So, you’ve decided to begin a weightlifting program, but you know very little about it.
How can you determine how much weight you should be lifting? The answer to that is dependent solely upon your goals.
If you are beginning a weightlifting program in order to get yourself in shape and lose fat, that’s one thing; if your goal is to be a bodybuilder, that’s an entirely different matter.
Regardless of your goals, the one thing that all weightlifting has in common is the need to put stress on the muscles. Only by putting stress on the muscles can you add mass and tone while also increasing the body’s metabolism. Mass and tone are the key ingredients of bodybuilding while metabolism is the most important factor in losing fat.
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How Much Weight Should You Be Lifting in a Weight Loss Program?
It’s generally accepted that lifting between 60% and 80% of your maximum load is necessary in order for muscle growth to occur. So determining how much weight you should be lifting begins by finding out what your maximum load is for your gym or home workout plan.
Your maximum load will be determined by the largest amount of weight you can lift in a single rep, in good form. If you can curl a maximum of 50 pounds in a single rep, with a fluid motion, that would be your maximum. Multiply that number by .6 to determine the starting point, which in this case would be 30 lbs.
It’s also generally accepted that you need 8 to 16 reps per set in order to achieve weight loss. So take that 30 lbs. and try to do 10 or 12 curls in a consistent fluid motion. If you reach total muscle failure (meaning you cannot do the exercise anymore) by the 12th rep, your starting weight is right at the maximum.
You should reduce it by a few pounds so that you’re still working your muscles without reaching complete muscle failure. Conversely, if you can do 12 reps with very little effort you’ll need to increase the load.
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How Much Weight Should You Be Lifting in a Bodybuilding Program?
If you’re working at a bodybuilding workout plan, the principal of how much weight you should be lifting is the same; although you’ll be looking differently at the number of reps per set and your starting number.
Determine your maximum load limit for a particular exercise and multiply that number by .8 instead of .6. In other words, you’ll be lifting 80% of your maximum load instead of 60%. This puts more stress on your muscle groups, causing them to grow larger and stronger.
Where reps are concerned, a number between five and ten is best for bodybuilding. You should be able to lift 80% of your maximum load for five reps, again without muscle failure. Just like you would for losing weight, you adjust your starting number up or down depending on how stressful those five reps are.
As you build muscle mass, you’ll be increasing the load in order to continue putting additional stress on your muscles.
How Much Weight Should You Be Lifting Once You Can Comfortably Perform All of Your Reps?
It’s common for novice weightlifters to increase their load too early, based on the fact that they can do the desired number of reps comfortably. But, rather than increasing the weight after one successful set, weightlifters should wait until they can complete three sets of repetitions before increasing the weight.
For example, if you’re curling 50 pounds for 12 repetitions and one set, you need to increase to two sets — and then to three — before you add weight. When it does come time to add weight, you essentially start over by adding just enough to make one set of 12 repetitions uncomfortable. Every time you reach the three-set threshold you add more weight.
Adding more weight too early isn’t really a problem for bodybuilders because their intention is to build mass. But for those who simply wish to lose fat and maintain a toned physique, adding weight too quickly can build muscle mass that you may not want.
If that sounds like a benefit, consider the fact that in order to maintain that mass you’ll have to consistently increase load. If you should decide to stop sometime in the future, the reduction in muscle mass will slow down your metabolism and make it much more likely for you to regain the fat that you lost. You should only engage in a program of bodybuilding if you truly want to do so. Otherwise, implement a weightlifting routine which is just enough to burn fat and tone your muscles.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Will weight training make me bulky?
Not unless you want it to. For women especially, it takes a lot of purposeful programming, eating, and supplementation to look “bulky.”
Do you have to eat more to gain muscle?
Typically, yes. Some bodybuilders will go into a “bulking” phase where they eat in a caloric surplus to gain muscle mass. Bulking, of course, results in body fat gain as well, so some individuals prefer to recomp. This equates to slower overall muscle growth but does cut down on the fat gained.
Should I do high reps with a low weight or low reps with a high weight?
This depends on your goals. Ideally, one would dabble in both forms of lifting.