How much weight should you lift?
Should you lift ‘light’ weights for high reps? Or should you lift heavy weight for lower reps?
After reading this post, you are going to learn:
- How much weight you should lift to gain muscle,
- When to add weight to your exercises, and
- How heavy you need to lift to see fast results.
Are you ready? Let’s get started!
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Okay, let’s get started.
How Much Weight Should You Lift To See Results?
The amount of weight you should lift should depends on the results you are hoping to achieve.
- If your goal is to build strength, then your weights should be heavy enough that you can only perform 4-6 repetitions per set.
- If your goal is to build muscular size, then you should only be able to perform 7-12 repetitions per set.
- If your goal is to improve muscle endurance, then 12-15+ reps per set is best.
In other words, the weight needs to be in a sweet spot where:
- It’s not so heavy that you can’t lift the weight for the minimum number of reps you were intending to get, and
- It’s not so light that you can easily get more reps than what you intended
But, there’s one more thing…
It is absolutely critical that you always lift weights with proper form. The heavier the weights get, the more you need to focus on good technique.
More on that later.
How Much Weight Should You Lift To Gain Muscle?
If you want to gain muscle, then you need to lift a weight where you can only do 7-12 repetitions per set.
Notice that I am not recommending a specific weight.
That’s because this weight will be unique to you and your strengths. You may only be able to lift 100 lbs for 7-12 repetitions, whereas someone else could d0 200 lbs.
The actual weight doesn’t matter. It’s the stimulus your muscles receive from the workload that matters.
In addition, the weight you’re lifting should change on a regular basis. That’s why a range of 7-12 repetitions is prescribed.
You can’t expect to lift the same exact weight for the same number of repetitions over and over and see results.
You must progressively overload your muscles with new stimuli over time.
What Is A Good Weight To Start Lifting?
If you are a beginner, you should not start with the heaviest weight you can handle.
Instead, you should start with a relatively light weight and work your way up. In fact, the empty barbell is a good place to start!
A standard Olympic barbell weighs 45 lbs/20 kg.
If this is too heavy, then you can start off with a smaller barbell. Most gyms will have 15 lb barbells as well.If this is too heavy, then you can start off with a smaller barbell. Most gyms will have 15 lb barbells as well.
Is 45 lbs / 20kg enough to build muscle?
Everyone starts off at different levels of strength. You may already have a good baseline level of strength.
However, you MUST learn how to lift with proper form.
If you are a beginner (or learning an exercise for the first time), it is always a good idea to start with just the barbell.
If the barbell is just way too light, then add weight slowly- i.e no more than 20-40 lbs at a time.
There is absolutely no need to rush anything. You can always add weight with each workout.
Don’t make the mistake of starting too heavy as there is nothing more de-motivating than having to go down in weight because you were overzealous.
How Do I Know If I Am Using The Correct Weight?
Once you have established proper technique, now you have to pick the right weight for you.
Here are three tips that you can use.
- Make sure that you are in the appropriate rep range for your desired goal (4-6 for strength, 7-12 for muscle growth, and 12-15 for endurance)
- Do not exceed a Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) of 9
- Stop the set once your form begins to break
Let’s go over each one of these in more detail.
Work In Your Desired Rep Range
Do not make the mistake of going into either extreme.
Do not lift weights so light that you can easily exceed the goal rep range.
Similarly, do not lift weights so heavy that you cannot get the minimum amount of reps dictated by the goal rep range.
Do not exceed an RPE 9
What does RPE 9 mean?
Rate of Perceived Exertion or RPE is a method in which you grade how difficult a set is.
If it was a max effort set, and you could not get another repetition no matter what, it is a level 10.
If you were able to get one more repetition if you really needed to, (and only one), you give it a 9.
If you had two reps left in the tank, then the RPE would be 8, and so on.
Determining RPE can be very difficult at first, but get into the habit early of assigning every working set an RPE.
Never go lower than an RPE 7 on a working set.
Stop The Set If Your Form Breaks
If you are using RPE’s correctly, then ideally, your form shouldn’t break too much.
However, if you begin to notice that every subsequent rep you do looks drastically different from the first rep in the set, then stop.
Safety > Reps… Always.
When Should You Start Adding More Weight?
There are many scenarios when you should be able to increase the weight of the exercises you are doing.
Here are the three most common reasons of when you need to add more weight.
- You are doing sets at an RPE of 7 or less
- You can do 12 reps or more on any given weight
- You have been doing the same exercises with the same weight for 3 weeks or more
If you are a beginner, you can increase the weight as often as every workout, or every week. As an intermediate you can increase the weight every 1-3 weeks.
How Should You Start Adding Weight?
It is always in your best interest to add weight as slowly as possible.
This means adding no more than 5-10 lbs to the barbell at any time. Just because you can lift more weight doesn’t mean you should.
Take your time, add weight gradually, and focus on doing a little bit more than you did before.
This is the entire basis behind progressive overload. Using this technique will allow your body and joints to accommodate to the external resistance over time.
Here are some examples.
