One of the most hotly debated topics in the world of bodybuilding is, can you get big and strong lifting light weights?
Ask that question to 10 different “fitness experts” and you will most likely get 10 different answers.
The good news is that I have had lots of experience in this area and I can give you a definitive yes or no answer to that question.
Getting My Start in the Iron Game
When I was in 8th grade I finally decided to start my own journey into the iron game.
I was one of the weakest boys in school and I was tired of being picked on by my friends.
I started a simple routine of push ups and sit ups which I performed every night before bed.
After a few months of bodyweight training, I asked my parents if I could get a barbell set for the house like the one my cousin had in his backyard.
They decided that was better than me playing video games 24/7 and that Christmas I got my first weight set.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t an official 300-pound Olympic barbell set like the one my cousin had.
However, I knew it was still better than nothing and I started lifting weights almost every day.
My early program included the bench press, barbell and dumbbell curls, and lat pull downs.
I pretty much had no idea what I was doing, but I knew I wanted big arms and a big chest (don’t we all when we first start lifting).
I quickly mastered all 100 pounds that I had to work with on the bench press and I had to get creative with my training in order to continue making progress.
Progressing with Light Weights
The first thing I did to increase the stress on my muscles was adding repetitions to my sets.
Instead of just stopping at 10 reps I would go for 12 reps and then 15 reps all the way up to 20.
Once I could do 20 reps I added more sets. I went from doing 3 work sets to 5 work sets and then 6.
After the number of sets no longer mattered, I started changing the tempo of my lifting.
I would lift with a slower cadence in order to make the weight feel much heavier.
Another part of the puzzle that I added was training with a high frequency.
Back then I had no idea that you should take rest days off to let your muscles recover.
In my mind the more you did something the better you got at it.
Since the weight wasn’t that heavy, this was partly true.
I got a fantastic pump in my chest and arms from benching with such high volume.
The lighter weight never really challenged my nervous system and stressed my body out too much which made my high training frequency (5 or 6 days week) manageable and probably helped me in the long run.
The Moment of Truth
Even though I had used many different methods to make my 100-pound barbell set work for me, I still often wondered how strong I really was.
I was getting sick and tired of not being able to add weight to the bar and I wanted a real test.
My wish finally came true when I visited went to my cousin’s house for the summer.
I was stoked because I knew that he had a real 300-pound weight set that I could finally use to test my strength on the bench press.
The first day I was there I went straight to the backyard and had myself a nice little bench press session.
I started with the empty bar and slowly added weight.
When I finally got to the point where it was time to add the big plates (45s) and I was so excited.
As soon as the bar was loaded, I lifted it off the rack, lowered it to my chest, and pressed it back up forcefully.
“Oh fuck yeah, this is easy!”, I thought to myself.
And just like that, I pumped out 10 reps with 135 pounds.
Hard Work with Light Weights Pays off
I was ecstatic because I had never lifted more than 100 pounds while benching at home and I had just lifted 135 pounds with ease.
The fun didn’t stop there, my cousin and I added weight and continued to pump out sets.
140, 145, 150! Up and up we went.
I finally started to run out of gas after 155 but, I still got a solid 6 reps with it so I figured what the hell. Let’s go to 165 and see how many I can do at that weight for 1 more set.
We added another couple of plates to make the load on the bar 165 pounds and to my surprise, I was able to crank out 3 reps before reaching failure.
At that time I only weighed 160 pounds so that meant I had just benched more than my bodyweight for reps which is pretty awesome for a 15-year-old kid.
I had never been so proud of myself and I still hold that as one of my best childhood memories.
Light Weights Still Produce Results
That experience showed me that you can definitely make great progress on your lifts even if you only have light weights available.
By manipulating different training techniques, you can make almost any amount of weight challenging so that the strength and muscle gains keep coming.
Now, is that the most efficient way to get big and strong?
If possible, you should be using an official barbell set and adding weight to the bar whenever you can.
However, if that isn’t an option, do what I did and get creative.
From The Man Himself –