A Simple Way to Know How Much Weight to Lift

Racks of weights in a gym
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One of the questions most asked of personal trainers and weight training coaches is: "How much weight should I start with?"

Here's a simple way for beginners to decide how much to lift and when to progress to heavier weights. More sophisticated approaches can be used after you get more experience and decide to train for specific results such as strength, bodybuilding or sports.

Let's assume you are doing a workout program of 10 exercises and 3 sets of 10 repetitions of each exercise in a general fitness program.

  1. By initial experimentation and for each exercise, choose a weight such that the tenth lift, push, or pull of the first set is somewhat difficult but not too difficult, to complete.
  2. Rest the allocated time, usually 30 to 60 seconds between sets.
  3. By the tenth lift of the third set, that is, your thirtieth lift, you should be struggling to complete the lift -- not screaming at the ceiling -- but making hard work of it. That's about the intensity you should aim for to get ​the most benefit from your weight training workouts for general strength and muscle building.
  4. When you find you can do the last lift, in this case, the thirtieth lift, with less effort, it's time to increase the weight. Progressive overload, or adding more weight over time, is a fundamental principle of weight training progression.
  1. If you can't find a suitable increment, that is, the dumbbell or barbell or plate of the next weight is too heavy, you could either use this heavier weight and drop the repetitions to 8 or 9; or stay with the same weight and increase the number of repetitions in each set from 10 to 12 or even 15. Either way, you progress your training.

    That's it. You can use that basic method without worrying about the complexities of drop sets, pyramids, slow, fast or anything else. For more information read the beginner's weight training guide suite of articles.