Should I Lift Heavy or Light Weights First With Resistance Training?

Lifting heavy vs lifting light weights for building muscle and which one is better is one of the most controversial questions in the gym.

Should I lift heavy or light weights first? Should I be lifting heavy weights a few times or light weights with more reps?

Well, when it comes to building muscle mass, the first thing to do is define the terminology. Lifting for muscle mass is always resistance training, but what’s that mean?

What Is Resistance Training?

Resistance training is the intent to increase muscle size by subjecting them to continuous and repetitive resistance.

Lifting weights in this manner actually causes microscopic damage to the muscles, called “catabolism.” When the muscles repair themselves, the tears are regenerated as more and stronger muscle mass.

This is termed as “anabolism”, and is where the term “anabolic steroids” comes from.

There are two methods used in weight lifting resistance training:

  • Lifting heavy with few reps
  • Lifting light with more repetitions.

Heavy Resistance Training

Heavy resistance training is lifting weights so heavy that the maximum amount of times this can be done is usually 6-10 repetitions before the ‘fail’, i.e. when you can’t lift any more.

Low Resistance Training

This is where you lift lighter weight with less resistance to the muscle and endurance.These can be lifted for a much longer time before the fail. A general rule would be that the fail occurs around 90 seconds after the first lift.

Which Is More Effective – Heavy Resistance Or Low Resistance?

It’s a controversial question in some circles, but I say when you think through the question and results the answer becomes pretty clear. And don’t forget that what is heavy is definitely a relative term to your own capabilities at the moment.

In the last few years there have been various studies into which is more effective in building muscle – heavy resistance training and low resistance training.

The studies and research strongly indicates that low resistance training can be more effective in building muscle mass than heavy resistance training.

Here’s why:

The key is in how resistance training affects protein synthesis, anabolic signaling, and gene expression. The participants involved in one study were asked to engage in sessions of heavy resistance and then in low resistance exercises.

==>In the heavy resistance training, participants were asked to lift 175 pounds for as much as they could do. The average was 5 reps for this group.

==>The other group had to lift around 60 pounds for as many reps as possible. The average was around 24 times.

When you look at the weight lifted times the total reps it comes out to a total lift for:

  • Lifting Heavy = about 875 lbs
  • Lifting Light = about 1440 lbs

Another factor was protein synthesis. This is what causes muscles to grow and the process continues after resistance training.

Therefore, what happens in the muscles after resistance training is just as important as the actual amount of lifting.

The study showed that just after the training, the protein synthesis was similar.

However, it showed that 4 hours after training the protein synthesis in those who engaged in low resistance training was higher — and after 12 hours significantly higher.

These results suggest that low resistance training is more effective in building muscle than high resistance training.

Heavy Resistance Training vs Low Resistance Training

Although low resistance training with more reps has shown to be a very effective way of building muscle, it should be remembered that heavy resistance training does have its place. However, overall there are many benefits of low resistance training.

It has to be noted that that weight and length of time are mutually exclusive. That means that the heavier the weight, the less time you are able to lift. The lighter the weight, then the longer you can train with these.

Resistance Training Works

There are multiple benefits to resistance training—whether it is low resistance or high resistance. It has been proven that resistance training can help lower blood pressure, improve the body’s metabolism, and build bone strength—even in the elderly.

Whether you lift heavy or light: Changing Routines is Critical

The amount of lifting is determined by each individual and should be gradually increased over time if muscle gain is the goal.


Remembering that increasing muscle mass and getting stronger depends on increasing the workload. When you concentrate on progressively increasing the weight and resistance during your workouts they grow due to meeting the challenge.

Your muscles have a tendency to adapt quickly to the demands you put on them, so a steady increase in weight will keep them challenged and growing. Without the steady progression, they begin to be efficient and effortlessly perform the task.

Depending on your own skill level, just adding 2-5 pounds every week will keep muscle mass and strength increasing steadily. This can also be done with only adding more reps. Instead of pumping up an additional 5 pounds you can try adding more reps than last week.

Doing the extra reps at a faster rate so you do them in the same amount of time as before adds a different speed demand and challenge that muscles are forced to rise to the occasion.

The main thing about body building is to stay motivated with setting goals and don’t be afraid to try different routines until you find out for yourself what works better for you.

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