How Much Weight Should You Be Using?


By Kyle Arsenault CSCS


A question I am constantly asked, especially when implementing an updated program or starting a program with a new athlete, is how much weight they should be using for the selected exercise. This is a great question, and a question with a very simple yet complex answer. The answer being, they should use the greatest amount of weight possible in order to complete the designated repetitions (number of times you perform the exercise/movement at one time) with perfect form and still have one to two reps left in the tank for every set (the number of times you are going to perform the designated number of reps). Sounds simple, but there is a little more to it. Let’s look at an example to help demonstrate the point.



If I program an athlete to complete 4 sets of squats at 6 repetitions per set, that athlete should use enough weight so he/she can complete all 4 sets for 6 repetitions with perfect form. But they have to keep in mind that they should not be able to complete more than 8 repetitions before form starts to breakdown during any one set. If they can, the weight/resistance (bodyweight, resistance band, barbell/dumbbell/kettlebell,  etc) was too light. With this approach, if the athlete selects the appropriate weight for the first two sets, it is likely that they will have to reduce the amount of weight in the later sets (3rd and 4th sets). This is due to the accumulated neuromuscular (nervous system and muscular system) fatigue from the first two sets. Let’s take a look at what this may look like…

Athlete A is programmed for 4 sets of squats at 6 repetitions per set. After performing a few warm up sets of lighter weight, let’s say 8 reps at 135 pounds, 4 reps at 185 pounds and 2 reps at 205 pounds, the athlete completes his first set of 6 repetitions at 225 pounds and would have been able to do 1 more rep before form is compromised. On the second set the athlete is still able to manage 6 reps at 225 but realizes that the third set would be hard to complete 6 reps with perfect form at 225. So the athlete drops to 215 pounds for the third set and then 210 for the fourth set. This allows the athlete to complete all four sets with perfect form for 6 reps. The athlete used as much weight as possible that allowed for perfect form and completion of all reps for each set.


This little guys got it right...perfect form every time!

This approach allows for the greatest stimulus and subsequent performance adaptations (power, strength, endurance, stability) and still provides significant measures of safety. You don’t want to waste a set by performing the exercise with a resistance so light you can complete double the designated reps (except for warm-up sets), but you also do not want form to be compromised. Applying this approach to every working set provides the athlete greatest chance for gains and performance success…that is the goal, and therefore the answer to, “How much weight should I should use?”

**I wasn’t trying to go all cute on this one, the baby pics just said it all!

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