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The Workout to Build Muscle With Light Weights

Improve your functional strength with this challenging dumbbell routine.

“I have only one pair of light dumbbells. Is there any way I can get a good workout?” — Cedric T., South Norwalk, CT 

Just because you have lighter weights and dumbbells doesn't mean you can’t build muscle. Here’s how you can make your equipment work for you:

You need to make the light weights you have feel heavy. You can do this by slowing down your lifting speed to fatigue your muscles with fewer reps; but you should adjust this tempo accordingly for each exercise. For example, a pair of 25-pounders probably won’t be very challenging on an exercise like a lunge or overhead press, but it could be on the heavy side for a bentover lateral raise. You’ll have to adjust to performing some exercises faster and some slower.

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Another option is to do your exercises with one arm or leg at a time, which increases the challenge to your core and balance. You don’t need much weight to make unilateral exercises feel difficult. I’d set up a circuit of lifts that covers all the major movement patterns. That means some variant of the deadlift, press, row, and squat. Aim for about the same number of reps on each exercise (probably 10–15  if the weights are light), and rest as little as possible between sets.

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