I get this question a lot from my clients: How much weight should I lift? They wonder if they’re lifting too little and wasting their time, or lifting too much and at risk to get hurt. The truth is, the right weight is relative to your unique body. Choosing the right amount of challenge is important to help you reach your goals, so you can get satisfying results without painful setbacks.
Lifting weights that are too heavy can lead to injury because it’s hard to maintain proper form when we’re overdoing it. Lifting too little can be discouraging because you might not be giving your body the necessary resistance to build muscle.
But if you ask me what’s the right weight for you, I have to ask you first, what’s your goal?
Where you’re at and where you’re going
The right weight is always relative to what’s easy for you now. In order to gain strength or muscle mass, you need to overload your muscles by just the right amount.
The most common goals in weight training are:
- Maximal strength: being able to lift the greatest amount of weight
- Building muscle size: increasing your muscle mass for a toned or ripped look
- Muscular endurance: being able to maintain your effort for long periods of time
In order to train your body for each of these goals, you need to choose a weight that gives you the right amount of challenge. We measure the challenge by how many reps you can do with good control using that weight.
- Maximal strength: heavy weights that you can just manage for 2–6 sets of 6 reps or fewer
- Building muscle: heavy-to-moderate weights that you can handle for 3–6 sets of 8–12 reps
- Muscular endurance: moderate weights that make you feel challenged for 2–3 sets of 12-20
Choosing your weights wisely
Most of my clients are looking to get stronger, but not maximum strength, and to change their physique, building muscle so their bodies look toned, lean, and strong. So most of the time, we work out in the moderate range, aiming to feel challenged with 8-12 reps over 3 or more sets.
This moderate range is a safe and easy place to start your training. When you’re lifting moderate weights, you can learn proper form and strengthen your stabilizing muscles so that you don’t get hurt when you move on to really heavy stuff.
Moderate training is also time efficient—the moderate range does not require several minutes of rest periods in between sets, so you can get your workout done in less time.
We also find that this range is a multitasking sweet spot. By working with a moderate weight and rep count, you’re not only growing muscle size, but you’re also getting stronger and building more endurance, all at once.
Where should you start?
I recommend that you start with a weight you know you can lift. Do your first set of 8-12 reps with proper form.
- If you couldn’t complete 8 reps or noticed your form getting wobbly, rest for 30-60 seconds and try again with a lighter weight.
- If you were able to perform 8-12 with good form… Great! You’ve found the right weight for now. Repeat.
- If you could do more than 12 reps, it’s time to go up in weight.
Important: NEVER compromise good form to lift heavier. If you can’t do the movement properly, move down in weight until you can. Give yourself time to adjust and follow the 8-12 rep rule so you know when it’s time to move on. If you want to learn how to handle very heavy weights, I highly recommend that you work with a professional trainer.
It’s important not to overdo your weights because getting injured is hard on the body and the mind. Many clients have come to me after exercise injuries forced them to the sidelines and made them feel like giving up on their training.
However, it’s equally important that you don’t get complacent. Getting results is our reward for all our hard work. Whether you’re tracking your weights, reps, or physique, crushing new goals feels powerful! So make sure to challenge yourself with each workout and do the best you can that day.
To sum it up, don’t go so hard that you get injured or are sore for days after. If you can’t walk properly, how are you going to get your next good workout in? Find that level of “just right” challenge so you keep making satisfying progress.
Where to get help
If you’re still not sure you can pull this off by yourself, hire a trainer to learn proper form and technique. Don’t be ashamed if you feel like you need help—despite what some may tell you, exercise is not always intuitive. Getting expert advice so you can learn good habits at the start is always better than trying to correct bad habits later.
Additionally, a good trainer can help you with your nutrition planning and suggest specific exercises to support your goals. You might be amazed how much a subtle tweak can increase your gains and help you get more satisfaction and joy out of your workouts.
Whatever you do, enjoy your amazing body.
If you have more questions about what weights to choose or how to achieve that toned, athletic look let’s talk. Send me a note and we’ll jump on the phone. I look forward to connect with you!