How Much Weight Should I Use To Start With When Weight Training?
This is one question I get a lot from the readers of building muscle 101. I can totally understand this question since we all have to go through this at one point or another.
Just how does a beginner to weight trainer determine the amount of weight to work with? I think it’s very important to remember that this is not an exact science and will take at least two weeks to determine the best weight to use.
However, what I can tell you from my experience is this. When you are first starting out, you will have to go through your workouts and use them as a testing ground.
The thing you have to remember is that you are aiming for 12 repetitions with a certain weight. For example, let’s say I’m starting my workout with the bench press. As a beginner, my progress will be as follows:
Warm up: 1 set of 20 repetitions:
You will have to determine this weight for yourself. If you a complete beginner, I suggest that you use the bar only. Do 20 repetitions. The weight of the bar will depend on whether or not you are using an Olympic bar or a standard bar. An Olympic bar will weight 45 pounds by itself and a standard bar will weight about 20 to 25 pounds.
Most commercial gyms will use an Olympic barbell. Most home gyms will use a standard barbell. The standard barbell is one you will find at Walmart or Canadian Tire.
First set: 1 x 12 repetitions:
Try and add some weight to the bar. I suggest trying to add 5 to 10 pounds on each side of the bar. However, you may also wish to use the bar if you feel more comfortable with that weight.
If, on your warm up, you find your arms shaking and you feel a slight burning sensation in your chest and triceps, do not add any weight to the barbell and keep it as is.
If the bar felt easy and you didn’t feel any burning sensation in your chest or triceps in your warm up, try adding 5 to 10 pounds to each side of the barbell and aim for 12 repetitions. If you can’t complete 12 repetitions, strip the weight off the barbell and use the bar.
Remember to use clamps at the end of your barbell. You don’t want the weight to slid off.
Second set: 1 x 12 repetitions:
If you added 5 to 10 pounds to the barbell on your first set and found you could easily do 12 repetitions, try adding another 5 to 10 pounds to each side of the barbell. Remember, you want to hit 12 repetitions and if you can’t, strip off the extra 5 or 10 pounds and go with the weight you used for your first set.
If you are still using the barbell with no weight, that’s fine. As long as you keep doing 12 repetitions.
Third set: 1 x 12 repetitions:
If you added 5 to 10 pounds to the barbell on your second set and found your could easily do 12 repetitions, try and add another 5 to 10 pounds to each side of the barbell.
Remember, you want to hit 12 repetitions and if you can’t, strip off the extra 5 or 10 pounds and go with the weight you used for your second set.
This is how your standard weight progression should look like if you’re wondering how much weight you should use. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t add any weight because I’ve got some fantastic news for you. You can only get stronger. That’s right, your body will adapt for the next workout by getting a little bit stronger.
After a few weeks of this, you will get a better feel for the weight and you will add weight as you feel fit. This is a very important note. If you are just starting out, always aim for 12 repetitions for your sets. If, on your last set, you were able to complete 12 repetitions, you will add an extra 5 to 10 pounds to the same exercise on your next workout. Here’s an example.
Let’s say on your third and last set of bench presses, you were able to perform 12 repetitions relatively easy. What you would do in this case is mark that weight down in your training journal (you are using a training journal, right?) And the next time you come into the gym to do this same exercise, you will add an extra 5 to 10 pounds on top of the weight you used on your third set for the last workout. Keep the weight for all the other sets the same except for this last set.
Now, if you can’t get 12 repetitions, don’t worry. Try and get 12 repetitions for the next workout with the new weight. Always try and get 12 repetitions and once you do get 12 repetitions, you know it’s time to add more weight for the next workout.
Do you see a pattern here? This is called progressive resistance and is the cornerstone to getting strong and building muscle. You will use this same pattern for most of your exercises.
There you have it, a straight forward way to finding out how much weight you should use to start out with.
All the best,
Blake has been weight lifting for about 28 years now. He's 45 years of age and started seriously training when he was 18 years old.
Blake is the founder of Building-Muscle101.com, a successful fitness website that has been around for more than 15 years.