How to get an effective workout if you only have really light weights

How to get an effective workout if you only have really light weights


If you’re trying to figure out the best home workout setup, you have probably already invested in a few bits of kit.

Resistance bands, yoga mat, maybe even a foam roller. But replicating the weights you use in the gym at home is a bit trickier.

Investing in proper, heavy weights is no joke. They’re bulky and cumbersome, take up a lot of space, and once you get above 5kg – they’re also really pricey.

Another problem is that they keep selling out during lockdown. But, even if you’ve only got some really light weights – we’re talking 1-4kg dumbbells – you can still use them for an effective workout.

Obviously, the moves that are effective with 10kg or 15kg weights are going to be far too easy if your suddenly drop down to less than a third of that weight.

So, you might just need to adjust what your doing slightly. We asked some fitness experts for their top tips on using really light weights in the most effective way:

Increase your reps for endurance

Hollie Grant, expert Pilates instructor and personal trainer, says you need to start by thinking about numbers.

‘First of all, you can think about increasing your reps,’ Hollie tells

‘When it comes to rep ranges, traditionally what we would advise is if somebody was wanting to gain strength or hypertrophy, so especially in men if they wanted to grow muscle and get bigger, then we would say do low reps with high weight (6-8 reps if that).

‘Whereas, if you’re trying to build endurance, you would use much lighter weights and aim for 14-16 reps.

‘So, if you’ve only got light weights at home, increase the rep count and make your focus on endurance.’

Hollie says it’s important to understand that this isn’t necessarily going to grow muscle, but you can still get ‘gains’ in terms of your fitness levels.

‘This is great if you’re a long-distance runner, or if you’re trying to improve your posture,’ she adds.

‘As a Pilates Instructor, endurance is really interesting for me as we are trying to correct people’s posture, and to have good posture you need to have good endurance.

‘It’s no good being strong for three seconds, that’s not going to help you when you’re sat at your desk for 12 hours a day.

‘So, it’s not necessarily a negative thing if you have to increase your rep count because you’ve got lighter weights.’ 

Intensify your cardio workouts

Ben Walker, personal trainer from Anywhere Fitness, says really light weights are the perfect tool to make cardio even tougher.

‘Light dumbbells are more effective to use than heavier weights when intensifying cardio workouts,’ explains Ben. ‘It’s easier to maintain form, complete more repetitions, and elevate your heart rate for longer when staying in the “fat burning zone”.

‘You’re also less susceptible to injury using this training method.’

Ben says that when you use light dumbbells in your cardio routine, you add the benefit of targeting the anaerobic system during an aerobic workout.

‘The aerobic system mostly burns “fats” from light to moderate exercise, while the anaerobic system burns carbs and sugar when working at a more vigorous intensity,’ says Ben.

‘A good example is performing jumping jacks while holding 2-4kg dumbbells. Each repetition requires more strength and intensity to complete the movement. This helps to burn an enormous amount of calories in a short time when using light dumbbells.’

Superset your exercises

Ben says that if looking for more lean and defined muscles, light dumbbells are a better solution for building muscle and not getting bulky.

‘The important factor is to perform the correct exercises together within the proper “rep range”,’ says Ben.

‘To become lean and increase muscular endurance, you want to be performing 15-20 repetitions of each exercise with lighter weight. The rest times should be shorter between sets and no longer than a minute.

‘If you only have 1-4kg dumbbells, your body might need a greater challenge for building muscle. A great method in this case is to “superset” your exercises.

‘This is when you perform 2/3 exercises together before taking a break.

‘The chosen routines target only one or two muscle groups. This means the same muscles stay activated when performing each exercise.’

Ben says that when you’re using the lightest dumbbells, this method can add more burn to your workout and help you to achieve more muscle mass.

‘For example, if targeting your shoulders and using 3kg dumbbells, you can perform a higher rep range of “lateral raises”, “overhead raises” and “front raises” at the same time,’ he says.

‘The same shoulder muscles stay activated when performing each workout before taking a rest. This increases muscle growth potential by increasing the work rate a manageable way with light dumbbells.’

Use your body-weight too

Just because you own some weights, that doesn’t mean you always have to use them. Using the weight of your own body can be just as – or even more – effective than using light dumbbells.

‘Body-weight is heavier than a lot of weights,’ says Hollie. ‘So, you can be doing a push-up and effectively bench pressing the equivalent of your entire body weight, – that would be far heavier than the dumbbells people would be having at home anyway.

‘So, utilising body-weight exercises, things like press-ups, push-ups, glute bridges and even planks, can be incredibly effective.’

And, bonus, you don’t have to find space in your home to store your weights if you’re using the weight of your own body.

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