Tuesday, March 18, 2008

4 signs that you need to lift more weights

When I was a Wellness Director for a YMCA I overheard a member ask my fellow director to help him adjust his workout regimen. He just “wasn’t getting anywhere” despite being very committed and diligent to his workouts. This was a very normal request from a member so my friend thought nothing about it and scheduled an appointment.

When they finally met, the member brought along with him a thick stack of stapled workout charts, which he had used for the past three years. (As I said, he was diligent, but also highly organized!) The director was shocked, not because of the years of detail, but because this member had never increased the weight or number of repetitions he lifted since his first introduction to the fitness center equipment. For over three years, he had done the same exercises, lifted the same weight, and performed the same number of repetitions day after day.

The fact that he wasn’t seeing results wasn’t entirely his fault, although the reasons were obvious to the director. The member simply did as he was instructed on day one, and no one had taught him the importance of progression in his strength training program. Are you stuck in a strength training rut too? Find out!

4 Signs You Need to Increase Your Resistance
Strength training is about building and maintaining a certain level of strength. You might not be lifting enough weight during one or many of your exercises if:
  1. The current weight you are lifting isn’t a challenge. Strength training is meant to be challenging, because the whole point is to “overload” your muscles so they get stronger. If the weight you are lifting isn’t as challenging as it used to be (or isn’t challenging at all!), then it is time to increase the resistance.

  2. You could go forever. Each strength training exercise you do should cause you to feel muscle “fatigue” within 15 repetitions (or fewer). Muscle fatigue feels like you couldn’t possibly do another repetition in good form. If you can do more than 15 reps in good form, or if you literally feel like you could go on forever because the resistance you’re using is so easy, then it’s time to take it up a notch.

  3. You have never increased the weight you lift. When you first started strength training, then the weight you lifted was a starting weight. Continuing to progress in strength training is essential to getting the most out of your workouts—that means lifting more weight as you get stronger over time.

  4. The progress has come to a stop. Without making your muscles work harder than they’re accustomed to, they won’t get stronger. As you train, your muscles will grow stronger in order to meet the demands you are placing on them. So if you keep offering them the same workload, they will keep working the same amount, and progression comes to a grinding halt.
Recognize if you are experiencing any of the 4 signs above, taking time to pay attention to the level of difficulty and challenge of each of your exercises during your workouts. If you experience any of these signs (or if it sounds like I have been watching you workout based on what you read), then it is time to increase the resistance! Use the 3-step process below to do it safely and effectively.

How to Increase Your Resistance

Step 1: Increase the resistance by no more than 10%. For example, if you’re currently lifting 50 pounds, you’d increase that by 5 pounds (10% of 50 pounds = 5 pounds) to lift 55 pounds. This should automatically feel more challenging to you, but even if it’s not noticeably more difficult, 10% is a pretty safe place to start. Increasing the weight more than 10% at a time increases the likelihood of injury, so progress slowly. Tip: When using free weights and machines, an exact 10% increase isn’t always possible (sometimes 10% results in weird fractions or levels of weight that don’t exist at the gym). In those cases, round down to the closest weight available instead of rounding up to the closest weight.

Step 2: With your newly adjusted weight, aim for 1-3 sets of 8-15 repetitions. With your 10% increase, you’ll be working harder than usual.

Step 3: Once you can complete 2-3 sets of 15 reps in good form, whether it takes you just a few workouts or even a few months, it’s time to go back to Step 1 and increase your weight by 10% again.

A Note on Reps and Sets
Remember that the goal in strength training is first and foremost to fatigue the muscles. Completing the exact number of reps is secondary, but all too often people become too focused on reaching a certain number of reps without paying attention to the weight itself or how it feels. Instead of absolutes (i.e. 10 reps), give yourself a range to work with (i.e. 8-15 reps). This way you can choose a weight that allows you to do “at least” a minimum number of reps (a sign that the weight isn’t too challenging) and “no more” than a maximum number of reps (a sign that the weight isn’t too easy). As long as you reach fatigue (but keep good form) within that range of repetitions, you’re doing great.

Lastly, accept the fact that you will have good days and bad days. Sometimes you will feel like the Incredible Hulk, where the weight you lift is light as a feather, and other days you will feel like Pee Wee Herman, when what was easy two days ago feels like a ton today! Take it as it comes and adjust accordingly. Commit yourself to work hard when it is time to workout and you won’t regret that time well spent.


  1. Good entry!

  2. Hmmmmmmmm, interesting, Hugs Lisa

  3. That's all very informative!