Last updated on January 16th, 2023 at 04:44 pm
So, you only have access to a set of 10kg dumbbells and you want to know whether you can build muscle.
Initially, this doesn’t sound feasible, as you’ll typically hear that you should be lifting heavy weights with medium reps for hypertrophy.
But, is this actually true?
An untrained individual will find it easier than a trained individual to build muscle with 10kg dumbbells. That being said, an experienced lifter can incorporate different training techniques to elicit muscle growth. These include removing momentum, slow reps, drop sets, ladders, pyramids, rest-pause sets, and 25-50 rep sets.
Table of Contents
Remove Momentum to Build Muscle
Firstly, it’s important to realise that someone new to training will always have a better chance of building muscle without using heavy weights.
Basically, this person isn’t used to their muscles being stimulated in this way, and this can lead to new muscle growth.
Hence the term, “newbie gains”.
However, as you become more proficient your body adapts to the stress placed upon it, so in order to build “new” muscle you’ll generally need to progress in some way.
Now, most of us think of progression in terms of additional weight, but there are other ways, which I’ll touch on in a moment.
That being said, even as an experienced trainee you can still see muscle gains by only using 10kg dumbbells.
One of the best methods is to isolate the target muscles, while removing momentum from the equation.
Let’s take the dumbbell shoulder press as an example.
There are numerous ways to “cheat”, or make the exercise easier, when performing the dumbbell shoulder press while seated on a bench.
And unfortunately this is a route that many athletes take without even realising that they’re doing it.
In fact, you’ll often see people in the gym really pushing their back into the bench, which simply takes some of the pressure off your shoulders, thus making the exercise easier.
Furthermore, I frequently see trainees with an excessive arch in their back as they attempt to drive those dumbbells overhead.
Realistically, you shouldn’t be doing either of these things, and this is best achieved by completely removing the bench.
So, sit on the floor with your legs extended out in front of you, contract your core, keep your back perfectly straight, and now start pressing.
You’ll immediately notice that the exercise feels harder, and this is because you have removed momentum.
In fact, without pressing your back into the bench or overarching your back you’ll immediately notice that your shoulders appear to be working much more effectively.
And this of course can lead to greater muscle gains.
You can use the same principle of removing momentum with a wide variety of dumbbell exercises.
This will make them harder to perform and should test your muscles in ways you may not have experienced before.
Slow & Controlled Time-Under-Tension
I know for a fact that when lifting heavy weights there is a tendency to rush through the set,
I’ve done it myself and I’ve seen plenty of others do it too.
You’re typically a few reps into your set, fast approaching your rep count for that set, but finding the exercise more difficult with each subsequent rep.
This is when we generally rush through the set, simply to get to the end and drop the load.
But, in truth, this can lead to poor reps and perhaps not working with the required intensity to actually build muscle.
This is where a lighter weight, say 10kg dumbbells, come in extremely handy.
Not only should your form be extremely strict, each rep should be slow and controlled, so definitely no rushing through your set.
Personally, I would say that you should aim for 3-4 seconds for each rep as a bare minimum.
However, there is nothing wrong with really slowing down your reps and taking even longer.
Plus, this fits in quite well with time-under-tension required to elicit muscle growth.
I’ve seen various things said about time-under-tension over the years, but one “fact” always stuck with me, and it seems to work quite well.
And this is to ensure that each set takes a minimum of approximately 40 seconds in order to build muscle.
Plus, keeping a working set going for up to 90 seconds is still great for hypertrophy.
Now, I don’t know the exact science behind this, but I can confirm from personal experience that this does appear to work.
So, when you’re lifting those heavier weights and rushing through your set, not only are you potentially missing out on “good reps”, proper intensity, but perhaps you’re not training your working sets for long enough.
However, you can definitely adhere to all these factors with 10kg dumbbells.
Use Different Training Protocols With 10kg Dumbbells
I’ve mentioned your body adapting to weight, but the same can be said of the way in which you perform an exercise.
So, once your body and your muscles have adapted to the way you perform an exercise, muscle improvements and increases seem to stall.
And what the vast majority of us do at this stage is to add weight.
That being said, you can definitely increase the intensity of an exercise without having to add weight.
Okay, I’ll admit that performing drop sets usually requires access to more than one set of dumbbells.
So, going back to the dumbbell overhead press example this may involve:
- 10kg for 10 reps
- 8kg for 10 reps
- 6kg for 10 reps
- 4 kg for 10 reps
- 2 kg for 10 reps
Now, this would definitely provide a fantastic pump in the shoulders, and if you adhere to proper form (no pushing back into the bench, no arching your back, no using momentum) you can definitely build muscle.
However, if you only have a set of 10kg dumbbells at your disposal you’ll need to approach drop sets slightly differently.
But, performing a descending ladder of reps, i.e. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, can certainly provide the same type of training stimulus.
Furthermore, you can also go “back up the ladder” to further increase reps and intensity.
I guess this is very similar to what I’ve mentioned above.
As I say, drop sets are typically done with declining weights, but you can also use the declining rep scheme too.
When it comes to rest-pause training you’re simply taking a few moments rest after your set and then pumping out a few further reps.
And you can continue to do this until you feel you have fatigued the target muscles enough.
