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How Much Weight Should I Use When Working Out?

Fitness programs like P90X, Asylum Volume 2, Chalean Extreme, Les Mills Pump and Body Beast all incorporate a resistance component (IE- lifting weights)– and for good reason. Using weights/resistance is awesome– it sculpts, torches fat and breaks up cardio monotony. Of course, when you do bring resistance into your workout, you want to maximize your time spent with the dumbbells and EZ curl bar. A very common question for many people  just starting to add a little “iron” to their fitness diet is what weight they should be shooting for.

The answer?

It’s entirely subjective. In other words– it’s all up to you– a choice based on your current strength level and what you CAN lift while maintaining good form. I mean, I’ve seen people lift “impressive” weight… but they look like they’re going to break their back doing it. That’s not what you’re after! Unless you like pinched nerves, slipped discs and pinches/pain in uncomfortable places.

How To Pick The Right Weight For your Workout

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With the general idea of picking the right weight being “It’s your choice”, you’re probably thinking “What kind of lame, sandbagging answer is that!?” C’moooon, you didn’t think I’d leave you hanging with that touchy-feely, non-committal suggestion would you? Heck no.

For the physique most people are after, the trick to picking the right weight is learning to fail. That’s right. You want to fail and failure MUST be an option. I’m not talking about your program, I’m talking failing at a certain number of reps: roughly in the 8-10 range (this includes ladies!). That means on reps 8-10, you are having to will your muscle to move that weight. It’s not easy. It’s burning. It’s tough. The idea is in that 8-10 rep range, you simply can’t push or pull your selected weight without losing form (arching back, bringing in other muscle groups to help). When you get to this point, that’s “be proud of yourself” failure. And when picking the right weight to start with,  failure with good form brings success.

Your Weight Selection Will Vary

As you select the weight with which to start, keep in mind different muscle groups will be stronger than others. Shoulders may be able to lift more than your biceps. Chest more than both. Legs more than either. If it’s your first time, you’ll be testing things out with each exercise. If you can punch out 10 reps and still have “gas in the tank”– you could probably go up in weight a bit.  If you’re breaking down at just a few reps, you’re probably going to heavy.

After all, what we’re trying to do here is put your muscles under enough tension that they finally fail. When they do fail, muscle has this amazing ability to fix itself up (which is why rest and even recovery supplements are so important) and come back ready to face that weight again and CONQUER IT. The way you improve, gain strength, tone muscle and potentially build mass is to then increase the weight and make those muscles fail again. The fancy term for this is called “progressive overload”. It’s what P90X (and most all of the graduate Beachbody programs) butters its bread with. Progressive overload is why you see such great results out of people who stick to these programs and write their weight and reps down. This allows them to beat the previous week… and when you do that, your body changes– ultimately giving you the look you want.

Of course, there ARE exceptions to the rule- like when you’re trying to build endurance in a program like Asylum or Les Mills Pump. You’ll do a lot of reps in sequence so you need to pick a weight that’s going to allow you to reach that end/rep count. Even so, you still want to be coming close to outright failure.

So how much weight should you start with? The amount that’s right for you. Doesn’t matter if it’s 5 lbs. or 100 lbs.– your body will let you know what works. Listen to it. After that… it’s consistency and persistence to the new you.

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