How much weight should I use when training?

Are you wanting to get stronger, not seeing any progress, or just not sure where to start? No matter what your level, weight-lifting is a great way to build strength, and let’s face it, it’s fun! Find out how to make this sport work for you.

The first couple of questions you may want to ask yourself is what level am I currently at, and what am I trying to achieve from weight-lifting?

Level 1: Getting Started #

Let’s start with a complete beginner. 

When lifting weights you want to master these five basic movement patterns:

  • squat
  • hinge
  • push
  • pull
  • press

You will also want to work on building good trunk control in order to effectively do these movements and create a strong foundation for lifting weights.

Every exercise plan should be individual to you, because there is no on-size-fits-all that works for everyone. But with the aim of offering some general advice, we have collected some basic exercises that are a good starting point when it comes to weight-lifting — keep scrolling to watch them.

In terms of starting weights, don’t get over-excited and head for the heavy ones. That is a sure-fire way to injure yourself. The best way to test the weights you need is trial and error, so start light and add weight. You might surprise yourself, but it’s better to air on the side of caution until you know. Afterall, the bar alone can be 20kgs!

Goblet Squat #

Coaching points for performing a goblet squat:

  1. Feet shoulder width apart
  2. hold a dumbbell into your hand
  3. sit back as if you are sitting on a chair
  4. keep a big chest and breathe into your belly on the way down and out on the way up

Kettlebell Deadlift #

Coaching points for performing a kettlebell deadlift:

  1. stand with soft knees
  2. fold forward from the hip (knees stay still) until you feel a stretch down the back of the legs
  3. keep your chest up
  4. the back should remain straight

Swiss Ball Chest Press #

Coaching points for performing a swiss ball chest press:

  1. lie with your shoulders on the ball
  2. knees at right angles
  3. hold your trunk level with the shoulders
  4. start with the weight in line with your nipples
  5. elbows at 45 degrees
  6. press up straight and touch at the top

Single Arm Row #

Coaching points for performing a single arm row:

  1. assume the position below with back straight
  2. pull the weight up so the back of the weight is just in front of the hip
  3. pull the elbow as high as possible

Standing Shoulder Press #

Coaching points for performing a standing shoulder press:

  1. assume the position below with back straight
  2. start with weights just above shoulders
  3. push the weights up above your head so they almost touch
  4. keep feet apart for a solid foundation and good balance

Important note: make sure you don’t lean back and arch the lower back.

Side Plank #

The aim for both of these exercises is to keep the body in a straight line, engaging your core and keeping steady for a measured period of time. Don’t let your hips dip or sink. For an extra challenge try with an exercise ball. This will really challenge your core!

Important note: if you get pain in the lower back, we advice seeing a Strength & Conditioning coach for advice on how to control your trunk.

Try these out and see how they feel. Remember, everyone has to start somewhere and building a strong foundation and knowing the correct movements and form will get you started on the right path for effective weight-lifting and training.

However, if at this point, you still feel a little clueless, or have felt some pain or discomfort when training, we recommend that you spend some time with a professional to potentially improve your technique and get some advice on the subject — depending on the issues you’re facing. 

If you feel pain when performing these exercises it could mean you have a weak area, or an area that is prone to injury. In this case it is best to see a Physiotherapist who can full assess your movement patterns and highlight any problem areas and offer a rehab program so you can improve those areas before training harder and potentially picking up an injury. 

If you don’t feel pain but want some direction, or if you’re at the end-stage of your rehab program, then speaking to a Strength & Conditioning coach will be best for you. We can offer you movement specific advice, as well as sport or injury specific, depending on your goals, so you can add more focus to your training and really get the most out of it. 

A small investment of a couple of hours with a professional will give you the confidence to move your body safely and lift weights correctly for your current strength levels and aspiring weights. 

As well as ultimately saving you time and preventing injuries, this will give you a great starting point and a clear path of how to step it up a level when you get more confident and capable. That part is always really exciting as you will see really big changes very quickly, your weights will fly up and you will be unstoppable!

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If you are comfortable with the technique, and relatively competent the gym, let’s try and answer the second question, what am I trying to achieve?

Level 2: Getting Stronger #

Let’s face it, we’re not going to be able to get too specific into sets and rep ranges in a blog, but some basic ranges to build strength qualities are:

  • 1 – 3 Reps – Maximal strength (Rest >3mins). Use 3 – 5 sets
  • 3 – 6 reps – Strength (Rest 2 – 3 mins). Use 2 – 4 sets
  • 6 – 15 reps – Muscle size/​Hypertrophy (4590 secs rest). Use 3 – 5 sets

From here, you should be able to decipher which of these qualities you are trying to build and choose which rep ranges suit your goals. 

