How To Choose The Right Weight Per Exercise

How Much To Lift

Barbells, dumbbells, machines, resistance bands and kettlebells are all tools of the trade that allow you to achieve your health and fitness goals.

But just like a blacksmith who uses the right amount of force and heat to forge the finest blade out of steel, how much weight do you need to use for exercise?

Determine Your Goal

It all starts with determining your specific goal for exercise. Goals are usually categorised as “to lose weight” or “to gain muscle size”.

These are general goals which can be achieved by identifying specific exercise objectives:

• To Get Stronger – Strength / Power
• To Build Larger Muscles – Hypertrophy
• To Improve Conditioning – Endurance

Accomplishing The Exercise Objective

Each exercise objective can be accomplished by manipulating the total amount of work to be performed.

Work is defined the number of sets and reps per amount of weight.

• Strength / Power – The amount of weight must be heavy enough to stimulate the Central Nervous System or CNS to activate the highest number of motor units to help muscle fibres contract at its hardest and overcome resistance.

Recommended Sets x Reps – 2 to 6 sets of 1 to 6 reps

Recommended Weight – 90% to 97.5% of your 1-Rep Max (1RM)

• Hypertrophy – The amount of weight should allow direct stimulation of the target muscle without causing immediate fatigue to the smaller, supportive muscles. It is not about the weight but the difficulty of performing the exercise.

Recommended Sets x Reps – 4 to 6 sets of 8 to 12 reps

Recommended Weight – 70% to 85% of your 1-Rep Max (1RM)

• Endurance – The amount of weight must be light enough to allow you to work your muscles through extended periods.

Your objective is to increase oxygen intake by expanding the density of your capillaries and production of energy through greater mitochondrial activity.

Recommended Sets x Reps – 4 to 6 sets of 15 to 20 reps

Recommended Weight – 50% to 65% of your 1-Rep Max (1RM)

What Is Your 1RM?

Unless you are powerlifting, you probably should not try to find out your 1RM until you have at least 6 months of consistent training under your belt.

A better way to determine your 1RM is by applying the formula created by the NSCA or National Strength Coaches Association.

Use a weight that you can handle for 10 reps with a bit of effort in the last 2 reps:

W * 10 = X;
X * 0.033 = Y;
Y + W = Z


W = Weight
X = Total Amount Lifted
Y = Estimated Increase from W
Z = Estimated 1RM

For example, if you can do 10 reps with 70kgs in the Squat, your estimated 1RM is:

70 * 10 = 700;
700 * 0.033 = 23.1;
23.1 + 70 = 93.1kgs

Thus, your basis for calculating the amount of weight in your exercise program would be 93kgs. If you are unsure, reduce the estimated 1RM by 10%.

Knowing the right amount of weight will cut down on guesswork, save you time, increase your focus and lead to more productive workouts.