Arrow icon

How do I know how much weight I should be lifting?

September 3, 2022


Figuring out how much your muscles can reasonably handle is often a process of trial and error. You don't want to go too low and avoid the tension needed to build muscles. But you also don't want to go too high and have to swing your body to lift a weight. To pinpoint your ideal weight and know when it's time to lift heavier weights, follow three rules:


  1. Learn proper form.

    One of the things people fail to realize when lifting weights is how much their bodies move to assist in moving the weight. Unfortunately, this can undermine the very goal of an exercise, which is to isolate and contract a particular muscle or muscle group.

    When lifting weight, you always need to focus on isolating a muscle during the movement. If you swing your body, you are using momentum to lift the weight. By doing so, you are dispersing the energy meant for one muscle to many muscles.

    This is why people who grunt, arch their backs, or drop their weights are doing themselves a disservice (and likely annoying others in the process). By simply lowering their weight to a reasonable level, they can achieve so much more with so much less.

    If in doubt, talk with a Fitness Expert to learn proper form and technique. Exercise is not always intuitive. Learning good habits at the start is always better than correcting mistakes later. You should always listen to your body when performing any exercise when lifting weights. If it feels like too much or if you are experiencing pain, stop immediately.

  2. Listen to your body.

    Learn to know when to increase weight. If you find you can do the last lift with little effort, then it's time to increase the weight. Progressive overload (adding more weight over time) is a fundamental principle of weight training. If you don't continually challenge your body by increasing your weights, you will eventually hit a plateau even if you increase the number of exercises you do.

  3. Keep to an allotted time.

    Neither rushing between exercises nor resting too long. A 5 to 10 exercise workout program involving three sets of 10 repetitions for each exercise is a good starting point for a general fitness plan.

Determine the ideal weight for a specific exercise

Choose a weight that allows you to do the first of three sets of 10 reps with moderate difficulty. By the end of the tenth repetition, you should find it somewhat difficult to lift but not so difficult that you are straining, holding your breath, or shaking excessively. If that's happening, drop the weight down a little. Rest for at least 30 seconds but no more than 60 seconds between sets.

By the tenth lift of the third set, you should be struggling to complete the lift but still able to do so without grunting or breaking the form. This is the exact intensity you want to sustain, whether you are new to weight training or a seasoned veteran.

Determine your goals

The first step is figuring out which goals you want to achieve during your weight-training sessions, whether that is building strength, improving overall fitness, or increasing muscle size. For each goal, there are ideal rep ranges, set numbers, and weekly training schedules. Let's take a look at those:


  • Gain or Maintain Overall Fitness.

    For beginners or people looking to maintain overall fitness, a good goal is to do 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps. This means choosing a weight that allows you to complete this many repetitions without struggling to finish the set.

    A strength training session that works all the muscles of the body, including the hips, legs, abdomen, chest, back, shoulders, and arms, two to three days per week is plenty for maintaining overall fitness.

  • Improve Muscle Strength.

    For building strength, any rep range will work, but for best results, be sure to include 2 to 5 heavier sets of 3 to 5 reps. To build strength, the goal should be fewer reps at a higher weight that challenges you during each repetition. However, it is wise to establish a solid overall fitness level before moving on to heavier weights, since heavier weights come with more risk if your form is not correct.

    Aim for 2 to 4 days of strength training per week and be sure to take rest days in between. The heavier weight will break down your muscle tissue, and you will require rest and recovery to repair that damage. That repair process helps build stronger muscles.

  • Increase Muscle Size.

    Increasing muscle size, also called hypertrophy, will occur whether you train at the lower rep range with higher weight or a higher rep range (8 to 12 reps per set) with a moderately challenging weight. The key to increasing muscle size is volume, meaning adding more sets and reps to your workout over time. You can spread these additional sets and reps over your weekly training sessions.

    For beginners, 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions per exercise with a moderate load (70% to 85% of one-rep max) is ideal. More advanced individuals looking to further develop muscle mass can perform 3 to 6 sets of 1 to 12 repetitions at 70% to 100% of one-rep max. Aim for 12 to 28 sets per muscle group per week, spread over 3 to 5 training days, for optimal muscle growth.

3 ways to determine how much weight you should be lifting


  1. Progressive overload training.

    Progressive overload is a fitness principle that says that in order to continue getting stronger, you have to continuously make your strength work more challenging.

    How do you make it more challenging? Through a combination of:

    ● Increased weight.
    ● Increased intensity.
    ● Increased number of sets.
    ● Reduced rest between sets.
    ● Altered tempo.

    This probably makes sense intuitively. But to understand why this is true physiologically, you first need to understand a bit about the musculoskeletal system.

    Every time you challenge your muscles, little baby microtears are shorn into the muscle fibers. These damaged fibers repair, and on the other side of recovery, are more resilient (stronger) than they were before.

    In order for this process to continue to happen while you lift, you have to continue to challenge the fibers. But because the fibers are now stronger than they were before, the same load isn’t going to be as challenging.

    In practice, that means that a 95-pound squat today isn’t going to feel as heavy as it did 3 weeks ago, assuming you were regularly squatting that load in your training. The progressive overload principle basically says to the person who’s been lifting 95 pounds for 3 weeks, “OK, time to add some weight on that bar”.

  2. Percentage-based programming.

    Percentage-based training is a specific, super-regimented style of progressive overload training, according to Wickham:

    "You could alter those aforementioned factors (rest, sets, weight, intensity, tempo) at random and still get stronger — and technically would still qualify as progressive overload training!"

    Percentage-based programming tells athletes to use specific percentages of their 1 repetition maximum weight for specific rep and set schemes. “Typically, these percentage-based programs are 6 to 16-ish weeks long and involve doing the same lift at least 3 times a week” says Wickham.

  3. Based on feel.

    Lifting based on how you feel is a practice of lifting in order to achieve an intended feeling.

    “What’s great about going by feel is you can still get a great workout without getting too caught up in the numbers”

    Fatigue is an indication that muscles have reached the limits of available energy, there are a bunch of different cues you or your coach might use to get you to the correct weight. For these cues, you could try to:

  4. Pick a weight you can comfortably squat 5 reps with. Then, rep it out to failure. Keep adding weight onto the bar until you arrive at a weight you could not do more than 2 reps at.

  5. Load up the barbell to a weight that will allow you to do 5 sets of 5 reps with 2 minutes rest in between, unbroken.

  6. Pick a weight that you can lift 4 times every minute for 20 minutes.



Exactly how much weight you should be lifting, and how often, is going to depend on a number of factors such as:

  • Fitness level and goals
  • Age and health
  • Stress level
  • Hydration level and food intake
  • Sleep quality and quantity
  • Weights and resources available

But as a general rule, you want to lift only as much as you can lift with good form.


For more information, talk to one of our Fitness Experts and get customized advice by submitting a request in our Mavyn websiteMavyn app or Mavyn Fitness page.