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!
This post was inspired by Fit and Feminist. Caitlin wrote a post about 15 things she did to improve her health. When I started writing my list, I realized that everything on the list stemmed from 5 main principles. And these principles in my opinion are the foundation of developing a healthy lifestyle.
1. Question everything. Don’t blindly follow what others do. Study any diet or exercise program before you follow it. If you know the arguments for and against a program, you can really make an informed decision about whether or not you want to follow it. Questioning conventional wisdom about diet and exercise is what led me to Primal and heavy lifting/Crossfit – it led me to find a diet and exercise program that I think is IDEAL for me.
2. Experiment on yourself. Everyone is different. Just because it works for your friend, doesn’t mean it will work for you. You can’t know if something will work for you unless you give it a shot. The best way to create the perfect healthy lifestyle for yourself is by experimenting to find out what works! For example, the variation of Primal and heavy lifting that I do isn’t exactly the same thing that works for Ryan or Candy or Brian!
3. Lift heavy weights. I’m sorry. Cardio just doesn’t cut it ladies and gents. You need to lift heavy weights – you need muscle and strength to really be healthy (PLUS there are tons of benefits besides looking sexy that you get from lifting heavy weights…like increased bone density!)
4. Always challenge yourself. I don’t mean that you have to push yourself every workout, but don’t ever become complacent. Always set new goals to strive for. Don’t ever just get stuck doing the same thing over and over again. Always seek out new ways to challenge yourself. Try a new workout routine or a new sport. Try lifting heavier weights or a new form of cardio!
5. Focus on the big picture. This one has been the hardest thing for me to do. You can get so caught up in your day-to-day diet or even your weekly diet that you don’t realize all the progress that you’ve made over the past year. I know I’m guilty of occasionally getting stuck on daily fluctuations in weight or even weekly fluctuations in how much I can lift. Remember, the day-to-day stuff doesn’t matter that much as long as you remain committed to your health a majority of the time. One cheat day isn’t going to ruin your year even if it makes you gain weight the next day. One bad workout won’t set you back. Remember the 80/20 rule. If you work hard and commit to your diet and workout program 80% of the time, you WILL see results over time. Don’t stress over the few times you cheats or have a bad workout because they won’t matter. Just enjoy the adventure!
So those are the 5 main things I always keep in mind – those are the five main things I think everyone needs to live by if they want to lead a healthy happy life!