Strength training may not be rocket science, but for the average person, figuring out the best, safest, and most effective ways to lift weights is not always the easiest thing to do. There are bunches of Utube videos, toning classes and fitness plans that you can learn from in order to reach your goals of toning up, building strength, and reshaping your body. But even if you’re following a great plan designed by a great trainer, one big question still remains: How much weight should you be lifting?
You have to take results and safety into consideration. Here is my simple way of explaining it:
1. We are all at different strength levels and the muscles throughout your body also vary in strength, right? So you might lift 15 lbs for biceps, but your shoulders can’t take that kind of weight, and as far as your legs, 15 pounds won’t feel like much. So the amount of weight you lift during one exercise could be too light or too heavy for another.
2. You need to experiment with a variety of weights to find the appropriate level for each exercise you do. Working out at a gym makes that easy, but doing so at home will take a little more space and investment. Start out with at least two, and ideally three sets of dumbbells: a light, medium and heavier set–defined by your own fitness level.
3. Guidelines to select proper weight for strength training:
Aim low. The safest and most effective thing to do if you are a beginner is to master your exercises with little to no added weight so that you can focus intensely on proper form, which is essential before you’re going to increase the weight. There is no shame in doing body weight squats, crunches, modified pushups or even “mock” bench presses or triceps extensions without added weight. Slowly begin to incorporate weights, starting with your lightest weights, only after you have mastered the moves without weight.
Go slow. If you have to move at jackrabbit speed or harness momentum to lift the weight, it is simply too heavy. It’s that simple. The proper weight will allow you to move in a slow, controlled manner.
Never sacrifice form for function. You might want to fast track your results by picking a heavy weight, but lifting more weight should never trump doing it correctly. If you can’t do the exercise properly, then the added weight is not doing you any favors and may actually increase your risk for serious injury.
Count your reps. In general, you are lifting the right amount of weight when you can perform 8-15 repetitions in good form. Once you get strong enough to do more than 15 repetitions more easily, it’s probably time to increase the weight again.
Work to fatigue. This is the #1 key for selecting the proper weight. The weight you lift should not only meet the guidelines for form above, but should also challenge your muscles! The only way strength training is really going to benefit you is for you to overload your muscles—that means working them to fatigue. The weight you select should be challenging enough to fatigue your muscles within 8-15 repetitions.
So the weight you pick should
(1) be moderately challenging: not so heavy that you can’t lift it with proper form and control, and not so light that you could lift it forever,
(2) fatigue your muscles within 8-15 reps, which means you couldn’t possibly lift another repetition in good form beyond that,
(3) vary depending on the exercise and muscle group you are working since some muscles are stronger than others, just as certain exercise are inherently more complex or challenging than others,
(4) continue to change as you get stronger, and this continual progression is what improves your strength over time and boosts your fitness level.
There you have it! Any question?