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Which to Choose? Heavy or Light Weights

One of the debates in the strength training world that will likely never die is: Should I go with heavy weights or should I stay with light weights?

Like most things in this world, each has its own benefits and drawbacks. Here's a look at each of these to help you decide which one is best for your training.

Let's start with the benefits that both heavy and light weights have in common. Both weights will allow you to build muscle. There is a lot of evidence that using heavy weights for 8–12 reps and lighter weights for 15–30 reps can both help you gain muscle. Furthermore, I believe that both can be beneficial to a weight loss training program. I believe this because, for many people looking to lose weight, their calorie expenditure needs to go up. And for me, I would argue that both of these lifting styles would help to increase caloric expenditure.

Now that we know what they have in common, let's see what makes them different. Lighter loads will be considered anything that is under 65% of your 1 rep max, and heavy loads can be anywhere from 65-85% of your 1 rep max. If you don't know your actual 1 rep max, this link can be helpful (1 RM calculator).

The benefits of lighter-load training include the following:

  • Muscle growth.

  • better local endurance in the muscles.

  • can allow you to workout with minimal equipment if needed.

The following are the advantages of intense training:

  • Muscle growth.

  • More strength gains.

  • will allow you to reach failure sooner.

The obvious takeaway is that both can help you build muscle. You may read this and say, "Well, great; it doesn't matter which I choose." However, it does matter based on what you are training for and how your training is laid out.

Yes, both can build muscle; however, if I want to train for more muscle endurance, I may opt for lighter weights to start. This can be very useful when we are starting a new training program or working out for the first time. This will help us build a stronger endurance foundation, allowing our muscles to recover faster between sets when we lift heavy. In addition, if I am someone who trains at home, travels a lot, or does not like to lift heavy, I can still get gains that can help me build muscle and health.

Now if I want to get stronger as a main priority, I will get more out of training with heavy loads. There are a few reasons for this.

  1. I will get more muscle recruitment.

  2. I will get more muscles firing faster.

  3. I will better coordinate the use of my muscles in the lift.

If the goal is strength, then I want to use a weight that recruits as much muscle as possible. This is likely to happen more with heavy loads than with lighter loads. Furthermore, by using weights in the 8-12 range, I will reach failure sooner. This can be helpful to cut down on your training time, which can help those of you with busy schedules.

All in all, both heavy and light training weights have benefits. If your goal is to build muscle, both can do so. However, if you do have more specific goals, you may want to consider which fits your style and training regimen better. But remember, for either one to work we have to progress ourselves appropriately, by adding more reps, sets, or weight over time. This way we can get the gains while reducing any injuries or plateaus.

If you pick what you enjoy better, and that is what helps you stick with your training than that is what will be better for you in the long run!


Schoenfeld BJ, Peterson MD, Ogborn D, Contreras B, Sonmez GT. Effects of low- vs. high-load resistance training on muscle strength and hypertrophy in well-trained men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 2015;29(10):2954–63.

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