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Paul Rogers

A Simple Way to Know How Much Weight to Lift

By February 12, 2008

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One of the questions most asked of personal trainers and weight training coaches is: "How much weight should I start with?"

Here's a simple way for beginners to decide how much to lift and when to progress to heavier weights. More sophisticated approaches can be used after you get more experience and decide to train for specific results such as strength, bodybuilding or sports.

Let's assume you are doing a workout program of 10 exercises and 3 sets of 10 repetitions of each exercise in a general fitness program.

  1. By initial experimentation and for each exercise, choose a weight such that the tenth lift, push or pull of the first set is somewhat difficult but not too difficult, to complete.
  2. Rest the allocated time, usually 30 to 60 seconds between sets.
  3. By the tenth lift of the third set, that is, your thirtieth lift, you should be struggling to complete the lift -- not screaming at the ceiling -- but making hard work of it. That's about the intensity you should aim for to get most benefit from your weight training workouts for general strength and muscle building.
  4. When you find you can do the last lift, in this case the thirtieth lift, with less effort, it's time to increase the weight. Progressive overload, or adding more weight over time, is a fundamental principle of weight training progression.
  5. If you can't find a suitable increment, that is, the dumbbell or barbell or plate of the next weight is too heavy, you could either use this heavier weight and drop the repetitions to 8 or 9; or stay with the same weight and increase the number of repetitions in each set from 10 to 12 or even 15. Either way, you progress your training.

That's it. You can use that basic method without worrying about the complexities of drop sets, pyramids, slow, fast or anything else. For more information read the beginner's weight training guide suite of articles.

February 25, 2009 at 3:32 pm
(1) Mike says:

Not lifting weights in a long time and being over weight, I was glad to know this info to start at a place of complete senditariness. After doing the sets this way, I felt a difference in the way I felt once completed! I feel stronger not weaker or exhausted! Thanks for your tips! Now I know I can weight train with sucess!!!!!!

December 17, 2009 at 3:35 am
(2) Steve says:

Excuse me for this ovbious question but what exactly are sets? Sorry I am new to this.

January 15, 2010 at 11:33 pm
(3) jerome says:

nice, thank you =D

April 9, 2010 at 11:19 am
(4) jimmy millard says:

well i am 5 ft 3 in and weigh 148 lbs and i bench pressed 220 lbs in 11 grade. so if someone tells you you cant do it you can do it just put mind over matter. people always told me i would never be able to lift 200 lbs. i didnt listen and now im lifting 220 lbs. have fun and be safe.

July 3, 2010 at 3:26 am
(5) Needo says:

@ Steve

Set is the duration of some exercise – lt can be 15 moves, 25 moves, 50, 75 etc

If I say I did push ups for 15 times- I ll say it I did one set of push ups.

December 15, 2010 at 11:29 am
(6) James McCormick says:

IMHO – As we get older we need endurance, not big muscles. Especially if you’re hefty as I am. This will just bulk you up.
Endurance is gained by using lighter weights and more reps. 3X10 or 3X12 in separate sets with enough weight to exhaust the muscles is better than yelling at the ceiling for 2 or 3 reps.

September 28, 2011 at 11:57 am
(7) Gladys says:

How many pounds weights to star? 5? or 3?

November 19, 2011 at 2:07 pm
(8) Steve says:

When you’re doing weight training of 4 different lifts – is it more effective to (1) complete all sets in one of the lifts before going to the next lift; or (2) doing one set in each lift and rotate around completing a set in each of the 4 lifts before going on to the next lift.

April 2, 2012 at 3:57 pm
(9) CallMeChaz says:

Endurance is fine if that is really your personal goal. As a senior I don’t have a practical need for “big muscles” as much, but I also don’t have a practical need to lift things over my head 36 times in a few minutes either. Keeping fit is more than muscles and endurance. Lowering body fat and replacing it with healthy muscle tissue is a better, overall goal. It takes as much effort as it took in college, maybe more now. You must still challenge your muscles, control your diet, and keep up your cardio. The is nothing new under the sun after 60!

July 17, 2012 at 1:07 pm
(10) Gary Paulson says:

I was in my 60′s when I began lifting but I hurt myself each time so I quit. Now I’m 72 and would like to begin again. I know I should keep my lifting light and 10-12 reps. Could anyone suggest a program for me to log onto to accomplish this?

July 24, 2012 at 5:55 pm
(11) weighttraining says:

Gary, you could try my Basic Strength and Muscle program. Adjust it to suit your fitness and don’t lift too heavy too soon.


January 20, 2013 at 8:25 pm
(12) mike says:

Ok. This article tells me about reps and all, but i need to know how to determine a good weight to start lifting

July 3, 2013 at 11:45 pm
(13) Dreama says:

I am 5’3″ and weigh about 116lbs, I have never lifted weights but would like to start, I don’t know how to determin how much weight to begin with and how many reps & sets. I would like to work on arms, chest, shoulders, back tummy, thighs and butt. So… pretty much everything. Can anyone help me out with this? Thank you in advance!

November 9, 2013 at 8:58 am
(14) PEG says:

I’m a 73 year old female who has been working out for a year. I have more than doubled the weight I am lifting. What is the end point? That is, when should I stop increasing the weights. I’m 5’3″ and weigh 126 pounds.

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