How Heavy Should You Lift

weightlifting

One of the biggest mistakes people new to lifting weights make is lifting too heavy or too light before they are ready. This can either cause an injury or lack of results.

Think of your body in multiple systems that allow you to move weights or perform exercises. For example let’s look at the squat. We have the skeletal structure. The muscles. The tendons and ligaments. The core.

Each one of these systems is at a different level of strength. You muscles typically are stronger than your connective tissue to begin with as well as your core. Since your muscles can out lift your core and tendons they will take a beating when lifting too heavy.

Over time you will develop tendon strength, core strength, muscular strength and they will be closer to even then when you first start lifting. A good example of this is when first doing dumbbell work for the lower body. Lunges for example, typically the grip fatigues before the legs do since the tendons in your fingers are weaker than your legs. Limiting your potential.

Conversely if you lift too light you will not challenge these systems enough to elicit any change. If there is no stimulus it will force these systems to adapt and get stronger, build muscle, or improve bone density. This is more common among women due to the fear of getting bulky if lifting too heavy. This then prevents the desired body goals.

How do you find the sweet spot?

lat pull down

When lifting in the beginning you don’t want to go any lower than 6 to 8 reps depending on the exercise. Let’s use the lat pull down for an example. If it’s your first day in the gym and you need to find your working weight for the lat pull down I recommend following this progression.

Your first set should be pretty easy and form should be perfect. This weight is typically between 40 to 55 pounds. This should be performed for 8 reps.

Rest for 45 to 60 seconds and then add 10 pounds and perform another 8 reps.

Continue this pattern until it becomes slightly difficult. At this point you should add 5 pounds per set. Continue until you reach a weight you cannot complete 8 reps for. Notate the last weight you were able to achieve 8 reps with.

This is your 8 rep max. Your training weight will be based off of this. For you working sets you will decrease by 5 pounds and then progress from there.

Example:

40x8

50x8

60x8

70x8

75x8

80x8 This is your working weight

85x8 This is your 8 rep max

90x5

This approach can be used with the bench press if you have someone to spot you when you go to failure. Cable Rows, Shoulder Presses, and Push-ups can also use this approach.

For the squat first begin with a goblet squat and follow a typical approach. If you reach 60 pounds for 8 reps then you will progress to the back squat. If you cannot reach 60 pounds for 8 reps you will need to build strength before progressing to the back squat. Do not search for failure with the squat rather a weight that is challenging but doable with good form for 8 reps.

deadlift

For the deadlift you will not lift more than 5 reps. Similar approach but only lifting 5 reps per set and stop 10 to 20 pounds shy of your true 5 rep max.

For example:

65x5

85x5

105x5 (Working weight)

125x5 (Challenging)

Always listen to your body. Finding a good place to begin it’s smarter to start conservatively and slowly progress. With all of my clients regardless of where they are starting they will be adding weight to the bar weekly to bi weekly to monthly.

If you add 2 pounds a week for a year that is over 100 pounds. Slow and steady wins the race. No need to get greedy. It will all fall into place and the better foundation you give yourself the better the results will be.

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Jamari Jackson