How Much Weight Should I Lift? How Many Sets And Reps? Some Common Fitness Questions Explained

Ben Emanuel II

Fitness is not rocket science, and getting fitter is simple in theory. The only hard part is sticking to that theory.

Fitness is not rocket science, and getting fitter is simple in theory. The only hard part is sticking to that theory. However, it does help if you start well-informed, as it will save you a lot of time, and you won't have to learn on your own mistakes. This article is all about that, answering some of the most common lifting questions, so stay tuned.

How Much Weight Should I Lift?

This is simple—use as much weight as possible that lets you barely perform the number of sets and reps in your workout plan. What that means is that you never take your sets to failure, unless your workout plan has that prescribed. But it also means that every set you do must be challenging—that's why you came to the gym in the first place.

So, if your plan is to do five working sets of five reps, make sure you go strong, but to still leave something in the tank for following sets. Out of five reps, you should really start feeling it on rep three, and rep four and five should be super hard.

If you feel like you have left in the tank too much, that's OK. You can go extra hard on your last set, even taking it to failure if you prefer that. Just make sure you have a spotter, or that you use power racks, where appropriate. Then, on the next workout, use more weight on that exercise.

How to determine the optimal weight? Trial and error, nothing else. It's a good idea to at least determine your one-rep-max, and then to take the percentages of it into your lifts. When the number of reps rises, the weight on the bar should fall.

How Many Sets and Reps?

This is a fundamental question, and the answer starts with your goal. Broadly speaking, lifting weights has three major goals: increasing strength, adding muscle mass, or improving conditioning/fat loss. While these things come together, especially for beginners, there's a point where you want to start optimizing for your specific goal, as they all have different training methods.

Strength training

If you train for strength, you want to focus on fewer reps, but heavy, heavy weights. Strength training is all about lifting more weight, and the only way to do that is to lift super-heavy.

You will use lower rep ranges, one to five, and very heavy weights. Because of that, you will rest long between sets, 2-3 minutes, but you will have to do many sets, five plus.

And be careful when planning a pure-strength routine. Because you try to lift close to your maximum, breaking your personal bests often, this type of training is very hard on the body, and you will be more injury prone than other people in the gym.

Prioritize rest, proper nutrition, and supplementation. Strength training is not easy, but nothing beats that feeling when you break your own records.

Hypertrophy training

If your primary goal is increasing muscle size, staying in the 8-12 rep range works best. This will mean that you will use moderate weights (compared to your 1RM), and usually, do 4-5 sets. The rest periods will be shorter than with strength training, and you will rest 1.5-2 minutes.

Remember that you should still go hard, using as much weight as possible, making every set challenging.

Because hypertrophy training usually stays bellow 1RM, it isn't as taxing on the body and the CNS. That means you can train more frequently, and bodybuilders usually visit the gym 4-6 times per week. Just make sure you follow a good split, to let one group of muscles rest, while you train the opposite one.

Additionally, make sure you take good care of your diet (especially protein intake) and rest. Only 1/3 of muscle building is done in the gym, the rest is in your kitchen, and your bed.

Fat loss

Weight training for fat loss is a good idea as it preserves your muscles while you are in a caloric deficit.

However, because your body is lacking calories as you try to lose weight, it is imperative that you reduce the load.

While trying to slim down, don't use heavy weights, instead, use more reps. 12-15 reps is what works best, or even more if you do bodyweight exercises. Do 2-4 sets per exercise, with low rest times, up to one minute.

Again, use the heaviest way possible, as the exercises should remain challenging. However, this is a different type of challenge, much lighter on the CNS. It won't feel easy though, and your heart will be pumping.

If you incorporate supersets, giant sets or HIIT into this type of training, you will push the fat-burning effect even further.

Just make sure to stay within your limits. Because this type of training is super-hard on the conditioning, people lose focus. Never try to push for those last few reps if it's compromising your form. Focus on performing the exercises with perfect technique, maintaining total control, and worry about reps and weight later.

As you can see, figuring out your rep range is not that complicated, and figuring out the weight you should lift only requires a little bit of trial and error. Your only goal is to start implementing what you've learned here, and continue doing it forever! Yes, it's not easy, but that's the beauty of it. Once you start conquering yourself, you will start feeling unstoppable.