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How to Choose the Right Weight

I'm a Trainer, and This Is How Heavy Your Weights Actually Need to Be to Build Muscle

Heavy weight exercise

Strength training is an essential component to your workout regiment, especially if your goal is to lose body fat and build muscle. Not all exercises are created equal, which is why experts recommend doing multijoint movements called compound exercises to help you build muscle and burn more calories and fat.

You'll also need to make sure that you're doing the appropriate amounts of sets and reps in order to build lean muscle. Another extremely important factor is ensuring that you're lifting the right amount of weight. Simply telling you to lift heavy is subjective, which is why you should use the following guide to determine how to choose the correct weight for strength exercises.

Too Light? Too Heavy?

A good indicator the weight you're using is too light is if you feel like you could do infinite amounts of reps without taking a break. While this may be great for your confidence, it's not going to help you build muscle. Common signs the weight you're lifting is too heavy are poor form and being unable to perform the designated sets and reps.

Define Your Goals

To help you get the most out of your strength sessions, you first need to know what your weightlifting goal is. Are you lifting for strength endurance, maximal muscle growth (hypertrophy), or maximal strength? From there, you'll be able to determine how much weight you should be lifting, along with the optimal set and rep range.

How to Find the Right Weight

A general rule of thumb is to find a weight that challenges you during the final few reps of an exercise, but that can also be sustained for multiple sets. Another, more accurate, way to determine how heavy you should be lifting for your specific goal is to first determine the heaviest weight you can lift for three to five reps of a given exercise. For example, to figure out the weight you should be using for a barbell back squat, first figure out the heaviest weight you can lift with proper form for three to five reps.

Next, you'll need to enter the weight you lifted and the amount of reps you performed into a one-rep max calculator. The calculator will provide you with a list of percentages of your one-rep max. Based on your goal, you can use that information, along with the following chart, to figure out sets, reps, and weight. You don't have to calculate your one-rep max for every exercise, but I do recommend doing it for essential lifts like the squat, deadlift, bench press, and bicep curl.

Strength Endurance Maximal Muscle Growth (Hypertrophy) Maximal Strength
Weight 50-70 percent of your one-rep max 75-85 percent of your one-rep max 85-100 percent of your one-rep max
Sets One to three Three to five Four to six
Reps 12-20 Six to 12 One to five

Nutrition Will Be Key, Too

Because you're strength training, you'll need to make sure that you increase your daily caloric intake to ensure your body is getting the accurate amount of macronutrients (especially protein) to help you build muscle. On average, you'll need to consume 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. Be sure to consult your doctor before making any changes to your nutrition.

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