So, as an example, you perform 10 reps of dumbbell overhead press, rest 15 seconds, and then perform as many reps as you can.
You can obviously take this much further and keep taking 15 seconds rest until you feel you are close to technical failure.
Once more, this will provide your muscles with a fantastic pump.
Light Weight (High Reps) vs. Heavy Weight (Moderate Reps)
Now, you’ll typically hear that you must perform an exercise within a certain rep range in order to hit a certain training protocol.
And when it comes to hypertrophy the main rep range quoted is 8-12 reps.
But, does this mean you can’t build muscle by performing fewer or more reps?
Of course it doesn’t.
In fact, there is even research-based evidence to prove this point.
The Journal of Applied Physiology conducted a study in 2016.
They took 49 participants, all men with at least 4 years training experience and had them perform a full-body resistance training program.
The men were split into two groups.
One group performed exercises with 75-95% of their one-rep max for 8-12 repetitions.
The second group performed the same exercises, but this time with 30-50% of their one-rep max for 20-25 reps.
Both groups produced almost identical results in terms of hypertrophy.
Therefore, it could be argued that load does not dictate muscle growth.
This was actually a second study following on from the initial research in 2012.
The first study had participants complete leg extensions three times a week for 10 weeks.
However, one group performed 10-12 reps with a heavier weight, while the other group performed 30-40 repetitions with a lighter weight.
The results were exactly the same, although this study was widely discredited, as the participants were untrained individuals.
Basically, this takes us back to “newbie gains”, i.e. they’re going to build muscle anyway.
But, the fact remains that as long as training volume is taken into the equation, and all sets are performed close to failure, similar muscle gains will be achieved.
So, the “fact” that performing over 15 reps of an exercise is considered muscular endurance isn’t completely true.
And personally, I have no qualms in taking a set up to 50 reps, as long as I adhere to everything I have mentioned thus far.
Muscle-Building 10kg Dumbbell Leg Workout
There are 3 ways to build muscle from a scientific perspective.
These are mechanical tension, muscular damage, and metabolic stress.
And it just so happens that lifting close to failure with light weights, e.g. 10kg dumbbells, will create metabolic stress.
Metabolic stress in the bodily process of creating and accumulating certain substances in the muscles, e.g. lactic acid, hydrogen, etc.
And the more metabolic stress you can create in the muscle, the more you’re able to stimulate hypertrophy.
The best way to create more metabolic stress is by making the muscles do more work.
One great way to do this is to increase time-under-tension.
So, in terms of strength training this would involve really slowing down your reps.
Essentially, you want your working sets to last approximately 60-90 seconds.
That being said, lifting heavy weights typically induces more mechanical tension, whereas lifting light weights will create metabolic stress.
In fact, you’ll find that more of one generally means less of the other.
So, when it comes to light weights, this simply means that you can perform more reps until you hit the metabolic stress “sweet spot”.
This will also explain why in the studies above participants still produced muscular gains by performing high rep sets with only 30-50% of their one-rep max.
Therefore, if you can perform sets of 60-90 seconds with 10kg dumbbells, while ensuring you get close to failure, you will build muscle.
The “Best Way” to Build Muscle
It probably seems as though I’m saying ditch the heavy weights, grab some 10kg dumbbells, and rep-out as much as you can.
But, nothing could be further from the truth.
I simply wanted to show you that there is a way to build muscle with light dumbbells.
It just takes a little bit of thinking “outside the box”.
However, this is the “best way” with limited equipment.
That being said, for me, there is one truly great way to build muscle.
Namely, a combination of both heavy weights and light weights.
Personally, I feel that lifting heavy weights, while performing the big compound exercises, provides the groundwork for long-term muscle-building.
So, strength-training should always be the starting point of training to build muscle.
And to be honest, any great muscle-building program should follow these exact princples.
However, it’s also important to isolate the muscles by performing high-rep, light-weight workouts to increase metabolic stress.
Therefore, regardless of the type of workout split you’re using, a great way to train would be to hit the big compounds for 30-40 minutes, followed by lighter isolation work for 15-20 minutes.
So, as an example, a chest-day workout may look as follows:
- Barbell Bench Press – 5 sets of 5 reps
- Incline Dumbbell Bench Press – 3 sets of 5 reps
- Weighted Dips – 3 sets of 5 reps
- Dumbbell Chest Flyes – 3 sets of 12 reps
- Cable Crossovers – 2 sets of 25 reps
As I say, this would always be my preferred method to build muscle.
However, I completely understand this isn’t feasible if you’re limited to only a pair of 10kg dumbbells.
Key Takeaway Points
- 10kg dumbbells allow you to improve technique by removing momentum
- Perform slow and controlled reps to increase time-under-tension.
- Use different training protocols, e.g. drop-sets, ladders, pyramids, rest-pause, extremely high-rep sets, etc.
- There is scientific research which provides evidence for using light weights and very high rep sets to build muscle.
- Using light weights for 60-90 second sets will increase metabolic stress, which is ideal for hypertrophy.
- Although you can build muscle with 10kg dumbbells, the best way to increase muscle mass is through a combination of the heavy compound lifts and lighter weight, high rep isolation training.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.