You’ve been thinking about getting back in the gym for a while now, and today is the day! You walk into the gym full of energy. You check yourself in, lace up your shoes, and head towards the dumbbell weight rack. You walk straight up to it, then you hesitate as you reach for a dumbbell; what weight are you going to choose?
Believe it or not, this is a pretty common dilemma. Here are a few reasons why people run into problems when choosing a weight:
If you’re a guy in a gym, chances are that you have lots of other guys around you. You don’t want to be embarrassed by picking up a weight that is too light, do you? Who cares! You’re not working out to impress people (although you may be trying to impress people with your results). You are working out to become a better version of you. No one, other than your coach or trainer, should be a factor in the weight you choose.
Unless you’ve been training for a while and know your limits when it comes to any given set scheme, chances are that you don’t know which weight you can handle. If you’re unsure, chances are that you’re going to go lighter than necessary to make sure that you can complete the set. This is almost as detrimental, in terms of progression, as going way too heavy. Choosing the right weight will come with experience.
If you’re in a packed gym or a sparsely equipped home gym, you may not have the right weight for your workout. As you get more experienced, you’ll learn that weight is only one factor in changing the difficulty of a workout. Other factors include rest periods, movement difficulty, compound exercises, and set schemes. After several hundred workouts, you’ll get a good idea of how to manipulate the workout based on your particular needs.
How to Determine Your Workout Weight
Now that we have some understanding of why you might be choosing the wrong weight when exercising, it’s time to learn how to choose the right weight.
I’ve always found that determining your 3 Rep Max (3RM) is the best way to determine your weight for most workouts. Most heavy lifters use 1 Rep Maxes, but unless you’re doing heavy strength training, it’s probably not necessary.
The best way to determine your 3RM is by using a qualified trainer. While you could come up with it yourself, it will be impossible to watch your form unless you’re very experienced at lifting. A trainer will be able to watch your form, and a really good trainer will be able to tell you if you could handle more weight just by watching you lift.
Either way, here is a progressive set to help you determine your 3RM in any exercise:
Set 1: Perform 15 reps of the movement with an extremely lightweight or no weight at all.
Set 2: Increase the weight slightly and perform 12 reps of the movement using a slow and controlled movement.
Set 3: Increase the weight slightly again and perform 8-10 reps (if you are having trouble making it to this rep range, you increased the weight too much).
Set 4: Increase the weight by a more substantial increment and perform 5 reps.
Set 5: Increase the weight by an appropriate proportion based on your last set. If it was really easy, increase it a lot. If it was very difficult, increase the weightless.
There you have it! While you could do this for every exercise, it may be more practical to simply do it for the primary movements like the Barbell Squat, Barbell Military Press, Barbell Deadlift, Kettlebell Goblet Squat, and Kettlebell Overhead Press. These movements will give you a good baseline that you can then apply to your workouts based on the rep schemes you’re planning on using.
Yours in Health,
Mark De Grasse