You have just signed up to the new shiny, fancy gym.
You have your gym card, your new gym clothes and you are excited to go.
You want to lose weight and tone up and you have your program from your fitness magazine but when you get to the gym you realise you have no idea how much weight to lift.
Selecting the right weight is something that is tricky and many people struggle with it.
In this article (and the video above if you prefer listening to my sweet dulcet tones) I will highlight some of the easiest ways for you to know how much weight to lift at the gym.
I understand that machines, free weights and bodyweight are all different but I am going to provide principles here that you will easily understand no matter what gym or program you are going to do.
Principle Number 1: Pick a weight that falls within your repetition range.
The easiest way to know much much weight to lift is to first look at the number of repetitions that each exercise is asking you to do in your training program.
A repetition (REP) is a performance of one movement of an exercise.
For example, one bodyweight squat is one REP and one push up is one REP.
When you perform a number of REPS, this equals one set.
Let's look at a few examples of repetitions and use a real world example.
Let's say your exercise asks you to do:
Your first goal is to pick a weight that you can perform in that rep range.
You may pick up a weight and you can only perform 8 repetitions of the exercise. That means you have picked a weight that is too heavy.
You now know that you need to decrease this weight in order to get into the 10-12 rep range with good technique otherwise you won't get the results you want from the training program.
You may pick up a weight and you can do 13 or more repetitions. This means that the weight is too light and you have to lift a heavier one for the next set. (Sometimes this method is good but we will cover that later in the article).
Having 2-3 sets allows you to experiment and choose the correct weight for that exercise.
You will get better at this with experience and you will pick your correct weights much faster.
HOW DO I PROGRESS THIS WEIGHT WEEK TO WEEK?
Okay, so you have picked your weight and it falls in the correct range. You now want to get stronger every week.
This is called Progressive Overload and it is an important training principle. Your body cannot adapt if you don't ask it to so it's imperative that you challenge yourself from week to week or month to month to get the results you want.
When you have a repetition range like 10-12 reps, your first goal is to get to the top number, (12) for 3 perfect sets.
Then you can increase the weight.
Let's say your exercise is the Barbell Bench Press for 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
It may look something like this:
In terms of how much you should increase the weight, the American Council Of Sports Medicine recommends no more than 2 - 10% increase in weight each week.
This will differ from exercise to exercise so you will learn by trial and error.
Important Point - this is a great time to highlight the need for you to track your weights from workout to workout. I do it for all my clients with face to face training and online coaching.
By tracking your weight lifted from workout to workout you can achieve your goals faster as you are not guessing.
You will get stronger, more toned and defined and increase your motivation when you know how much weight to lift each week.
Sometimes your exercise will look something like this:
Now you have a very specific repetition number which is harder to pick a weight for.
But the same principles apply.
First of all you pick a weight and see how many repetitions you can do.
If you fall under the 10 reps, it's too heavy, if you can do a lot more than 10 reps it is too light.
Try to hit that sweet spot of 10 reps.
However, there are a few ways to now progress this weight each workout.
The Rule of 2.
"Aim for 2 high quality reps above the number before increasing the weight."
When you have a specific rep number, it is a good idea to be able to perform 2 more reps of the highest quality before increasing the weight.
This means you can get to 10 reps but also perform 2 more reps with excellent technique. You should not be gyrating all over the gym floor trying to complete your 2 extra reps.
For example: Let's say we have the Barbell Bench Press for 4 Sets of 10 Reps.
It may look like this.
The reason I say the 2 quality reps above the number is because of the incremental nature of many weights in gyms.
Sometimes the increases in weights, especially dumbbells, can be more than the recommended 2-10% increase from week to week so it's important to perform quality reps above the specific rep number before increasing the weight otherwise you will underperform and as a result you'll think you are not getting stronger when indeed you are.
Principle Number 2: Technique Over Ego.
If you want to progress with weights to get stronger, more toned and athletic, it's important that you practice perfect technique with every repetition of your exercises.
You can also increase the risk of injury when you try to lift too heavy too soon.
Do not be worried if your starting weights are lighter than the experienced gym-goer.
The amount of weight you lift is only one indicator of how hard you are working. Everyone has different strength levels and all that matters is the amount of tension and effort you apply to your body.
Always take the conservative approach and start lighter and build up to heavier weights.
This will build your confidence and ability and prepare your body correctly to lift heavier weights down the line.
It is far more challenging to lift weights with proper technique on every single rep than it is to perform heavier weights poorly.
Principle Number 3 - Reps in Reserve.
This principle is based on you asking yourself the question:
"How many extra reps could I do at the end of my set (if any)?"
When you perform the last set of every exercise in your program ask yourself how many more reps you could have performed with good technique.
In the real world, it will look like this.
Personally, I would stick with options one and two.
In summary, to learn how much weight to lift you must:
You are ready to increase the weight:
I know that was a fairly lengthy summary but these principles can help you get quicker results with your training and help you see improvements in strength, fitness and fat loss.
If you have any questions, please comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will reply.
Thanks for reading this far.
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