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How much weight should I use when weight training?

Many people begin a weight training regimen and have no idea where to begin.

They haphazardly try different amounts of weight for different muscle groups until they think they have found the right one.

This process is not only inefficient, but it may result injury if you use the incorrect amount of weight.

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The general rule of thumb in weight training is that you should begin a weight training program by lifting 60-80% of your one repetition maximum (or 1RM).

This means that you take the weight amount that you can only successfully lift one time and use a weight that is 60-80% of that.

This is generally viewed as the best way to stimulate muscle growth and lose weight. You should always be challenging yourself when weight training without over stimulating or under stimulating your muscles.

How much weight should I use when weight training if I am a beginner?

When starting a weight training regimen use the 60-80% of 1RM discussed above. Then follow these steps:

  1. Start by picking a light weight, like a dumbbell or barbell,  and do a warm up set of 16-20 repetitions. A warm up weight should allow you to do these repetitions without much difficulty. For your second set increase the weight by five pounds and perform your goal number of repetitions.
  2. If you can do this with ease, continue to increase the weight again for the remaining sets until you have reached a weight that allows you to do approximately 8-12 repetitions but no more with correct form.
  3. Challenge yourself by lifting to fatigue with each set and increasing your intensity regularly.Follow this process for each training exercise so keeping a journal of exercises and weight amounts.

How much weight should I use when weight training once I have become comfortable with my workout routine?

Once you have become comfortable with a routine you need to increase the amount you are lifting while continuing to following the 60-80% of 1RM rule of thumb. Once you become comfortable with your initial amount of weight you can increase the number of repetitions you do per set from 8-12 to 16.

When you begin to feel that 16 repetitions is not your point of fatigue you should increase the amount of weight by five to ten pounds and drop your repetitions down to 8-12 once again.

Continue to follow this pattern as you work out. If you are weight lifting regularly you will find that you need to increase your weight at least every few months or you will begin to reach a plateau in achieving your workout goal whether it be weight loss or strength training.

How much weight should I use when weight training if I am a competitive body builder or a power lifter trying to increase muscle mass?

While the majority of people lifting weights should follow the formula previously discussed some very experienced or competitive lifters want an intensive workout where they decrease the number of repetitions they do per set but increase the percentage of 1RM they use. The following chart shows how the percentage of 1RM can be increased when weight training for different purposes.


% RM                                      Repetitions                                         

60                                            17                                Weight Training for Weight Loss

65                                            14                               

70                                            12                                           

75                                            10                                Weight Training for Strength

80                                            8

85                                            6

90                                            5                                  Power Lifters

95                                            3

100                                          1

How much weight should I use when weight training on machines versus free weights?

Some people, especially beginners or more amateur weight lifters, prefer to use machines over free weights (i.e. dumbbells, barbells, ankles weights, etc.).  When using machines to work out you will find you use more weight than when lifting free weights.

Sometimes the difference between these can be significant. For example, when using a chest press machine you might use 30-40 pounds of weight, but given the same exercise with free weights you might only use 15-20 pounds of weight.

Aside from this difference you can use the same formula of 60-80% of 1RM when figuring out how much weight you should use when working out with machines.

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