One of the more common questions we get when we are training our clients is, “how much weight should I use?”
This is not only a very common question, it is one where the answer starts with “it depends.” Beyond that, there are some general things you can stick with and get most of the way there.
As this is a not meant to be a detailed iteration of a specific training plan (that would take pages on pages and TLDR comes to mind), use this as a platform to get yourself started and ask more questions. But firstly…
Why Be Strong?
We all age and decrease in our ability to stay mobile. That, by itself, should be more than enough of a catalyst to start to strength train (aka weight train). Think about it…
You’re not losing your ability to get up off the ground because you lack cardiovascular endurance. You are losing it because you’re not staying strong. Maintaining your strength is going to go a long way in ensuring you don’t get stuck on the floor if you happen to fall.
As you will find out, this does not necessarily mean you have to lift heavy weights or that you even have to lift weights at all…
Move Your Body
I know, I know… the preceding sentence makes no sense when you put it in the context of strength training. Nobody said strength training had to be lifting weights. Maybe strength training is lifting your own body.
Calisthenics. Gymnastics. Bodyweight training.
Call it what you will, but you can get quite strong and robust by simply learning to lift your own body weight. Let’s take something simple [not easy] like the push up.
Here is the typical set of push ups variations:
- Wall push up
- Box push up — varying heights (higher is easier, lower is harder)
- Floor push up
- Tempo push ups
- One arm push up variations
- Push ups on rings or the TRX Suspension Trainer
The two main points, here? First, you don’t need equipment to get strong and build muscle. Second, there is merit to learning how to move your own body through space before starting on barbells and dumbbells. In fact, I’d argue learning how to move your body is an important prerequisite to learning to lift weights.
Types of Failure
There are several different types of failure when it comes to lifting weights. This is also a great way to measure your level of intensity with your training:
- Total Failure
- This a complete inability to lift the weight for the requisite reps
- This is not necessary for the everyday weight lifter
- Mechanical Failure
- The lift is completed but it looks like doggy doo doo (that’s right, I said it…)
- This might have some value for the everyday weight lifter
- Speed Failure
- This lift is completed, it still looks good, but the speed has slowed
- This definitely has value for the everyday weight lifter and, as it turns out, is a really great way to find correct working weights
As you work into your strength training journey, you want to challenge yourself.
Challenge = intensity = results.
This challenge should come in the form of a break down in speed of your lift from when that particular set started. In other words, if I am performing 10 reps of a particular exercise… proper loading probably dictates the first 5 reps are very doable with no breakdown in speed. Reps 6, 7, and possibly 8 should have some breakdown in speed. Reps 9 and 10 should feel very challenging and should have even more breakdown in speed.
There may be a slight break down in mechanics at the end of that set as well. This is not an excuse to let it get that way, however.
This also does not mean I am purposely slowing it down. Rather, this means the weight is heavy enough that I simply cannot move at the same speed I started the set with.
What Is The Right Weight, Then?
As cliche as it sounds, everyday is different. And because everyday is different, heavy weights could feel light one day and light weights can feel heavy on others. Some days your body is ready for heavy and some day it isn’t.
Regardless, one of my favorite weighs (see what I did there?) of determining the right weight is with the speed failure principle.
If you have spent a lot of years lifting, you know approximately where that breakdown in speed is. If you haven’t, you will need to work up in weight as you begin to learn where that is for that movement, for those sets, and for those reps.
Understand, though, that if you haven’t lifted before, it will feel a little heavy before it actually gets heavy. You have more in there.
As For The Rest
Today is not the day to talk about phases of training, the value of machines vs free weights, simple exercises vs fancy ones, and so on. Today is learning what heavy means and how to find it.
If you’re a lifter of many years, you have probably gotten this figured out already. If you are new to lifting weights, this will take practice and must be balanced with levels of soreness.
There is a difference between sore and debilitated sore, after all. So, use speed failure as your guide and build up experience at the same time you’re building results!
If you have additional questions, click HERE to set up a conversation with one of our trainers to learn the art of picking weights.