We all know that the more weight you lift, the more muscle you gain. Just look to the biggest guys in the gym, going straight for the 45-pound plates. But this isn’t the only way to gain muscle — great news for those of us who want to get big, but whose joints are unhappy under large loads. The other simple way to go about it? Up your volume.
As long as you do enough reps, nearly all weights yield the same strengthening results. That means pressing a 15-pound dumbbell overhead 20 times can build as much muscle as pressing a 50-pounder five times. “The key is working to fatigue, regardless of how you get there,” says Stuart Phillips, a kinesiology professor at McMaster University in Ontario. “If you hit the gym to stay strong and healthy, you can lift lighter weights to fatigue and still gain strength.” (That goes for bodyweight moves like push-ups and pull-ups, too. These exercises can be just as effective as barbell work — just make sure to keep going until you max out.)
Here, you’ll find a total-body routine that will produce strength results no matter what weight you use. The key? Make sure that, after you’re done with your warm-up, you do each exercise until you can’t do one. More. Rep.