How Much Weight Should I Lift?

Rate of Perceived Exertion

Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is the primary method that I personally use and recommend to most clients. There is a simple, yet unnecessary, chart that is used in an attempt to quantify how you feel during exercise. But in such a subjective response with too many external factors to control, I find the chart unreliable. I like to examine RPE as follows.

Anytime you lift weights your primary concern should be to execute the lift with proper form. Secondary to that is to make sure that you are training at the proper intensity. If you have to bounce the bar off of your chest to gain momentum during a bench press repetition just to finish the rep, you don’t have control over the movement. Movement, under load, out of control is a recipe for failed gains and worse — injury.

Your goal should be to finish any given repetition scheme with proper form at near muscular failure. I repeat, near muscular failure. If the set asks for 10 reps, then the 10th rep should be difficult to achieve but the speed of the movement should not be much slower than the first rep. If you can easily gain an 11th rep, then the weight is too light. Conversely, if you can only achieve 8 reps with proper form then you need to lower the weight.

With rep ranges, if your set asks for “8 – 12”, choose a weight that makes the 8th rep difficult to achieve with proper form. Then push for the extra 4 reps. Do not go passed the higher number (12). In doing this, be sure that you are targeting the major muscle groups that that exercise aims to work, ensure that there is no major difference in bar speed and, for safe measure, make sure that you have a spotter.

If you don’t have a gym buddy, ask someone else in the gym. No excuses in not following simple safety protocols.

When you are starting out as a beginner in your weight lifting journey, it is crucial that you use this method. If you use a method of percentages based off of a 1RM you will quickly “out progress” your beginning PRs. This is due to the new stimuli causing rapid adaptations in your physical fitness. And put simply, some days you won’t be able to hit a certain percentage based off your level of recovery (deficiencies in nutrition, sleep and other recovery protocols).

If you only read one thing:

  1. Use proper form

  2. Ultimately this method allows you to choose weight based off of how you feel

  3. If you can’t hit the reps, you are lifting too heavy

  4. If you surpass the reps given, you are lifting too light

Shane JenneComment