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Find the Right Weight for Strength Training

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-- By Nicole Nichols, Fitness Instructor & Health Educator
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University researchers in the Midwest wanted to find out if beginner exercisers were lifting the right amount of weight when exercising. They studied 30 men and women, asking them to choose their weights for five different exercises. The majority of the participants chose weights that were too low (42% - 57% of their One-Rep Max) to result in any physical gains. 

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The One Rep Max (1 RM) is the highest possible weight you could lift on a particular exercise if you only did one repetition. When strength training, you should be lifting a weight that is about 60-70% of this 1 RM. While a trainer could help you figure this out, here’s an easier way: With a bit of trial and error, find a weight that you can lift (with proper form) at least 8 times, but no more than 15. As you get stronger, and reach 15 reps, it’s time to increase your weight again.
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
Nicole was named "America's Top Personal Trainer to Watch" in 2011. A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, she loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Her DVDs "Total Body Sculpting" and "28 Day Boot Camp" (a best seller) are available online and in stores nationwide. Read Nicole's full bio and blog posts.

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Member Comments

  • I'd like to slim down my arms, particularly my upper arms (horribly fat and no muscles at all!); but I've never done strength training. I've been advised by my oncologist not to exceed 10 lbs. per hand, because of risk of lymphedema. Would I be able to improve my arms if I do one or two exercises on low weights and increase the repetitions? I don't want to do more than 2 different kinds of exercises because I am not good at remembering exercises (and hate them; the only exercise I usually do is walking almost every day). I want to order dumbbells soon; do you think I should order 5 lb. weights or 8 lb. weights or 10 lb. weights? I know I might find 10 lb weights difficult at first, but thought I could slowly increase the # of repetitions... - 5/17/2013 2:01:00 PM
  • SPELEVINK
    OK, this helps, I've been doing 15 reps but three sets. And I move up in weight when I've done the same weight for a week or two, but still three sets of 15. Is there a better way to do this? - 5/16/2013 3:56:59 PM
  • Thank you for this article! I was wondering how often I should increase and it's definitely time! - 5/16/2013 8:22:08 AM
  • Like the article. - 5/16/2013 7:19:43 AM
  • BROKENWING2
    I have been lifting weights since I was 21 and I'm 53 now. I have taught a group of women for the last 8 years, ages ranging from 20 to 71. I can assure you that women do not bulk up, we just do not have enough testosterone to do it. Thank the lord! I have seen weights change womens shape better than any other form of exercise. The keys is to lift heavy enough and to use proper form. For me it is using weights heavy enough that the 8th rep is a challenge. When it starts getting easy on the 8th rep increase the weight to make it a challenge again. Proper breathing is key too. Breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth on the lift or exertion. The great thing about building muscle is that it burns far more calories than fat and takes up less space. I may weigh more on the scale but my clothing size is much smaller and I feel great too. I believe it is one of the greatest things you can do for yourself and your health. You have to remember though...exercise cannot undo bad eating or over eating. It takes both to see your work pay off. Happy lifting ladies! - 10/1/2012 10:06:56 PM
  • Taking a clue from IndyGirl, I started with soup cans. In June this year, they became too light and I was doing 20 easy reps. I went to get some REAL WEIGHTS. Two pounds seemed awfully LIGHT. Threes were more challanging. Fours were HARD.
    So I compromised and got ONE 3 pound, thinking if it became too easy too fast, I would not have wasted too much $$$ (still unemployed - 2 years, 5 months, and counting)
    It does take longer to do each arm separately, but it does the job.
    Now (end of September), am up to 16 reps. Just last night, I was wonderfuling whether to add an extra set to go ahead and get a heavier one.
    THANK YOU for your advice.
    WE CAN DO THIS !
    BLESSINGS - 9/30/2012 3:49:35 PM
  • I busted my shoulder because of lifting to heavy a weight, then when I got back into the gym I stuck to really light weights which on looking back didn't give maximum benefit.

    This article has come at the right time. I read an ebook which provided more or less the same information, but ended up with a 1 RM of 80%. After trying it out for two weeks I eventually settled for 75% which works a treat! - 9/30/2012 2:22:47 PM
  • WEBERM3
    Please stop puttting the ad over the text! - 9/30/2012 1:33:59 PM
  • BUFFYFREAK32
    Yeah, women can bulk but we won't be able to bulk to the same degree. Men have 10 times the testosterone, and should be able to lift approximately their own weight and a half in a chest press. Women should be able to chest press half their weight. (this is usually the case for everyone).
    I started resistance training on the beginning of August, using dumbbells. I began then lifting 6kg for a bicep curl. 2 months later I am on 12kg. I really love it :) - 9/30/2012 9:37:44 AM
  • LACEY3925
    women can definately "bulk up" but you would most likely know if you were lifting enough weight and on a consistent strengh training schedule, as this would be what you were trying to do.
    I never did steroids yet was often asked..lol.. thats a myth. its part genetics for how your muscles respond and proper eating and supplimenting.
    besides- "bulking up" isn't really as it sounds as muscle takes up less space..Most at competiion time are sizes 2-4.
    just lift, it makes you feel great and you'l know if and when you think you are "bulking up" because of all compliments and questions, then you could decide - 9/30/2012 4:02:06 AM
  • Just what I needed to know!!!! - 1/5/2010 9:14:29 AM
  • Generally I don't think women can bulk up. I think that the only reason that men do is because of their testosterone levels. The only way a woman would be able to bulk up like that is with steroids. I don't think you would bulk up.

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    Thats an article on why women won't bulk up...incase you don't read it here on the board, i'll post it on your profile - 8/31/2009 6:47:38 PM
  • great article. - 3/15/2008 2:33:34 PM
  • Does this apply if you're looking for tone too? I don't want to look like the incredible hulk, I'd just like to be toned and stronger. - 1/14/2008 10:45:27 PM
  • MRS.MC
    I was wondering whether I was using the right amount of weight...now I know! - 1/8/2008 5:48:56 PM
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