Selecting the Best Weights to Start Lifting
Holy hell, if this isn’t a problem I hear time and time again, I don’t know what is. Newbie lifters and gym-goers alike have the same question when it comes to weight, which is,” how much should I lift?” This, question usually becomes the foundation of an unofficial workout routine.
The most difficult part of selecting a weight is finding that happy medium. Something that isn’t too light to where you don’t feel like you are working out at all, but something that isn’t so heavy that you barely get any reps in. I personally believe that until you become a more experienced lifter, you should ignore these two other options. For the most part, hypertrophy, the increase in size of muscle cells, is most commonly characterised and recognised by staying in a routine that consists of 8 - 12 reps for 3 or 4 sets, that happy medium.
As with anything, the body needs to take a second to warm up before entering the maximum gains zone, that is, the body’s point of reaching the greatest muscle cell growth. This is why the first set, regardless of movement or weight, is a warm up. You want to pick a weight that is manageable so that you can get through all 12 reps, assuming you choose to do 12. You should not be huffing and puffing during this set because your body is not ready yet. If you were to choose a base weight that is too heavy for this set, you will be exerting more energy than you need to and seeing little rewards. You would essentially be wasting the opportunity to maximise gains, and tiring yourself out sooner. Pick a weight that you feel comfortable starting at, and that you know you can increase from.
Set 2 and/or 3
The middle sets, depending on if you are doing 3 or 4 sets, will be the bulk of the training. Here, you want to make sure that you pick a weight higher than the weight from set 1. But, how much should you increase by? This is up to you, and how tired you feel. A general rule of thumb is that you should be getting tired by around rep 8 or 9 so that you use what little energy you have left in that moment to finish the set of 12. This also takes some picking and choosing on your part, as well as a decision to how far you want to push your own body. Some people like to feel exhausted sooner into their workout than others. This is up to you. Here, make sure to pick a weight that you struggle a bit with, and if you are too comfortable with the weight, then it might be time to increase it.
Alright, so by now, you are in the zone, both mentally and physically. The great thing about set 12 is that it is a work-until-failure set. Here, you test the limits of your body, and you truly begin to see what you are capable of. For me, this is often where I discover that I can lift more than I think I can. This is a goal weight stage, a weight you are working towards becoming more comfortable with lifting because you are getting stronger. This is a place where you have complete control of how much heavier you want to lift. If you only want to increase 2.5 lbs, then do it! If you want to increase by 10 lbs, then by all means! This is for you to see what your capacity is. There is no right or wrong way to do this set, but make sure you don’t over estimate and hurt yourself. A good number of reps to work for is 8, the base of hypertrophy. Try it out, you might surprise yourself.
A lot of this is trial and error. There is no right or wrong way to gain muscle, but there is a systematic way that has been proven to maximise the energy and time you put into it. Next time you are at the gym, give it a try! Find which parts of this system you like the best, and which parts you don’t. Maybe you like the warm up, and staying in a comfortable spot the entire time after. Maybe you want to start with your comfort zone, and then go heavy. It’s completely up to you how you increase weight. The only thing I would urge you to do, however, is to go up in weight at lease once during each exercise to make sure you get the most out of your workout.