For those of you not interested in details of How Much Weight Should I Be Lifting... I can sum it up: In short, you should always lift as much weight as you can for the number of repetitions targeted by an exercise - without compromising form. The goal should be to create a burn for the last 4-5 reps or 10-15 seconds, if timed. If you aren’t doing this, you’re only getting a fraction of your workout’s potential.
So let’s get into the answer of How Much Weight Should I Be Lifting? Ultimately, the independent variable isn’t the weight you're lifting, it's about the reps or time that you're doing the exercise. So how do you figure out how much weight to lift, for the time or reps to get the best results? Basically, you need to fail in order to find out. Why? Because failure can actually be good. What I mean is that if you never fail during a set, you never know how much weight you should lift when doing an exercise. So when you first start out (and at least every 30 days ) it's good to create failure on an exercise. This lets you know what weights to use, and that you’re pushing to your limits. This is important.
How Much Weight Should I Be Lifting?
Now let’s take a look at how the 'failure set' is the answer to How Much Weight Should I Be Lifting. This should be done with a few rules in mind so you don’t injure yourself. To begin with, you want to start with enough weight to barely reach the targeted repetitions or time. If you can just finish with maintaining form, then you found your weight. If you can't, then you need to adjust it back a bit. Repeat this process through every exercise in your workout.
Most weight training exercises target a certain number of repetitions for each set or a certain amount of time. If you're using reps, the number might stay constant over the course of a workout or change depending on the exercise. If you are using time, the reps will vary based on the exercise. Either way, having an understanding of why this is being asked of you will help you get the most out of your workout program and determine the weight you should be lifting.
Here is a brief physiology lesson. This will help you understand how doing a failure test every 4-6 weeks will help as you train your body differently. It will help you understand why you will constantly need to change the amount of weight you’re using to get the most out of each workout.
Here's a quick rundown of Weight Training Physiology:
- Hypertrophy Workouts: These workouts rev up the metabolism and are the quickest means to change your ratio of muscle and fat. Whether your goal is to lose or gain weight, beginning with a workout program that focuses on hypertrophy will change your metabolism, which in turn is body transformation. This will create a fat burn and added lean muscle with strength, which accelerates fat loss.
- Muscle Mass Workouts: This style of workout is going to combine low reps (or little time) with very high weights. This will produce larger muscles, which in turn increases the capacity for strength. The catch is, the strength doesn't come with size. To create the strength, the larger muscles have to be trained to be efficient. This is done with programs that provide eccentric (negative) forces, and plyometric (explosive) forces.
- Muscular Endurance Workouts: This is exercise that lasts longer than a minute or over 15 repetitions. Endurance workouts target the glycolytic energy system, where both glycogen and oxygen are used when doing the exercise. This creates muscular endurance, which means you are increasing the muscle’s ability to perform for a longer duration. This style of training is best done when it is in conjunction with hypertrophy training.
When you start a new program be sure to go through the entire program and do a failure test on each exercise to know where you need to start. This will help you get the greatest benefits from the weight you're lifting and the workouts you're doing.
No matter which of the above styles you’re targeting during your workout, it’s only effective if you have run the failure tests and are pushing your body to those limits. If the last few reps or seconds are difficult while still maintaining proper form, you're good. If not, simply adjust.