- Week 1: Bench Press 135 lbs 3 x 8
- Week 2: 140 lbs 3 x 8
- Week 3: 145 lbs 3 x 8
- Week 4: 150 lbs 3 x 7
- Week 5: 155 lbs 3 x7
Is It Better To Lift Heavy or Light Weights To Build Muscle?
Ideally, you should use a combination of both heavy and light weights to build muscle.
Remember, “heavy” and “light” are always relative.
The less experience you have, the more you should focus on lifting in the 7-12 rep range, as you are learning proper technique.
Over time, you should add more weight to the exercises, slowly working your way down in repetitions.
- Once you have trained in the 7-12 rep range for ~8-12 weeks, then you should increase the weight further and train in the 4-6 rep range.
- The 4-6 rep range will continue to help build size, but also strength. You should train in the 4-6 rep range for ~4-8 weeks.
Why train in the 4-6 rep range?
Because strength training can help you gain more muscle mass.
Once you increase your strength, you will notice that you will be able to lift heavier weights in the 7-12 rep range compared to when you started, which puts you at a higher baseline.
- Gaining muscle mass will require you to learn proper technique in the major functional exercises.
- Begin by training in the 7-12 rep range for 2-3 months, and use progressive overloading to increase the weight over time.
- After 2-3 months of training, incorporate a strength block, where you train in the 4-6 rep range for 1-2 months.
- Start over.
How Much Weight is Considered Heavy Lifting?
Heavy is relative. What is heavy for you will be light for someone else and vice versa.
But in general,
- anything above 200 lbs for upper body exercises and
- anything above 300 lbs for lower body exercises
…can be considered heavy for most people.
Do I Have To Lift Heavy To Build Muscle?
You do not have to lift really heavy to build muscle, but you should lift heavy enough to induce muscular fatigue in every set.
I recommend sticking with weights heavy enough where you cannot accomplish more than 7-12 repetitions per set.
If you can easily get more than 12 reps per set, the weight is too light for building muscle.
How Much Weight Should I Be Able To Lift For My Age or Size?
Regardless of your size or your age, there are a few benchmarks that we believe everyone should be able to accomplish.
Second of all, you should be able to lift a certain amount of weight on The Big 4– the squat, the bench press, the deadlift, and the overhead press.
We have written an entire post on How Strong Should I Be? Realistic Strength Standards For Busy Professionals.
Check it out and let us know how you stack up, and where you need improvements.
How To Calculate The Most Amount Of Weight You Can Lift
What about one rep maxes?
A one rep max is the most amount of weight you can lift for one repetition.
This is what you do in the sport of powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting.
While there are no actual fitness advantages to knowing and practicing your one rep max, it serves as a cool bragging right.
If you are going to dabble in testing your one rep max, just make sure that you have a spotter and that you use the proper technique at all times!
You can actually calculate what your one rep max is (without actually having to test it) by using this formula
(Weight Lifted) x (# of reps performed) x 0.0333 + (weight lifted)
For example: You do 225 lbs bench press for 5 repetition
Your estimated 1 rep max is
(225) x (5) x (0.0333) = 37 + (225) = 262
I have found this calculation to be fairly accurate.
What Percent Of Your Max Should You Lift?
If you know your one repetition maximum (if not see the calculation above), you can calculate the your working weights by using percentages.
In general, you should lift 70-80% of your max if your goal is to build muscle, and 80-90% of your max if your goal is to build strength.
Do Different Exercises Respond Better To Heavy Weights?
In contrast, isolation exercises respond better to lighter weight or sets in which you can only perform 7-12 repetitions.
Compound exercises train multiple muscle groups at once. As a result, you can recruit many more muscle fibers to help lift the weight.
In addition, compound exercises are extremely versatile.
You can use them for any rep range, including the 12-15 rep range, the 7-12, and even the 1-3 rep range.
On the other hand, isolation exercises are meant to develop a single muscle group and respond better to more reps per set.
The most common isolation exercise performed across the world is the bicep curl.
So how much weight should you lift for biceps?
Isolated muscle groups are pretty weak by themselves, and therefore you will not be able to lift as much weight as you could if you use multiple muscle groups.
A good rule of thumb is to stick to 7-12 and 4-6 reps per set for your compound exercises, and 7-12 reps per set for isolation exercises like bicep curls.
Other Related Questions
How Much Weight Should I Lift With Dumbbells?
Just like with barbells, it is ideal to start as light as possible.
Start with just 10 – 20 lbs dumbbells, until you have developed good technique in all of the basic movement patterns.
Again, it is always better to leave something in the tank than to go all out and potentially injure yourself.
Or You Can Also Just Lift Your Own Bodyweight
One last option is lifting your own body weight.
This is ideal if
- You do not have access to weights
- You want to workout at home, and do not want to commute to a gym
- You want to learn the basic fundamental movement patterns
Bodyweight training also has several unique advantage over weights.
We have an entire article going over how to decide if you should lift your body or lift weights, and an entirely separate article on how to begin training with your bodyweight from A to Z which you can find here- Calisthenics For Beginners.
What About Weight Loss? How Much Weight Should I Lift To Lose Weight?
