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How heavy should I lift?

I'm frequently asked:

How heavy should I lift?

Am I lifting too light?

Am I lifting too heavy?

What should the weight be for a certain exercise?

These are all legitimate questions. However, this is a very subjective topic because every person is willing to push to a different level, has a different level of experience, different goals, and different capabilities. One's perspective of heavy will be different from another's. Therefore, it's nearly impossible to answer that specific question without being in person with each of you. What I can do is arm you with a set of tools that will allow you to self-assess to ensure you're seeing the results you want!

First, we need to realize that the actual amount of weight we are lifting has little bearing on the amount of gain we will see. The real focus is on the amount of stress we are able, or willing, to place on the muscle. Some exercises can require hundreds of pounds to be considered heavy while other may only require 2 or 3 pounds (i.e. heavy back squat or deadlift vs. reverse fly).

If weight doesn't matter, how do we gauge what dumbbells to pick up? The weight choices can be narrowed down by answering one simple question.. what is my goal? Typically, there are 3 main goals when strength training-- conditioning, hypertrophy, and strength.

Conditioning is typically considered anything that is 12 reps or more. This type of lifting is more aerobic and requires the muscles to become more efficient at replenishing oxygen to mitigate lactic acid in the muscles.

Hypertrophy is typically 8-12 reps and is the perfect range to gain size. You want bigger, more defined shoulders, arms, back, etc.. this is the perfect rep range for you!

Strength is typically between 3-6 reps and is utilized to help you achieve heavier lifts in the future. This type of lifting is great to add into any routine because it shocks the central nervous system into forcing growth.

Now that we better understand what we gain from each range, it is important to answer one additional question. If I want to do 10 reps, what weight could I lift for 11 or 12 reps MAX (and I mean passing out, falling on the floor, arms about to fall off... MAX)? If I know that I could hit failure at 11 or 12, that is the perfect weight for 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps with a respectable rest period of 90 to 120 seconds. If I'm doing a lighter weight, I can adjust the level of difficulty by reducing rest periods to 30 or 60 seconds. These factors, working in conjunction with one another, are a huge reason why many people find it difficult to pick an exact weight. Don't have heavy weights? That's okay-- rest less between sets. Want to lift heavy? That's okay too-- rest a bit more between sets.

Form plays a huge role in seeing results. I always want you to focus on form OVER weight. Say you are lifting a heavy weight but your form is off-- you won't see the results you want compared to adjusting your weight and having correct form. You have found the perfect weight when you can perform every rep with correct form while using a solid tempo which will help with your mind/muscle connection. This is the point that you will see the results you want!

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