Think You Need Heavier Weights for Progress? Think Again.

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Stuck at home with only a pair of light dumbbells? Feel like you need a better challenge? Here’s how to increase the intensity of your workouts - without having to buy a heavier set of weights.


1. Slow down the speed.

Controlling the speed you lift a dumbbell, kettlebell, or your own body weight is referred to as “time under tension." The longer your muscles are engaged, the more intense it will become. For example, try counting in your head for two full seconds during the “up” motion of a lift, such as a bicep curl. Lower the weight back down just as slowly. You’ll get an even bigger bang for your buck if you’re able to control the weight going back down.


2. More reps, less rest.

If an exercise isn’t feeling challenging toward the end of each set, add five more repetitions. For example, if you typically perform three sets of bodyweight squats for ten reps, try three sets of fifteen. The goal is to feel a burning sensation in the muscle toward the last one to three reps.


Additionally, taking less rest between sets will be more demanding on your muscles. Muscle endurance is best improved by resting thirty seconds or less between sets. Use a stopwatch to monitor when it’s time to get started on your next set of exercises.


3. Try compound exercises.

This is a fun technique that will involve some extra brain work. Combining two exercises into the same set will build total body strength and increase the rate of fat burning. For example, try compounding a squat and a bicep curl. Do one squat while holding dumbbells at your sides. Once you’ve returned to the “up” position, curl the dumbbells while standing upright. Repeat this for your usual amount of repetitions. Compounding lower body and upper body exercises in this format is an especially good strategy.


Keep in mind - progress isn’t defined by the amount of weight alone. Tempo, amount of reps, rest time, and compound exercises are all factors that can increase the challenge of your workout. As a rule of thumb, aim for the last few reps to feel more intense than when you started. If it’s too easy, that’s a sign you’re ready to move on to the next stage!