Strength Training 101: How to Choose the Right Weights

gym physical training strength training Apr 06, 2024

Do you use the right weights in the gym?

The reality is, most people just don't know.

That's a problem, and here's why:

  • Using too light weights will get you no results.
  • Using too heavy weights will lead to injury and no results.

As a seasoned athlete with 15 years of experience as a trainer and 21 years as a lifter, I've seen people short-circuiting when it comes to choosing the right resistance.

One thing's for sure, if you don't want to waste your gym time and want to get life changing strength, you need to master the art of selecting the proper weights.

In this newsletter, I'm going to teach you how to choose the right weights and how to safely progress in your strength training for optimal results. Let's dive in.

Strength Training is a Skill

First of all, let me be clear — strength training is a skill.

Every exercise is a movement pattern, and using a weight strengthens that pattern.

You need to learn the proper technique before you even think about adding weight.

If you don't, you're going to end up strengthening the wrong patterns.

Over time, this will lead to muscle imbalances, mobility issues, and - worst of all - injury.

That's the last thing you want, and it sure as hell isn't going to make you any stronger.

This means that before you start loading up the weight, you first need to learn the skill.

You need to practice the exercise with little to no weight, focusing on improving your form.

Many people screw this up.

In general, adults don’t have a “student” or “white belt” mentality. Meaning they don’t accept being a complete beginner and that skill-learning is essential stage to go through.

People dislike to look “bad” and want to be “successful” on the first attempt.

They think in black and white — “good” or “bad”.

Don’t limit yourself with this mindset. Instead, start scoring your technique on a scale of 1 to 10.

At first, your form is going to be on the lower end of the spectrum.

But with consistent practice, that score wil go up.

Do you want to succeed in strength training and become damn strong?

The very first step is to nail down that proper form.

Don't think about adding weight until your technique score is at least a 6 or higher.

Trust me, it'll pay off big time in the long run.

The Beginner Stage

Everyone starts in the beginner stage.

In this stage, I recommend rep ranges of 10-15 reps per set.

Use very light weight or no weight for 3-4 sets, depending on the exercise.

Do more sets for "bigger" exercises and fewer sets for "smaller" ones.

Bigger exercises engage more muscles in the movement pattern, like a Squat compared to a Bicep Curl.

When you start anything new, you get sore. That's because your body isn't used to the movement.

But don't mistake soreness for improvement. Soreness just holds you back from practicing again.

And what you really need to improve? More practice.

You might think soreness equals progress, but that's not the case.

Practice is what makes you progress.

That's why for the first few sessions, you keep weights and sets on the lower side.

I'll often cut 1 set from the planned amount — so if it's meant to be 4 sets, I'll do 3.

Then next time, add that 1 set back while keeping weights the same. This increases volume (practice) without risking injury.

In the beginner stage, this is all you need. You don't require heavy weights — yet.

The priority is improving technique through higher reps and frequency.

How to Increase the Weight

After a few weeks of practice, your technique will be anywhere from decent to good.

You'll reach the stage where weight becomes important for progress.

Simply because your body only adapts to things it's unfamiliar with.

If the exercise itself is unfamiliar, practice will suffice to improve. But when your body gets used to the movement, you need a greater challenge.

That's when you start adding some plates.

However, be careful — if the weights are too high, your form will suffer. Remember, never strengthen a bad pattern.

Instead, give yourself some extra challenge to keep progressing.

Here's a method I use with beginners:

For the initial phase, I have them do one of two rep ranges:

  • 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • 3 sets of 12-15 reps

I keep the rest periods low, around 60 seconds.

Let's take the 3 sets of 8-12 reps example:

Week 1: 2 sets of 12 reps, using no weight or a very light weight.

Week 2: 3 sets of 12 reps, same weight.

Week 3: 3 sets of 12 reps — start with the same weight, then add a bit more for sets 2 and 3.

Week 4: Keep adding a little weight if you hit the 12-rep target.

Eventually, you'll reach a point where you can't do 12 reps with proper form.

Congrats, you've established your current strength limit!

That’s where the hard part begins.

The question now is: how do you progress from here?

How to Progress Safely and Effectively

The only way to get strong is to stress the muscles. You need to use progressively more weight.

Simple, right?

But here's the catch - you can't just keep loading up the bar.

So, what do you do instead? You keep making each training session more challenging.

Let's take the Deadlift as an example. You'd start with an empty bar in week 1, and in the coming weeks, slowly add weight for 3 sets of 12 reps.

At one point, your training might look like this:

  • Set 1: 12 reps at 40 kilos
  • Set 2: 12 reps at 45 kilos
  • Set 3: 8 reps at 50 kilos

The question is, what do you do from here? Well, you have options:

  • Option 1: Keep the weight the same and aim for 3 sets of 12 reps. Chances are you won't get 12 reps on the last set - maybe 10. For the next session, keep the weight the same. Once you hit 3 x 12, increase the weight.
  • Option 2: Start with 45 kilos for 12 reps. For sets 2 & 3, use 50 kilos, aiming for 8 reps in set 3 and max reps in set 3. Repeat this until you can hit around 3 x 12 reps.

Always make sure to warm-up properly before starting with the first working set (set 1).

You see, how you progress is not set in stone. You have some options. But the overall rule is: do a little bit more each session.

For the most part, you'll be able to add a little bit more each time. Of course, you'll have "off" days where you can't do more - and that's normal. But overall, you'll get a little bit stronger each session.

If you're consistent…

Consistency and Frequency are Key

Using more weight only matters if it's done within the right time frame.

If you only train occasionally, nothing's gonna happen. You might get some results because you learned a new movement pattern, but that doesn't even come close to getting strong.

You feel me?

Many conventional training programs are still "body part" driven — they split up the body into different "parts" like chest and triceps, back and biceps, shoulders and legs.

Don't train that way, it's not very beneficial for most people.

Your body is a dynamic system designed to move as a whole, so train movement patterns and do full body training each session.

If you train body parts 3 times a week, you only hit every muscle group once and have to wait a whole week to work them again. Miss one workout? You miss a whole body part - not very smart.

But if you train full body and focus on movement patterns 3 times a week, you hit the whole body 3 times. That's 3 chances to stimulate growth, instead of just 1. Miss a session? You still got 2 more to produce results.

You don’t need to be the new Einstein to spot the difference there.

Look, if you want real results in the gym, you gotta consistently stress your body with something it's not used to.

You have to do this multiple times per week to get the biggest payoff.

I always encourage my clients to work on your health every single day. At least 3 days a week in the gym doing strength training.

The other days you can walk, run, stretch, do yoga, whatever fits your goals and needs.

Don't sell yourself short by being inconsistent — give your body the attention it deeply needs.

It'll pay you back in all aspects of life. Trust me on that one.

Summery

As a seasoned strength coach, I've seen many people struggle to choose the right weights in the gym. The key is balancing proper technique with gradually increasing the training load.

The general rule is to make each session a little bit more challenging - whether that's adding a small amount of weight or aiming for an extra rep or two. Start light, focus on perfecting your form, and then progressively overload over time.

Specific tips include:

  • Proper form is essential before adding weight
  • Use rep ranges of 10-15 reps as a beginner
  • Gradually add small amounts of weight or reps over time
  • Train full-body 3+ times per week for consistent strength development
  • Consistency and frequency are crucial - don't let inconsistency hold you back

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