uptake’?

When you are training you are essentially draining the muscle, breaking it down. Once the muscle is ‘drained’ it naturally wants to go back to where it was. That could only be done through repair of the damaged components which on muscular level means increased synthesis of protein. Therefore, the amino acid uptake has no choice but to go higher.

In order for growth stimulus to occur three conditions needs to be met:

– lifting of heavy weights to promote growth by breaking down the muscle;
– reaching higher volume to make sure that the muscle is ‘drained’ as much as possible in order increase the demand for nutrients such as amino acids;
– providing nutrients and time for the muscle to repair itself;

How heavy should I lift?

If you goal is to build muscle, you should lift about in range of 60% – 85% of your 1 RM. If you can squat 300 lbs, this means that you will not get much from doing sets with anything below 180 lbs. Also, weights above 255 lbs could do you more harm than good at this point.

Maxing out gets you nowhere

Constantly maxing out on different exercises will get you nowhere. All out singles don’t build your strength when you are natural. That’s why performing 1 RMs frequently is not recommended and not needed for growth. It’s dangerous and if your goal is to build muscle, you don’t ever benefit from maxing out. It’s essentially a wasted day.

When you are performing heavy attempts the weight is certainly heavy enough for the muscle breakdown we are talking about to occur, but the opening window is too short since you are only doing one repetition. What do you think would produce more growth – 1 set of 1 with a super heavy weight or 5 sets of 6-8 reps with challenging weight? The latter will give you both – stimulus to grow as well as large increase of the amino acid uptake. To achieve complete stimulus you need more than heavy weight – you need to get tired too. The only way to get there is through volume (larger workload).

Why is volume so important?

Let’s say that somebody is sbout to hit you in the head with one super hard punch that could knock you out cold. The damage that you will suffer on brain level could be severe and you may even die depending on how conditioned you are to face such level of physical impact.

Now imagine a situation when you are hit in the head 20 times with a punch that’s about 65 – 85% of the super knockout punch. That will also be very unpleasant but if the hits are spaced properly, you will probably not fall down as easily as after the super punch. To be honest…who knows?

What’s really important to note is that in the second case the damage to your face would be much more severe and there is no doubt that the plastic surgeon would be happier with scenario number 2. As you’re probably already guessing scenario 1 is the equivalent to maxing out while number 2 is more like a volume workout. More hits (sets) just equal more damage to the face (muscle) and as a result there is more to be repaired.

Volume is important because when used properly it safely increases the amino acid uptake window (yes, that does sound like a supplement commercial) by damaging the muscle sufficiently – not too little nor too much.

So, can you grow lifting light weights?

If you are natural, you cannot get away with lifting super light weight. You need moderate weights in order to stimulate growth – not too light but not too heavy either.

If your plans were to get ‘swol’ by just messing around with the pink plastic dumbbells, it’s not going to happen. At the same time if you plan on performing heavy weight masturbation, you may get some growth accompanied by a lot of injuries and too much overall pain.

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