How heavy should I be lifting? This is a question I get asked all the time from the women in the gym and I tend to give the same answer. “Your workouts need to be challenging.” That includes being challenged when lifting weights. Far to often I see women heading for the light weights or doing only body weight exercises. Now I’ve said this before, I think body weight exercises certainly have their place in the gym, I use them for beginners, injuries, recovery, circuit training, flexibility and functional movement. But to build muscular shape and strength, our bodies need more than just body weight exercises. You will grow that perfect peach butt far quicker if you squat with some weight on the bar, instead of just bodyweight.
Now you know where I stand on weight lifting, the next question is how heavy should you be lifting. There is no one answer for this, because everyone lifts weights for different reasons and has differing abilities. For example, I lift as heavy as I can, but I am limited by my arthritis. There comes a point in my training that weight lifting is detrimental to my health, instead of beneficial. My joints simply cant take that much pressure. However, I use different ways to challenge myself, such as tempo training, high rep ranges, decreasing my rest time and increasing the amount of sets. If I can comfortably finish a set, I know the weight wasn’t heavy enough and I increase it.
The way I train is I set myself a goal I don’t think I can achieve straight away and then work towards it. For example, I can currently shoulder press the 20kg dumbbells and I want to get up the 22kg, so each shoulder session I try to lift the 22kg DB. I fail all the time, but that’s good, it means I’m pushing myself because my body physically cant lift anymore. So then I move onto the next exercise and find I’m able to increase the weight or reps there, again pushing the muscles to grow and strengthen. If you don’t set yourself expectations or goals, it can be easy to fall into the trap of simply going through the motions in the gym. Doing the same set of exercises every week with little to no improvement.
When we talk about ‘lifting heavy,’ there isn’t a magical number that constitutes as heavy lifting, it means something different to everyone. My heavy lifting day, might simply be a warmup to someone else. That’s why its important to set your own standards and expectations and not compare those to anyone else. As I mentioned, my arthritis can be limiting so I may never reach the heavy weights I would like to, but comparing my abilities to anyone else is a waste of time.
A good way to judge if your challenging yourself is work out your rep range and make sure you cant complete the last rep. The last few reps should burn, your muscles should be shaking and your face should be all scrunched up and be extremely unattractive!! You shouldn’t so much as put the weight down, you should drop the weight, because your cant hold it up anymore. That’s how you know your in the zone and your strength is increasing.
Your probably not going to train like this everyday. We all have days when we are sore, fatigued, or simply not feeling it. But try to add this kind of intensity into your workout, you might find that you love it and want to chase that feeling.