With everyone stuck at home and a worldwide shortage on weights heavier than 10kg, an alternative approach to exercise has taken hold. Lighter weights, home workouts, resistance band and squatting the dog have all become popular alternatives. The last one is less popular with the dog.

This does raise an interesting question though…

Can I still make progress with lighter weight?

For this sake of this article, I am going to presume that progress means you are gaining muscle and strength.

Lucky for us, there are some very clever people that have researched this exact topic. This study split 49 people that are experienced in the gym, into two categories.

A high repetition group – 20 – 25 reps per set (30-50% of their 1 rep max)

A  low repetition group – 8 – 12 reps per set (75-90% of their 1 rep max)

Both groups performed a 12 week weight training programme and all exercises were taken to volitional failure. Which means they lifted until they couldn’t lift anymore.

The results of the study were that both groups made the same amount of progress in muscle and strength.

The important thing to note was that both groups were taken to failure. They couldn’t lift anymore weight. This seems to be an important driver to increasing strength and muscle.

So, it seems that we don’t need to be worrying about how much we are lifting, but that we are lifting close to failure. You may feel like a bit of a tit with your pink dumbbells in the living room, but I can assure you that you will still be making progress.

How light is too light?

However there does appear to be a lower level cut off…

Another study [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29564973] took 30 men and trained one leg and arm at 20% of their one rep max to failure (light weight, lots of reps). The other arm and leg were randomly assigned to one of three groups (40%, 60% and 80% of 1 rep max).

The results showed that all groups increased muscle and strength, but it seems that the 20% group didn’t make as much progress.

To put that into perspective, if you could shoulder press 20kg for 1 rep, 20% of that would 4kg.

So instead of doing 3432 reps of the pink fluffy dumbbells, you may need to get something a little heavier, especially when working bigger muscle gourps such as the legs. This could be a heavy bag of books, a bigger dog or a small child.


We can still make progress even with lighter weights and higher reps, or with heavier weight and less reps. It seems to be important for building muscle and strength to take each exercise close to failure (the point where you cannot lift anymore). There is a lower level cut off for weights being too light and that seems to be around 20% of your 1 rep max. Hopefully this helps at putting your mind to rest knowing you can still build muscle and strength, as long as you are working to failure and about 20% of your 1 rep max.