Too Light, Too Heavy, Just Right: Choosing the Right Weight for Your Workout

Posted on: 15 March 2017

Whether you are hitting the gym or pursuing your workouts at home, you will need to start using weights if you want to grow muscles for that ripped look. Such exercise can be provided through weight machines or free weights. Free weights include dumbbells and barbells. If you are new to weight lifting, you need to begin with the correct weight load to accomplish your muscle-building goals without injuring yourself. Find out how to determine if the weight that you are lifting provides a productive workout.

Repetitions for Muscle Growth

When lifting weights, the number of repetitions that you should set out to complete depends on your fitness goal. When striving for strength, you need to lift heavier weights for six or fewer repetitions. Conversely, if your eye is on endurance, then you need to pump lighter weights for 15 or more repetitions. If your goal is to grow bigger muscles, then expect to lift the amount of weight that you can manage for 8 to 12 repetitions of the specific exercise. At any point between 8 and 12 repetitions, you should be reaching volitional fatigue, which is the point at which you cannot perform another repetition without compromising your form as a cheat to help your muscles get the task done.

The Proper Weight for Results

For each exercise, whether you are bench pressing or executing bicep curls, you will need to experiment at first to find the correct weight to reach your goal of muscle growth. Select a weight that feels substantial but that you can pick it up without any strain. Proceed to perform repetitions of your exercise. For example, if you plan to do bicep curls, pick up the dumbbell and start doing them. As you progress through a set of repetitions, use the following assessments as a guide to determining whether the weight is correct for accomplishing your goal:

  • If you are reaching the maximum of 12 repetitions without much effort and feel as though you can continue, then the weight is too light.
  • If you are straining as you struggle to curl the dumbbell after only three or four repetitions, then you have reached volitional fatigue too soon because the weight is too heavy.
  • If the first few curls are performed without a struggle, but they start to get progressively more difficult until you are feeling strained by the eighth or tenth curl, then the weight is that sweet spot that you need.

Be sure that you are performing the exercise correctly and using proper form. In the bicep curl example, you should be able to curl that dumbbell by moving only your forearm. If you need to rock your body at all to get the momentum to curl the dumbbell, then you need to choose a lighter weight load. Once you have determined the right weight for your chosen exercise, then you are all set to have a productive workout, at least for now.

Increased Weight for Progress

As with most fitness exercises, you will come to a point in your weight lifting routine when it will be time to increase the intensity of your workout. As your muscles build, your current workout will become easier. Once you are able to execute 14 repetitions of your exercise with minimal effort for two consecutive workout sessions, then it's time to bump up the intensity by increasing the weight load. You may need to experiment once again, as you did when you began your weight workout journey, to find the next weight up that is just heavy enough to make achieving 8 repetitions feel like work again. Don't let your growing muscles and growing confidence tempt you to increase the weight load too much or too soon. While not increasing the intensity of your workouts will result in a plateau, during which gains will no longer be made, increasing the intensity too much can send you from the bench press to the bench.

Avoid Muscle Injuries

Later during the day on which you engage in a weight lifting routine, it is not unusual to experience mild soreness in the muscle group that you worked earlier. Those affected muscles need to heal, and it is the healing process that actually grows muscle. If you work out on consecutive days, be sure to alternate muscle groups that you exercise so that each worked muscle group has a chance to heal in between workouts. Work the upper body one day, and then work the lower body on the next day while the upper body heals. On the third day, consider taking a break from weight lifting, and by the fourth day, your body will be ready to cycle through the workouts again.

Whenever you increase the intensity of your workouts, you are at risk for delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) if you increase the intensity too much. The discomfort of DOMS typically does not present until 12 to 24 hours after the intensified workout, and the soreness peaks between 24 and 72 hours. DOMS typically lasts for three to five days. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, refraining from working the affected muscle group during this recovery period is advisable, especially if your pain makes working out difficult. Once your muscles have healed, they will be better able to handle the workload.

Choosing the correct weight to lift in your workouts will keep you working hard while remaining humble, which is the ideal combination to achieve your goals while minimizing your risks for injuries. For extra advice, talk to a personal trainer like those at Brass Performance.