If your goal is to lose weight, then you should still focus on lifting weights heavy enough to build muscle, and weights heavy enough to build strength.
By increasing your lean muscle mass percentage, you will increase your body’s fat burning capabilities.
It is also important to add High Intensity Interval Training to your exercise tool belt. HIIT forces you to do a lot of repetitions in a short amount of time, which increases your aerobic capacity while simultaneously helping you to burn more calories.
There’s one more thing.
You can exercise all you want, but you also need to address your nutrition. This is non-negotiable.
If you continue to eat a surplus of low quality food, then you will never lose weight, no matter how much weight you choose to lift.
Exercise is only one small piece of the puzzle. Your diet is by far the largest piece.
Check out How To Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle to learn more.
How Much Weight Should I Lift To “Tone”?
There is a common misconception that in order to tone, you must lift “light weights” for high reps.
Sure, this will cause a lot of muscular ‘burn’ but it is doing very little to help you tone up. In addition, the word “tone up” is a misnomer. There is no such thing as toning. You can either build muscle, or lose fat. That is all.
High repetitions only serve to build aerobic and muscular endurance. If you want to be the next Lance Armstrong, then you should use high rep sets.
If you want to tone up, then you need to drop your body fat percentage which automatically makes your muscles more defined. This has nothing to do with how much burn you get during your workout, but it has everything to do with how much muscle you can develop.
- First, you need to focus on building some muscular size using 7-12 repetitions per set, and sparingly using a strength cycle (4-6 repetitions per set). The majority of your training should be done in the 7-12 range.
- At the same time, drop your body fat percentage by consuming more water and cutting out processed junk from your diet. This includes soda, juice, sugary foods, white bread, you get the idea.
- Lastly, keep your metabolism strong by keeping your body in motion. The easiest way is to walk, walk again, and then walk some more.
- Rinse and repeat.
Dropping your body fat percentage is a lot like training for weight loss. It is in your best interest to develop as much muscle as you can while cleaning up your diet to shed fat.
How Much Weight Should A Woman Lift?
Another misconception in the fitness world is that women should lift light weights.
You might have seen those little pink or purple dumbbells that only weigh 1 or 2 lbs each. This gives off the impression that women should be lifting weights that are cute and little.
This isn’t true!
Women can and should incorporate heavy resistance training into their fitness regimen.
This is especially true for women who are entering menopause, as your risk of developing osteoporosis and suffering fractures increase.
Just like men, women should lift weights heavy enough to perform just 7-12 repetition per set when developing muscle, and 4-6 reps per set when developing strength.
Don’t be afraid of getting bulky.
Saying you don’t lift weights because you don’t want to get bulky is like saying you don’t play basketball because you don’t want to get recruited to the NBA.
But just in case here are a few tips to avoid bulking:
Believe it or not, getting bulky is actually very difficult. It requires:
- a great deal of discipline,
- a dedicated training plan with the goal of getting bulky
- a calorie surplus
- years of hard work
- high levels of testosterone
In general, women don’t have high enough levels of testosterone to get bulky.
Any ‘bulky’ woman you meet probably trains for a living and is doing everything she can to get bulky.
Just take a look at Brittany. She can squat >200 lbs and deadlift >300 lbs and she is not bulky.
How Much Weight Should A 14 Year Old Lift?
As a young teenager, all of the same recommendations apply. When you are first starting out, begin lifting as light a weight as possible to learn proper technique.
As you get comfortable with the foundational movement patterns, you should use weights where you achieve muscular fatigue in the 7-12 repetition range.
As you get stronger, the amount of weight you can lift int he 7-12 rep range will continue to increase.
Does lifting weights stunt your growth?
It’s a common misconception to think that lifting weights in early age can stunt growth.
A Template That Tells You How Much Weight To Lift and How To Increase It
That was a lot of information.
You can either digest all of this information and turn it into a comprehensive workout program for yourself…
Or you can let us put all the pieces together for you into one cohesive workout plan.
This easy to follow template takes all the guess work out and lays everything out for you.
Otherwise, you could get our four free tried and tested workouts – complete with exercise substitutions.
Final Words How Much Weight You Should Be Lifting
So to wrap it all up:
- The amount of weight on the bar (or dumbbell) will always be inversely proportional to the number of repetitions you can perform on the exercise.
- The most important thing is to ensure that you are lifting with good form and changing up the rep scheme that you are using from time to time.
- If you are a beginner, stick to the higher rep sets first, and progressively overload each exercise as time goes on with more weight.
- Compound exercises respond best to all rep ranges (12-15+, 7-12, 4-6, and 1-3), and build great strength in the 4-6 rep range and less.
- Once you are comfortable with an exercise, always use weights heavy enough to perform the desired rep range with moderate difficulty.
Well, that’s all we have for you.
Next, you should learn:
- How Often Should I Workout: Determine Your Optimal Training Frequency
- The 3 Best Workout Splits Of All Time
- The Best Workout Template For Busy People
Now it’s your turn.
Have you been lifting appropriately heavy weights in your training?
Are your sets moderately difficult? Or are they pretty easy?
Comment below and let us know!