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How Much Weight Should You Lift? Part 1: Getting Started

July 31, 2018

Everyone should lift.

 

At least anyone who cares about their overall health, body composition, being more physically active, or living longer.

 

But how much?

 

No matter how strong you are, try to lift too much and you risk getting injured. Don’t lift enough and you may not accomplish your goals.

 

In part 1 of this 3 part series, let’s take a look at where to start.

 

How much ya bench?

 

The bench press has always been a weak spot for me. And that sucks because it’s the lift all the gym rats care about.

 

You never hear the question, “How much ya front squat, bro?”

 

But everyone wants to know numbers on the bench press. I’ve come to accept that I’ll never be “king of the bench.” What I can do is work strategically within my capabilities so I continue to improve.

 

That means not letting my ego pick my weights.

 

Your first lesson today is to stop comparing yourself to other people. It’ll only hold you back.

 

Since everyone starts at a different level of strength, the actual amount of weight you use on any given lift is somewhat arbitrary.

 

So forget about that for now, and instead let’s focus on rep ranges.

 

Getting Started

 

Whether you’re a total newbie, or just starting a new program, it’s good to be conservative.

 

A good program will have an introduction phase so you don’t kill yourself right out of the gate.

 

If you’re doing your own thing, I have 4 guidelines to help you determine what weights to use when getting started.

 

1. Spend your first week getting a grasp on what you can handle.

 

Your first week should almost not even feel like a workout.

 

That’s a bit of an exaggeration. But I’d rather you err on the side of being overly conservative than doing too much and getting too sore to keep going.

 

Use these first days to figure out the exercises, and get a feel for what weights to use for the rep ranges you’ll be working in.

 

2. For your first month or so, stay in the area of 12-20 reps on most exercises.

 

There’s nothing magical about this rep range. It’s simply a strategy to prevent you from going too heavy before you’re ready.

 

The more weight you use, the less reps you’ll be able to do. And vice versa. If you find you can’t get 12 reps in, or are able to do more than 20, adjust accordingly.

 

There’s nothing wrong with using a different rep range than this (eventually you’ll need to), but if you want a simple formula for getting started on your own, this is a good option.

 

(I’ll talk more in the upcoming articles about how to progress, and what to do if you can’t do this many reps on certain exercises.)

 

3. Use a weight that allows 2-5 sets per exercise.

 

For example:

 

Let’s say you’re shooting for 12 reps on bench press. You use 50 pounds in your first set and barely get the reps in. Since your second set will be more difficult, 50 pounds will be too heavy.

 

Find a weight that allows you to do 12 reps not only in your first set, but in all your sets.

 

How do you decide how many sets to do?

 

Ultimately, it depends on the exercise and your goals. But I suggest starting on the low side. You can always add more sets the next week, or even the next month.

 

4. Don’t go to failure.

 

You should be able to do around 1-4 more reps at the end of each set — you’re just not going to do them.

 

This goes hand in hand with #3 in determining the weight you use.

 

Since the first set is the easiest, it should end farther away from failure than the next sets will. But even your last set should end feeling like you could do another rep.

 

Staying away from failure like this isn’t always necessary, but for now it will help you to not overtrain, and ensure quicker recovery.

 

This Is Not The End

 

I’m not saying this is the only way to do it.

 

It’s not.

 

But I’ve had enough people ask me how much weight they should be lifting that I wanted to give a solid, albeit generic guide for getting started.

 

This is not a plan you should follow for the rest of your life.

 

In Part 2 & Part 3 of this article I’ll talk about some adjustments you may have to make, as well as how to change things up as you progress.

 

As always, if you have any questions, either comment below or email me here.

 

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