How to know how much to lift during weight training
There are more than three methods of determining how much to lift, but these are the most common.
Below is a breakdown of what exactly each methodology entails, as well as what type of strength athlete they are most ideal for.
1. Progressive overload training
Progressive Overload is a fitness principle that says that in order to keep getting stronger you must continually exercise your strength harder.
How to make it more difficult? Thanks to a combination of:
- weight increase
- increased intensity
- increase in the number of sets
- reduced rest between sets
- modified tempo
It probably makes sense intuitively. But to understand why this is physiologically true, you first need to understand a little bit about the musculoskeletal system.
Exercise physiologist Pete mccall, MS, CSCS, CPT, host of All about the fitness podcast explains, âEvery time you work on your muscles, tiny baby micro-tears are cut in the muscle fibers. These damaged fibers repair themselves. And the other side of the recovery are more resilient [stronger] than they were before.
In order for this process to continue to occur while you are lifting, you have to continue to challenge the fibers, âhe says. âBut because the fibers are stronger now than they used to be, the same load won’t be as difficult. ”
In practice, this means that a 95-pound squat today won’t be as heavy as it was 3 weeks ago, assuming you hang on that load regularly during your workout.
The principle of progressive overload basically says to the person who has lifted 95 pounds for 3 weeks, âOK, it’s time to put some weight on that bar. “
2. Programming based on percentages
Percent-based training is a specific, super-regimented style of progressive overload training, according to Wickham.
He explains: “You could change these aforementioned factors (rest, sets, weight, intensity, tempo) at random and always get stronger – and technically that would still be considered progressive overload training! “
But percentage-based programming is not about this #RandomLyfe.
Percent based programming instructs athletes to use specific percentages of their 1 rep max for specific rep and set patterns. âTypically, these percentage-based programs last 6 to 16 weeks and involve doing the same lift at least 3 times a week,â says Wickham.
There are a ton of programs out there based on different percentages, especially now that Instagram fitfluencing is one thing.
But some of the more famous strength programs include:
- Texan method
- Mad cow 5 Ã 5
- Wendler 5/3/1
3. Based on sensation
Sensation-based lifting is a practice of lifting in order to achieve a desired sensation.
The exact nature of this stimulus will vary depending on the intention of your workout for the day. But usually, the goal will be fatigued by the end of your workout, according to McCall. âFatigue is an indication that the muscles have reached the limits of available energy,â he explains.
(for your information: McCall adds that this is different from failure, which suggests the weight is too heavy for your muscles to lift, and the weight will fall to the floor or onto the lift.)
There are a bunch of different clues that you or your trainer can use to get you to the correct weight. For these clues, you can try to:
- Choose a weight that you can comfortably squat 5 reps with. Then repeat it until failure.
- Keep adding weight to the bar until you reach a weight where you can’t do more than 2 reps.
- Load the bar to a weight that will allow you to do 5 sets of 5 reps with 2 minutes of rest in between, without interruption.
- Choose a weight that you can lift 4 times per minute for 20 minutes.
âThe great thing about the feel is you can still get a great workout without getting too caught up in the numbers,â says Wickham.
Going to touch is also a good option for someone who isn’t able to lift as regularly as percentage-based training programs dictate. (For more on this, see the MisFit Podcast: Getting Stronger).
Wickham says that feeling sometimes is also a sign of a intentional athlete!
âSome days you walk into the gym on a day where you’re supposed to lift X amount, but your body just doesn’t feel it,â he explains. Sure, sometimes you can choose to move past that feeling if it is more emotional than physical. “But if you’ve had a few shitty nights in a row, or a terribly stressful day at work, this is is going to have an impact on what you can lift physically, âhe says.
In some cases, these factors outside of the gym can actually make it physically impossible to achieve the programmed rep, set, or weight. And trying to lift it could result in injury or increased fatigue. âIn some cases, this could tip your body into overtraining syndrome,â says Wickham. Not ideal.
His suggestion: âIf during the warm-up you don’t even feel 80% of the athlete you usually are, listen to your body and decrease the weight, reps, number of sets, or dramatically increase the rest. ”
Or, if you are really in the hole, take a day off!
If you plan to make weightlifting a part of your life for the next 20 to 50 years, taking a day off won’t kill you. On the contrary, it might even help.
Without a doubt, figuring out how much to lift isn’t an easy potato.
So if you ever start to feel overwhelmed, take a second to clap yourself. Because âreally, there are so many benefits to lifting weights,â says Wickham.
âMore particularly is the fact that [improving strength] can improve the overall quality of your life, âhe says.
Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all suggestion of how much weight to lift. But being aware of your current fitness level and your personal fitness goals will help you find the right answer for you.