How heavy should you lift

Are you new to the gym? Know the benefits and you’re ready to start crushing workouts but have no idea how heavy you should lift?

Today I’m going to be telling you about just how heavy you should be aiming to lift and where to get instruction on lifting technique.

But first, a science lesson.

Heavy weights to build muscle

When we lift heavy, we stress and fatigue our muscles, causing microscopic tears. This is a natural and necessary process. It is also why after exercise we feel soreness.

In the recovery stage, our bodies overcompensate or adapt in repairing these tears, protecting us against future damage resulting in bigger muscles. This process is known as muscle hypertrophy.

Now, that explanation is oversimplifying a bit, but you get the general idea. If you want a more in-depth explanation, here’s an article that goes into more depth on muscle hypertrophy.

There are two schools of thought on how to achieve this process and build muscle.

The first is working with low weights at higher repetitions. For example, doing 20+ reps at 30- to 50-percent of your one rep max.

The other is working with heavier weights at low repetitions. In this scenario, you’d be working in the 70- to 90-percent range for three to five reps per set.

Studies show that both methods improve muscle growth and increase strength.

So it’s really up to the lifter to determine their preference. However, to induce maximal strength and associated neural adaptations, heavier weight and lower repetitions with good form is suggested.

However, the catalyst for either method is discovering that true one-rep max.

How much should I lift?

Maybe you’ve done that HIIT class or aerobics class and used the 5kg dumbbells and felt a good burn afterwards. That means you lifted heavy, right?


That doesn’t mean you didn’t work hard or that the workout wasn’t worth every drop of sweat you put in. It just means you need to change your thinking around lifting heavy.

The human body is capable of moving multiple times its bodyweight.

Think of the little ant. The average ant can lift 50 times her bodyweight. Others can lift 100 times her bodyweight.

Now we are not as impressive as ants, but we are capable of more than the pink dumbbells.

Here are general guidelines based on industry data for what a novice, beginner, intermediate, and advanced lifter should be capable of lifting.

Now, this does not mean that you should just walk up and start lifting this weight. We all have to crawl before we can walk and run right?

How should I start?

Lifting requires a lot of technique. This can be super frustrating for a new lifter who just wants to feel like Wonder Woman and lift all the things.

Focusing on proper technique will help prevent injury and will allow you to lift heavier in the future. Start each lift with a light weight bar. Then you can progress to an empty barbell. Then you can start adding weight.

(Perhaps also include several movements concentrated on stability and mobility to start off with. Think of stability in a way to effectively use strength and supporting yourself while lifting heavier loads. Mobility in the other hand is related to how ‘good” your joints are moving, especially hips, shoulders and ankles. This is important for proper form and range of motion. Both these concepts will be explained in a next blog, but you will surely understand where it plays and accessory role to lifting heavier weights in a safe manner.)

There are a lot of great (and not-so-great) tutorials on proper technique for each lift. While I hope to eventually include my own library of video resources, Youtube offers a lot of great tutorials on how to perform the lifts.

How do you know that your technique is good enough to progress?

Ask a trainer.

Whether you have a trainer at the gym watch your form, or hire an online coach and video your lifts, you absolutely need someone to evaluate your form.

Trust and listen to your trainer.

Lifting heavy with proper technique stresses your body in ways no other workout or activity has in the past.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

A lot of the muscles and mobility issues that weightlifting reveals are results of poor lifestyle choices — for example, sitting for long periods of time hunched over a computer.

Embrace the fact that you are taking tangible steps to correct these issues.

Finally, once you do begin to add weight, do not be afraid to push yourself. In addition to stressing your muscles, you need to stress your mind. You will give up mentally way before your body gives up physically. Trust that you have the strength to push through.

When doing sets of heavy weights, you should be struggling by the fourth or fifth rep. If all five reps go up without issue, you can lift heavier. Likewise, if the first two reps are a struggle, check your ego and go down in weight.

There is no perfect program or ideal weight range that you should be hitting. All of the advice and evidence out there is purely anecdotal. Find what works for you and get lifting.

Here’s a chart I found online that gives you a good guideline of how you can calculate the weight you should/could be lifting.

How heavy have you been lifting? Let me know in the comments below!

All my love,

Carla xx


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