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How Much Weight Should I Lift?

There is no way I can tell another person how much weight to use. I can advise you about the number of sets, reps, exercises, combinations, nutrition and even on how fast or slow to lift the weight. But there’s no way I can tell you how many plates to put on that bar.As a general guide, you should first determine how many reps you plan on performing. For example, let’s say it’s 10. Next, pick a weight that limits you to just 10 reps. Notice I said limits you to 10 reps. You don’t just stop at 10 if you can manage 11 or 12 reps. If you can do 12 reps but you want to do only 10, then the weight is not heavy enough. 

There will be days that you’ll be able to do those few extra reps; likewise, there’ll be days when it will take every ounce of energy just to squeeze out those 8 or 9 reps. But as soon as performing more than 10reps becomes the norm rather than the exception, add 5 or 10 pounds to the bar or machine.That is, if you have chosen 10 reps as your goal.It won’t be long before you’ll be using different rep ranges in your work-outs. You may think it will be difficult to keep adjusting the weight, but trust me, it’s really not. Within a few workouts, you’ll be adding and removing weight just to keep in your target rep range. Never sacrifice good form just to lift more weight. It’s far safer and certainly more effective to lift 225pounds on the bench press using good technique than to bounce 275 off your chest. 

Don’t worry about the guy next to you either.So what if he’s lifting 400 pounds? He certainly didn’t start out lifting that weight. He had to work his way up over time, just like you. And just like him, if you keep working hard and lifting properly, you will soon be lifting 400 pounds – but you won’t get there by trying to lift that weight before you’re ready. Always try to “feel” the weight as you lift. If you can’t feel the muscle being worked, you’re either not using enough weight or you are relying on the smaller muscles to do most of the lifting.Keep in mind that the terms “light,” “heavy,” “high,” and “low” are relative terms. 

What’s heavy for one person may be a light warm up weight for another. Likewise, some bodybuilders consider anything above 10 reps as high reps, while others think high-rep training starts at 20.Experiment with different rep and weight combinations to find what works best for you overtime.

The Need For Speed

Go into any gym and you’ll see weights being thrown around in just about every conceivable manner. It’s truly amazing that more people are not getting injured, considering what goes on daily in gyms. The human body was not designed to be jolted or jerked around in a rapid and abrupt manner – especially while supporting great poundage. Grabbing a bar and yanking it off the floor is not exercising using proper technique. 

Neither is bouncing up and down while doing squats. Both these movements could cause severe injury.Severe injuries are also caused by placing too much stress on a muscle or joint in too short a period of time. For example, maybe your thighs can handle a 500-pound squat, but not if you subject your muscles to the entire 500 pounds in less than a second! Let’s use the car analogy to illustrate: If you were driving along at 70 or 80 miles per hour without a seatbelt and suddenly hit a tree or another car, you’d probably go through the windshield. Why? Because your car went from 70 to 0 in less than a second, and your body just kept moving. If you’d had time to slowly reduce your speed and stop, you would have stayed in your seat and probably avoided the accident altogether. Well, the same applies to bodybuilding exercises – slow and controlled is the only way to do it. 

How Much Weight Should I Lift?


Bodybuilders use the term “tempo” to describe rep speeds. While on average most bodybuilders use a two-to four-second tempo, you will see many different combinations.Many experts, including Charles Poliquin, don’t look at reps as one unit, but rather as four distinct parts. Most people are aware of the raising (positive, or concentric) and lowering(negative, or eccentric) sections of the rep, but often neglect the pausing section at the top and bottom.

The reason for this is simple: stopping the weight for a split second makes the exercise more difficult and will probably demand that the individual lift less weight. But, as Poliquin and others have suggested, pausing helps take momentum out of the equation,helping recruit more muscle fibers. It’s also safer because the soft ligament and cartilage tissues won’t be used like springs.The importance of repetition speed is debated, but not as hotly as it once was. The faster the reps, the lower the muscle tension – that much is true. 

Reduce your rep speed to a more controlled tempo and you increase the muscle tension. Developing muscle size is a matter of high muscle tension (coupled with progressive overload). The higher the tension, the more you’ll grow. However, faster reps allow you to use more weight. More weight produces more growth. So which is better? The truth is, they both work. So use whichever speed works best for you.

The Order Of Things 

In general, most bodybuilders train the larger muscles first because they require more energy. The thighs, chest and back require considerably more energy to be stimulated than the biceps, triceps and shoulders. There’s also a more practical reason for leaving the biceps and triceps until last.These smaller muscles are also used when training the larger muscles. The biceps are assisting muscles in upper back exercises. Likewise, the triceps come into play on most chest exercises. 

Training the smaller assisting muscles first would severely hinder your progress on your larger muscle groups, and make injury more likely. You may also want to train the shoulders after the chest or back, since the front and side shoulders are involved with chest training and the rear shoulders are involved with back training.It probably doesn’t matter what order you train chest and back if you’re working both on the same day. Just make sure you don’t fall prey to this dangerous mindset: “If I can’t see it,it’s not that important.” In competition, you’ll often see some amazing sets of pectorals. When the competitors turn around, it’s an entirely different scene.

Since the back muscles are harder to see, many bodybuilders don’t train them with the same intensity as they do the chest. If your back development starts lagging behind that of your chest, use the “muscle-priority principle.” This principle demands that as soon as you discover a muscle group lagging behind the others, you rearrange your program to train the lagging muscle group first. In other words, train your back before your chest. This way you will devote more energy to bring your lagging bodypart up to speed.

