So I get asked all the time by clients, what weight should I use?
My answer is always “A challenging one!”
No matter what rep range you do, you want to select a weight that makes those last few reps of every round a struggle.
If you aren’t using a weight that truly makes you struggle, you aren’t going to get near as much as you could out of the workout.
So how do you determine if the weight is the “right” weight? How do you know if you are struggle “enough?”
Well for one, as you workout more and more, you will begin to understand what weights feel challenging.
You will also be able to track your weights and then add more weight based on what you did the week before. Small incremental changes are best. Don’t do a drastic jump especially if you are new to lifting.
BUT if you haven’t done a lot of working out and don’t have a great idea of where to start, I suggest you first perform the exercises with bodyweight to get down the form.
Then ask yourself, “How easy did that feel?”
If it was super easy, add weight. Try to perform the same number of reps. If you can easily do the same, up the weight again. If you can only do fewer reps before form breaks down or you can’t do any more, you may want to drop the weight just a bit until you can perform your desired amount of reps.
If you felt a burn on the last couple of reps and stopped at 10 reps BUT at the same time felt you could have done a bit more, maybe try doing 12 reps with the same weight and see if that is more challenging.
While you do want to pick a rep range to work in based on your level and your goals, the reps you plan to do shouldn’t be set in stone. (Here is a great post about rep ranges.)
If you pick a weight that is a bit too easy for the reps you chose to do that round, do a couple of more.
It is more important to feel the weights challenging you than it is to do 12 reps instead of 15 even though those numbers are technically in different ranges (hypertrophy vs. endurance).
When I workout, even though I track my numbers I sometimes still have to play around with weight depending upon how I feel that day.
And a lot of the time, I will go up as I do sets or rounds even though I started with a challenging weight. I will usually try to increase each round until I hit a weight where I can no longer perform the desired amount of reps. And then I will either hold at that weight or drop down to the one right below it for the next round.
It all depends on what rep range I’m shooting for. Say I’m working in the hypertrophy range of 8-12 reps. I may start out with a weight and say that I’m going to shoot for 10 reps.
That weight may be easier than I thought on that day, so I’ll do 12 or even 13 or 14. I’ll go until that last rep is really a struggle.
Then the next round I’ll go up to the next weight. I’ll again shoot for as many as possible in that hypertrophy range. If I hit 12, I’ll go up again.
I’ll keep going up through all my sets UNLESS I find a weight that I can barely do 8 with (a weight I don’t think I can add to without falling below my desired rep range). If I hit a weight that is a struggle for 8, I will hold at that weight for the last set (or two) and even try to force out a 9th or 10th rep if I can.
The point is that rep ranges are only as beneficial as the weight you use. If you do 5 reps with easy weight or 15 reps with weight you don’t even feel, you aren’t going to get results.
The weights you use should challenge you if you want results! The “heavier” the feel to you, no matter what weight they actually are, the more likely you will be to reach your goals of fat loss, muscle gain, muscle tone, strength, endurance, weight loss…..ANYTHING!
NOTE: If you are a beginner, increase weight slowly even if it feels easy! Your body needs to adjust to the new demands. And even though your muscles may be able to handle the weight, your joints and connective tissues might not be ready!
So I must say, I’m now spoiled by having a car.
No more long walks back to my apartment with huge heavy bags of groceries that make my forearms burn (sometimes it was a huge mental battle making it back to my apartment without setting everything down to readjust!).
But just because I don’t have long walks back with heavy groceries doesn’t mean working on my grip strength isn’t important.
BECAUSE IT IS!
It is essential to so many activities!
And I hate hearing people say they can’t deadlift more because their grip gave out.
You are only a strong as your weakest link!
So work on your grip strength!
Now you are probably thinking “How do I work on my grip strength?”
Here are 10 ways that you can strengthen your grip:
- Farmers walk – Walk holding heavy dumbbells (sort of like you are carrying super heavy groceries!)
- Fat gripz – Make the farmers walk harder by making the heavy dumbbell harder to grip. The fat grips don’t allow you to wrap your hand as easily around the grip.
- Hang and hold – You can hold at the top if you want to make it more difficult or hold at the bottom (you can even do knees to elbows if you want to work your core even more). The point is by hanging and gripping the bar, you will work on your grip strength. (You can do pull ups with so many different grips off of so many different things! You can even do them by just gripping with your finger tips!)
- Grip strange stuff – Ok not very specific. This could include doing pull ups by holding onto a rope or towel. It could include holding a weight hanging from a towel or rope. It could even include doing battling ropes. Doing work while holding something that isn’t perfectly fitted to your hand will challenge your grip strength.
- Plate carry – Like the farmers walk but using a “pinch grip” to hold plate weights as you walk.
- Rock climb – A workout in and of itself, there is no better (or in my opinion fun) way to work on your grip strength.
- Be patient – Seems simple! But it’s not! Try doing kettlebell swings for five minutes with a challenging weight. Don’t put the kettlebell down for the full five minutes! Your forearms will be on fire! You can also do a deadlift and then just hold the bar at the top for long periods of time.
- Rice – So a traditional way to work on grip strength, and something I did all the time at college, was grip exercises in a big bucket of rice. You take a bucket of rice and stick your hand deep down in it and squeeze. Your hand gets tired in no time! Another way I just learned, using the rice, is to take a dumbbell and stick it into the rice. Gripping one end of the dumbbell, twist the dumbbell as deep as you can into the rice. Added weight and rice….OUCH!
- Awkward weight – There is no better way to toast your grip and even your shoulder than by doing a bottoms up carry with the kettlebell. It takes a lot of grip strength to keep that awkward weight balanced!
- Roll up weight – So not something I use that often just because I feel like in general you get more bang for your buck with some of the other exercises, BUT if you have a little rod and attach a string and a light weight and “roll up the weight” you will really work on your grip strength!
For more great ways to strengthen your grip, check out these links (one is linked to the picture). John Brookfield is SO COOL!!
I constantly am preaching to women that they need to “lift heavy weights.”
And while I choose to lift 100s of pounds if I can, “lifting heavy” doesn’t mean that you have to do the same.
“Lifting heavy” simply means that you don’t fear challenging weights – that you aren’t just picking up the 5lbs dumbbells because you are afraid that you will gain too much muscle if you pick up the 15s. It means that you choose the proper weight (a heavy, challenging weight) for an exercise so that you are TRULY working the muscle.
For example…today Candy and I did the iron cross, which is a killer shoulder move. For that exercise, “heavy” meant 8lbs. Using 8lbs set my shoulders on fire. I could barely complete all 10 reps each round!
Heavy weight is definitely relative. Probably challenging weight is a better term to describe the weight you should be using.
But I use the word “heavy” because using heavy weight is what many women fear – and they shouldn’t.
Today I just want to clarify that “lifting heavy” doesn’t mean you have to lift 100s of pounds. I don’t want people thinking that if they can’t lift 100lbs it isn’t worth the effort to try to “lift heavy.”
So ladies lift those heavy, challenging weights! I think you’ll like how you look if you do!!!!
And in case even clarifying that “heavy” means challenging doesn’t convince you, here are a few articles/studies that should!
This one is just funny…10 good reasons why women should stay away from weights
Even a bodybuilding website tells you that you can’t get huge from lifting heavy – Breaking the Myth