How Much Weight Should I Lift?

One of the main questions we get asked during the early stages of training (early off-season, younger athletes, etc.) is, “How much weight should I be lifting in these exercises?” This post will give you insight, and hopefully guide you through a safe progression towards developing a strong base of athletic strength.

Getting Started:

During the first week of your program (or when you are attempting a new exercise), we usually recommend starting off using only body weight or light dumbbells. Most of the time we won’t count this set as part of the workout, but just use it to familiarize the athlete with the exercise pattern (check form, mobility, stability, confidence, etc.). Let’s use the squat pattern as an example we all should be familiar with…

  1. Start with body weight squats… perform 10-20 repetitions to find a comfortable pattern. You should be able to get the hips down to knee level (thighs parallel to the floor), and you should feel balanced (feet flat on the floor – not rolling up on the toes or falling back towards the heels). If you feel confident then…
  2. Add speed… as you work your way through the 10-20 repetitions, and begin to feel comfortable with the pattern, the depth and balance, start to add speed to the motion. Do this by dropping down a bit quicker and pushing the feet into the floor a little harder to come back up a little faster. Adding speed can help increase stability, confidence and power, even in bodyweight lifts. If you feel confident…
  3. Add a light load… Light loads are going to vary based on who the athlete is, how older they are, how much they weigh and how confident they are in the motion. Typically in squatting patterns we start off with 5 or 10 pound dumbbells just to give the athlete something to hold in their hands.

Watch the video progression below…


Increasing Weight with Dumbbells:

As you start to feel more confident in the exercise, we want to increase the load (add weight). We do this in several ways throughout an athletes career, but we always start off with this dumbbell based progression.

  1. Use 10 pound dumbbells and perform 12 reps… Start off with a focus on mobility (full range of motion) for the first few reps. If it looks good, pause for 1 second at the thighs parallel position (tighten the core and push the feet to the outsides of the shoes to engage the hips) for the next few reps. If this feels good, start to add a little more speed to the motion (making sure you keep the core tight throughout). If you can confidently perform 12 reps in this manner…
  2. Use 15 pound dumbbells and perform 10 reps… Start off with a tight core and pushing the feet to the outsides of the shoes, and perform 10 reps in a full range of motion.If you don’t feel confident, go back to the 10 pound dumbbells and use 12 reps as your training load. If you feel confident…
  3. Use 20 pound dumbbells and perform 8 reps… Make sure you have perfect form, going through a full range of motion, with good posture and knee alignment. If you don’t feel confident, go back to the 15 pound dumbbells and use 10 reps as your training load. If you feel confident…
  4. Use 25 pound dumbbells and perform 8-12 reps… At this point you are probably feeling pretty confident, and in the early stages of our program we like to stick to 8-12 repetitions with most of our dumbbell exercises. If you can perform 12 reps then you should increase the weight. However, if you cannot perform 8 reps, you should decrease the weight. This should help you to identify a weight that you can use for 8-12 repetitions with confidence.

Progressing from Dumbbells to the Barbell:

As you gain confidence and are lifting at least 25 pound dumbbells for 8-12 repetitions, we should begin to consider whether you should progress to barbell variations of the activity. Most barbells weigh around 45 pounds and if you are lifting two 25 pound dumbbells (50 pounds total) you should find the barbell an easier variation. 

  1. Start with 25 pound dumbbells for 8-12 reps… If you are confident, with perfect form, consider progressing to…
  2. Front Squat with 45 pound bar for 6-10 reps… We start with the front squat because of the similarity to the dumbbell position. But we also need to consider the fact that at some point the athlete will need to progress to performing some type of barbell Olympic clean variation. The Olympic clean is caught in the front squat position. Perform 6-10 reps with the bar, adding weight if you can do 10 reps, and decreasing weight if you cannot do 6 reps. Use this progression until you can front squat 50% of your body weight. At this point, we feel you are ready to progress to…
  3. Back Squat with the Barbell for 6-10 reps… Continue to add weight to the bar if you can perform 10 reps. If you cannot perform 6 reps, decrease the weight. 

Watch the video progression below for examples of this progression…


Use this progression in the early stages of your program to build up confidence in each exercise variation. Too often athletes are given programs that ask them to do 3 sets of 6 reps (typical power based rep ranges), but they are not sure how much weight to use. They end up using a lighter load, and lose the effectiveness of the lift. When you are starting out, use this progression to build up a base of strength, confidence with the exercise, and understanding of how much weight to use.

Once you have confidence in the exercise and load, you will be able to follow those programs with much more benefit.

 

 

 

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