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How Much Weight Should You Lift? Part 2: Working With Your Weaknesses

Your efforts toward getting in shape can get derailed when you come across exercises that give you trouble.

That’s why it’s important to know how to make adjustments when needed.

Lifting less weight isn’t always an option.

A good personal trainer can tell you when and how to make those adjustments. But if you’re on your own, there are a few strategies you can try.

For Example

In Part 1 (read that here if you missed it), I gave tips on how much weight to use when you’re first getting started.

I suggested focusing on a specific rep range (12-20), rather than the actual number of how much weight you’re lifting…

It’s a good strategy for a beginner making their own workout program. But you could still run into problems like these:

  • Squats: Even at a light weight, you may struggle to do enough.

  • Push-ups: These aren’t weighted, and yet not everyone can do 12.

  • Pull-ups: Many people can’t do any. Most can’t do many.

  • Deadlifts: High reps may give you back trouble.

Every exercise is different, and every person unique. No matter what exercise program you follow, you could run into complications.

Let’s look at some solutions.


Almost any exercise can be made easier.

A push-up can be done with your hands elevated on a bench, or even standing with your hands on a wall. A squat can be assisted with a chair. Deadlifts can be done from a rack to limit the range of motion.

These are just a few of countless possible regressions.

If you have trouble with a particular exercise, a quick search online can help you find a variation of that exercise to make the movement easier until you’re ready to progress.

Or ask me (email me here).

Do What You Can

With some exercises, you simply won’t be able to do very many reps, no matter how much you regress them.

If that’s the case, just do what you can.

There’s no shame in doing a few sets of 3 reps if that’s what you can do. It won’t take long before those 3 reps turn into 5, then 10, or even 50+.

Just remember (as I discussed in Part 1), to not go to complete failure every time, so you can recover faster for your next workout.

Work Your Weakness Another Way

Some exercises, like a pull-up, might be impossible for now.

One solution is to work the muscles that need strengthening with a different, but complementary exercise to the one you can’t do.

For pull-ups, that might be inverted rows, or even a core exercise like hollow body holds.

It’s a good idea to use various approaches to work each muscle group throughout a program anyway.

By working your weaker muscles with alternative exercises, you’ll eventually have the strength to do the exercise that is currently too difficult.

Have More Reps in Reserve

On an exercise like the deadlift, most people are better off sparing their back by doing lower reps. But you can start at a manageable weight.

Try lifting for 5 or 6 reps per set, at a weight that feels like you could do around 10 or 12 (so you always have 5-6 “reps in reserve”).

You can keep more reps in reserve with any exercise, even at higher rep ranges, as a way to work on your form without excessive tax on your body.

As you become more confident with the particular lift, you can start having less reps in reserve, either by adding weight, or doing more reps, depending on your goal (which I’ll talk more about in Part 3).

This Is Not The End

Don’t get frustrated if you can’t do something you feel like you should be able to do (or your program tells you to do).

You’ll get there eventually.

In the meantime, when you struggle with something, pick one or more of the above strategies to work through it.

Of course, these aren’t the only ways a workout can be adjusted.

Sometimes exercises even become too easy, and throwing more weight on isn’t always the best option.

In Part 3, I’ll give you more details on how to individualize your workout — like how much weight to lift for certain goals, and a general idea on how to construct your own program.

In the meantime, if you have questions, you can reach me by email here.


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