Once decided, you should refer to the table below which was created by physical preparation coach, Mladen Jovanovic. This table gives the number of reps that you can expect to perform when lifting a specified percentage of your 1 repetition max. To avoid confusion, we recommend using the Dan Baker column for the repetitions.

Maximum Reps Chart 1

Click here for a downloadable version.

If you don’t know your 1 rep max and you are not confident to try, aim for a 5 rep max and multiply it by 1.15. For example:

  • 100kg (5RM) X 1.15 = 115KGS (1RM)

So then, if your squat 1RM is 100kgs, your progressions may look like this:

  • 1 rep = 100% = 100kgs
  • 3 reps = 92.5% = 92.5kgs
  • 5 reps = 85% = 85kgs

Alternatively, for more specific data, you can use a submaximal test using velocity measures, which are available at our clinics. For more information on those, click the links below. However we always advice that you speak to a member of our Strength and Conditioning, team who can advice what is best for you.

Goal Setting #

Next, we want to consider why someone might take up weight-lifting; what is your overall goal? We see many gym-goers and the motivation for training can vary. Some frequent reasons we see are listed below, along with some relevant advice. Which one is most fitting for you?

Aim: Get Stronger and Look More Athletic

From my experience training females, you would use exactly the same rep ranges and weights as above, however, females tend to recover much more quickly than males, and therefore need less rest. 

This would mean during strength training women could drop the rest for maximal strength to 2 minutes and strength to 90 seconds, which will allow you to get through more volume during the session. 

Also, in general females’ muscle size does not increase in the same way as males, due to lower levels of testosterone. But using high rep ranges will build a little muscle tissue and improve tone. It will also trim a little fat, as higher volume sessions need more energy to complete. 

Bottom line, weights do not make women bulky, just athletic and awesome!

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Aim: Improve Running Endurance #

Strength training is often overlooked for running performance, however strength training increases your body’s capacity to deal with the repeated high impacts of running without becoming injured.

The general thought process for a runner is that they need a certain amount of heavy strength training, alongside strength endurance to improve the ability to produce consistent force over a long race, which I agree with in principle but not in practice.

Heavy strength training can follow the same template as above and will benefit you hugely. Some of these benefits include:

  • better control the hip, knee and ankle when landing, as well as driving off the standing leg, leading to a more powerful stride and less energy leaks from inefficient running.
  • increased ability to propel the body forward using the powerful glute muscles
  • stronger force application to the ground which will improve your speed
  • injury prevention because the muscle tissue can cope with absorbing more force

However the strength endurance training side of things typically uses high rep ranges like 3 x 8 – 12 with short rest period so the body cannot fully recover before doing the next set. I would argue that this only covers the endurance’ part of the title and not the strength’ part. In other words, the volume of training is higher, but is this true strength training? For me, it’s not, as its just not heavy enough.

To solve this I would swap the sets and reps, so instead of 3 x 8 – 12, why not do 8 – 123. This keeps the volume the same, but you are lifting a much heavier load, therefore getting some real strength benefits alongside the endurance, a win-win. For this type of training, I would use 75 – 80% of your 1RM, keeping the rest to ≤1 minute. An easy way to do this is use an EMOM template (every minute on the minute). To do this you lift at the start of every minute and rest for the remaining part of the minute.

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Aim: Become More Powerful #

The final goal on the list is to become more powerful’. A popular reason to weight-lift. But this is where things become a little more complicated and there is probably cause to write a whole blog itself on this topic, but let’s keep things relatively simple for now.

The main information you need to know here is: Force = Force x Velocity (speed)

In essence, this means you can improve your power by increasing the amount of force you can produce, or the speed at which you move.

Force can be improved by using heavy resistance exercises, and speed can be improved by using a lighter resistance and moving quickly, or by jumping, bounding and sprinting. There are some more complex techniques, but again this would require another in depth article, or which you can discuss with a Strength & Conditioning coach at any of our clinics.

Basically, different people rely on force and power in different ways, and some people have a deficit on one side of the equation, force or speed. Believe it or not, we are actually able to measure this and offer data on any imbalances on your left and right sides in relation to your speed and force. We do this using ForceDecks, which can show you in no uncertain terms your strength levels. It is more reliable than feel or by simply looking, so you know exactly where you’re at.

From that exact data, we can create a specific program catered perfectly for your body to work on certain weaknesses or potentially problematic areas so you can continue to focus on increasing your power, which is the goal after all.

I hope that has helped you to either get started with weight-lifting, or continue and achieve your new goals. It’s a great sport, and a great way to look after your body. For anyone looking for more advice or unsure how to start or progress, get in touch, we can help. 

Are you interested in weight-lifting? Would you like some help getting started, or help progressing from your current level? Click the button below to get in touch today and find out how we can help you. 

Talk to an S&C coach

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