“What weight should I use?”

This is one of the most common questions I get asked as a strength coach. The answer?


It depends.


I tend to shy away from prescribing specific weights. Especially if it’s for a generalized program. However, I hope this information will help you determine your training loads in the future.

Training age plays a big factor here. If you’re more of a beginner in the gym, it will be harder for you to see a workout rep scheme and determine correctly what weight you should use On the other hand, it will be easier for intermediate-advanced athletes to see programming and have an idea of what weight range will work for that program. This will come with time.

Generally speaking, as reps increase, loads decrease. And vice versa.

Some trial and error is required. So be ready for that.

START LIGHT AND BUILD

Let’s say your workout has dumbbell bench press programmed; 3 sets of 10 reps. You don’t know what weight to use? No worries. Grab a pair of 15s and get a few reps in. How’d it feel? You’re going to know pretty quickly if it was too light or too heavy. Simply adjust as you go.

Next, be sure to write it down! Hopefully you’re following an actual program where you can fill in what weight you used and add notes like “15 was way too light” or “15 was a struggle.” This will give you a better idea of what to use the next time you perform that movement.

Don’t overthink it. More often than not, people worry too much about finding the “perfect” weight on their first try. Just build as you go, and be sure to log your results. Over time, the #gainz will come. It’s just a part of training experience. Remember, progress not perfection.

MAKE IT LOOK NICE!

How you do something is how you do everything. If you’re constantly grinding out ugly reps, then chances are you’re probably cutting corners in other aspects of your training. I often tell clients that the last 2-3 reps should be hard but doable with great form.

Too light: if you bust through the reps with little to no struggle, bump up the weight on your next set. If it still felt like a warm-up, just don’t even count that set and begin your working sets on the next one.

Too heavy: if you cannot complete the set or the last few reps look like straight trash, go ahead and count it, but decrease the load for subsequent sets and just know that I’m shaking my head at you.

This 2-3 rep rule generally works for rep ranges 6 and above. On strength days (1-5 reps), the stimulus is different so your coach will have a better explanation of what they expect to see there.
There you have it.

Simple, maybe not be the answer you wanted, but if you don’t know your 1-3 rep maxes for lifts, then you shouldn’t be using percentages. I like to go by feel and listen to how my body is feeling. If i’m feeling particularly beat up, I’ll decrease the load a bit. If I’m feeling good, I believe in “striking the iron while it’s hot” and maybe going a bit heavier. As long as you have an open line of communication between you and your coach, you should be good to go.

If you need a coach.. I know a guy.

Yours in strength,

Shane

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