It's one of the first questions that people ask once they start going to the gym or seriously considering buffing up their physique: “How much weight should I be lifting?” It's an important question, and getting the wrong answer could lead to doing a lot of work only to fail getting the results you're looking for. That said, it is a question with more than one right answer, with the one that's right for you depending on the fitness goals you're trying to achieve.
How Much Weight to Lift?
“Building muscle” seems like a simple goal, but there are different ways to go about it. If you're looking to gain strength, you're going to want to do different exercises than if you're just looking to add bulk. If your main weightlifting goal is to build as much muscle strength as possible, then the answer to the “how much weight question” is going to be “a lot.” The target range includes weights that you can rep only 1-6 times. Specifically, you're going to want to do lots of multi-joint movements like dead-squats, bench presses, and squats that exercise groups of muscles and joints like the elbows and shoulders. These exercises strengthen and grow fast-twitch muscle groups, which are the muscles that also get worked out during resistance training. Keep in mind that fast-twitch muscles tend to tire out quickly, which means that strength building will entail long rest periods of up to five minutes between sets. You'll also want to do a lot of warmups, and will have to be disciplined enough to stop yourself from doing more than your body can handle.
If you're more interested in muscle size, you're going to want to choose less heavy weights than are used for strength training. To achieve maximum muscle size, you should be able to comfortably perform 8-12 reps per set with the weights you are using. Keep in mind that this is the weight range that lets you perform “true” reps with perfect form – no bouncing the bar off your chest to give yourself a lifting boost or only bringing your arms down halfway. Where strength training focuses on working out multiple muscles at once, bodybuilding is about exercising one muscle at a time in order to tone it as much as possible. Maintaining proper form is essential to bodybuilding – if you're activating joints other than the one that the exercise you're working on is meant to tone, you should revisit your technique to ensure that you get the results you're looking for. Bodybuilding also requires activating fast-twitch muscle fibers (i.e., the muscles that give you the strength to lift heavier weights the more you train). Like with strength training, that means doing multi-joint exercises. Whereas strength trainers focus on doing just a few of these exercises at their maximum lifting threshold, bodybuilders will want to use smaller weights so that they can perform more of these exercises with shorter weight periods. You should be able to perform 3-4 sets of each multi-joint exercises, with rest periods lasting only 60-90 seconds.
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