Beginner Tips for Choosing the Correct Exercise Weight

STACK Expert Brian Lebo helps you make sure you're lifting the right amount of weight to achieve your training goals.

The most important step toward effective and productive strength training occurs before you ever set foot in a weight room. You must identify your goals. Do you want to lose weight? How about building muscle? Or are strength and power your focus?

Answering these questions will determine how you work out. Gone are the days of haphazard workouts. Every rep, exercise and weight you perform should be done in the context of your goals. Why would you waste your time on anything else?

Training can get complicated, and if you're new to the weight room or lack experience training on your own, it  can seem daunting and intimidating. That's why it's best to start small and focus on specific types of exercises, rep ranges and exercise weight.

To help you get started, I've compiled the basic guidelines you need to achieve common workout goals.

RELATED: Are You Using the Right Weight for Every Exercise?

Athletic Performance

You need to ensure that your training reflects and supports the demands and movement patterns of your sport, such as triple extension, hip extension and rotation. Your training should focus on compound lifts, like the Squat, Deadlift and Bench Press, and be movement-based, not muscle-based like you see in typical bodybuilder workouts. Isolation exercises like Leg Extensions are phased out in favor of movements like Split Squats. This is a general goal, so no reps or exercise weight recommendations for this category.

Strength and Power

You want to work with heavy loads through a short number of repetitions. For example, a strength workout might feature 5 sets of 5 reps working at 85 to 90 percent of your max on an exercise. For power, drop the weight to 65-70 percent of your max and focus on moving the weight as quickly and explosively as possible. Rest 2 to 3 minutes between sets to allow your muscles to fully recover.

Build Muscle

Do you want to get bigger? Volume—that is, the number of reps you perform—is key. Using a higher volume damages your muscle fibers and actually causes them to get bigger during the recovery process. The general recommendation for hypertrophy—the technical term for muscle growth—is 3 sets of 10-12 reps using weight between 65 and 75 percent of your max. To work more muscles and create greater gains, superset exercises that work opposing muscle groups. For a serious pump, superset two exercises that train the same muscle, such as the Bench Press and Push-Up.

RELATED: The Right Way to Gain Weight During the Off-Season

Muscular Endurance

If you need to keep doing something over and over again, then muscular endurance is your goal. An activity that comes to mind is swimming. This doesn't necessarily have to take up an entire workout. Toward the end of a session, you can do a few exercises targeting a specific muscle group using high reps (e.g., 15 to 25) with light to moderate weights of about 50 percent of your max. Rest intervals should be no longer than 30 seconds.

RELATED: Time Under Tension: The Secret to Building More Muscle

Here are a few additional facts about strength training based on research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research:

  • If you want to build muscle, both high-load (heavy weight) and low-load (light to moderate weight) training are effective. However, if your goal is to build strength, high-load training is superior.
  • When major muscle group exercises are performed to failure, both high- and low-load exercises elicit significant increases in muscle hypertrophy. But, for building strength, training with heavier loads (≥80% 1RM) is the way to go. High-load training was (is) associated with maximal strength adaptations.
  • Upper-body muscle endurance improves to a greater extent with low-load training, compared to lower-body muscle endurance.

Define your goals, consult with a strength and conditioning professional to develop a plan, and get started. And, remember, progress comes not only from working hard, but from working smart.

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