If you’re a regular reader of Muscle & Performance, you know that strength training is a must for women of all ages and abilities. But how much weight is right for you? This question is not just relegated to new gym-goers; lots of women aren’t lifting the weight they should be.
Unfortunately, there is no pat solution to this weighty issue (pun intended), no definitive charts or pie graphs to tell you what to lift and when. But with a little trial and error, you can figure out your starting point and reach your goals that much faster.
You Goal, Girl
The first step is determining your goal.
- Are you trying to lean out or are you a beginner? Then your goal is eight to 12 reps per set. This range challenges and builds muscles while spiking metabolism to help burn fat.
- Are you trying to add muscle and definition? Then you’re looking at six- to eight-rep sets. When you lift heavier weight, your muscles respond by growing. Remember: The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism and the more fat you burn, even at rest.
- Are you going for muscular endurance and tone? Then you should shoot for 12 to 15 reps per set. This range trains your muscles to handle heavier loads for increased amounts of time, improving endurance and creating more slow-twitch muscle fibers, enhancing muscular tone.
Though the rep ranges are different, the idea is the same: You want to find a weight that allows you to land within your target range. That weight should be light enough for you to achieve that range but also heavy enough that you can’t do any more reps beyond it.
To start, pick up a weight — literally. Just choose a weight with which you think you can hit your target range, then give it a whirl. Take note of how many reps you could achieve while using good form. Were you cranking out a ton of reps? Then the weight is obviously too light. Were you struggling after only a few? Then the weight is too heavy.
If you landed in your target range, take note of where you fall. If it was the lower end of your rep spectrum, say eight reps in the eight-to-12-rep range, that means the weight you chose is appropriately challenging. Use that same weight until it becomes easier and you’re exceeding 12 reps. Once you’re topping out of your range, increase the weight you’re using by a small increment and start again. Remember: When you move up in weight, you will consequently drop down in reps until your muscles adapt again to the new stimulus.
To help track your progress, keep a journal. Write in it how much weight you used for each set of each exercise and how many reps you achieved using that weight. It’s also helpful to write a little about how you felt using that weight. Make notes on whether it was too heavy or too light, how you felt on the days following the workout and how sore you got from it. That way, the next time you do that exercise, you’ll have a good idea whether you should stick to the weight you used last time or bump it up a little.