Training To Failure

Training to failure means terminating a set only after the muscle literally cannot contract for another rep. When you tried for one last rep, you failed. You’ll sometimes hear advanced107bodybuilders and writers saying you should train to failure on every set. In theory this sounds great and would make perfect sense if your recovery system could keep up. However, few but the genetically blessed or pharmacologically enhanced can endure training to total failure on every set. The average person would quickly become overtrained trying to work out this way.

Their nervous systems would become so fatigued that even sub-intensity training would burn them out.Training to failure causes significant damage to the muscle fibers. Training to failure on every set creates a situation wherein the individual’s recovery system is not capable of regenerating before the next workout. In fact, they may actually experience a regression in muscle size and strength.Two basic principles must be observed if you expect to keep progressing:The muscles must be repeatedly subjected to increasing forms of physical stress.

Sufficient rest time must be taken between workouts for full recovery to take place.If you repeatedly stress a given muscle to slightly greater physical loads from one workout to the next – progressive overload – the end result will be a larger, stronger muscle. But this can truly occur only if the muscle is allowed adequate recovery time between these workouts.If the stress is too great or the recovery period is too short, the muscle will not have time tore build the muscle fibers, and no improvement will occur. Training to failure on every set is simply too exhausting for most individuals. We suggest training to about 90-to 95-percentfailure on most sets and leave complete failure training to the last one or two sets of a given exercise.

Every Breath You Take

The most common practice is to inhale on the easy part of the movement (usually the lowering phase) and to exhale on the hardest part (usually the upward phase). In simple terms,you “blow the weight up.” The advantage of this breathing pattern is that it helps with your training rhythm. For every rep you inhale and exhale once. This helps pace your training as it supplies the muscles with an adequate supply of oxygen.As your training experience advances, you’ll discover that for some exercises it’s just about impossible to breathe on every rep. 

The squat and leg press are two examples. Most bodybuilders hold their breath for one or two reps on these exercises and are none the worse for it. In fact, on squats this is almost a necessity because the increased lung pressure provides extra support to the torso.Our advice is to let the body breathe on its own. Odds are you’ll find it easy to breathe on every rep for light warm up sets and to hold for one or two reps on heavier sets. Unless you find yourself holding for more than one or two reps, don’t worry about it. Breathing is an involuntary physiological condition and the body should do an excellent job of regulating it on its own.

Training Frequency: How Long Between Workouts?

The amount of time needed to recover between workouts is influenced by many factors,including training intensity, sleep habits, nutrition and probably most importantly, genetics.For a beginner whose body is unaccustomed to intense exercise, a longer recovery period is required. On average, each muscle group should be given 48 to 72 hours of recovery between workouts. For a beginner, the best way to accomplish this is to train the whole body, using one exercise per bodypart for 2 or 3 sets total, every second day, for a maximum of three days per week.

As conditioning levels improve, the number of workouts can be increased and the body may be “split.” Instead of training the whole body during each workout, different muscle groups are trained on different days. The most popular version of this “split routine” is to train half the muscles on one day and the other half the next, taking a day of rest after these two workouts. This type of split has probably built more championship physiques than any other.

Amount Of Damage

Muscle growth can be considered a compensation process – damaged tissue becomes rebuilt into a slightly bigger, stronger version of itself. As stands to reason, the more damage inflicted, the more time is needed for rebuilding. Performing two or three 20-rep sets of squats using 100 pounds would place nowhere near the same demands on the recovery system that 315 pounds for 6 to 8 reps would for the same individual. So, in general, the more “heavy duty”your training, the more recovery time you need.


Diet also plays a huge role in recovery time. Most experts agree that bodybuilders require more protein than sedentary individuals. When muscle tissue is being broken down and repaired, significant dietary protein is needed to aid this process. Besides protein, an individual needs to recharge his or her glycogen levels (the storage form of carbohydrate) between workouts.This is why bodybuilders who reduce their carbohydrate intake during the pre-contest phase often lapse into overtraining. Their bodies still need energy to function, and if the preferred source – carbohydrate – is not present, they will start burning the protein in muscle tissue for energy.

All-Important Sleep

Sleep plays a vital role in the recovery process. Contrary to popular belief, muscles do not grow during the workout. Rather, recovery, and thus growth, takes place after you finish working out, and during sleep in particular. Sleep is such a vital component of health that humans spend about a third of their lives unconscious! Don’t expect to maximize your bodybuilding gains if you regularly stay out until three in the morning. Sure the occasional Friday or Saturday night out is fine, but you will not recover (and thus grow) if you continually try to get by on three or four hours a night.You may find it difficult to obtain eight hours of continuous sleep. Work, school or family responsibilities may interfere with sleep habits. However, keep in mind that two or three shorter sessions of sleep throughout the day yield nearly the same benefits as one longer session. So even a couple of naps will improve your recovery.Why is sleep so important? During sleep the body breaks down many of the fatigue toxins produced during exercise. For example, the stress hormone cortisol, released during intense training, is neutralized during sleep. It’s also been proven that the greatest release of testosterone and growth hormone, two of the most powerful anabolic (muscle-building)hormones in the body, takes place during sleep.Teenagers can’t go wrong hitting the sack for a minimum of eight, and preferably 10 or more hours. After all, not only are your muscles growing, but also your organs and bones. So the next time your mom says get to bed – listen to her!

Robert Kennedy: Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, The Complete A-Z Book On Muscle Building. 2008
Nick Evans: Bodybuilding Anatomy. 2012
Arnold Schwarzenegger: The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, 2013

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