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How Much Weight Should You Lift To Build Muscles and Strength?

May 20th, 2011 · 2 Comments ·


When I first started lifting weight, I was not able to decide how much weight should I lift for each set. Most weights were decided with the “gut feel”. After several years, by exchanging ideas with few fitness instructors and seasoned gym goers as well as doing some research on this topic, and coupled with my own experience, I believe that I have learned some (but not all) in this area. So, here you go for what I know.

First thing first, people lift weight for two main objectives:

  1. To build muscle
  2. To build strength and power

I do not deny the fact these above two objectives are interrelated. We need muscles to have strength to lift weight. So, muscle is still the foundation to build strength. A model with nice muscles like Nick Auger may not have the powerlifter’s strength whereas the power lifter may not have the well toned muscles. Now, I hope that you have seen the point – the workout approach in building muscles can be different than building strength.


Rules of Thumb:

  • If you are able to perform more than 15 repetitions, the weight is too light and will only increase the muscle endurance.
  • If you are able to lift the weight with 8 to 10 repetitions, the weight is just right to build muscle by stimulate its growth.
  • If you are able to perform 5 repetitions, the weight is heavy enough to build your strength.
  • Also, do not assume that you should use an 10-pound dumbbell for every muscle group. You may lift more with your biceps compared to your triceps.


To Build Muscles
Before we proceed, let’s introduce this jargon – 1 RM which stands for 1 Repetition Maximum weight. One RM is the heaviest weight you are able to lift properly on a workout if you do only one repetition.

Most weight training training programs recommend a weight that is between 70% and 85% of your 1 RM. Once you find that weight, you should do 8 to 10 repetitions for each set with 3 sets.

Steps To Decide 1RM and Find the Weight For Muscle Building

  1. Lift the maximal amount of weight using correct form.
  2. Remember I mentioned 70% to 85% of 1 RM? Say, your 1 RM is 100 pounds for bench press:
    70% of 100 pounds = 70 pounds
    85% of 100 pounds = 85 pounds
  3. In this case, the estimated amount of weight you should lift will be between 70 and 85 lbs. As this range, 70 to 85 lbs, is still pretty wide. So, perform one set to failure using 70 lbs and keep track on the repetitions. Then, rest for a while and use 85 lbs and note down the repetitions you need until failure.
  4. Assuming, you are able to perform 16 repetitions to failure with 70 lbs and only 4 repetitions with 85 lbs, try for a weight between them, say, 75 lbs.

As you can see, you need to try until you are able to perform a set with 8 to 10 repetitions for a total of 2 to 3 sets.

As time goes by, you will be able to increase the weight gradually.

To Build Strength
Building strength is a slightly different game. Powerlifters go more for weight, but with less repetitions in each set. The heavier the better. They lift at about 80% to 85% of 1 RM, with about 4 to 8 repetitions each set, between 3 to 5 sets and rest about 1 to 3 minutes between sets.


World Strongest Man – Mariusz Pudzianowski


Last Words
As much as I want to get a surefire formula or theory to decide how much weight should you lift, I still suggest you to listen to your body. Try out each method for several months to let the result decide whether you should stay or change to other training method. Though my goal is to build muscle, I sometimes will train with heavier weight to break out from a plateau to “shock the muscles”. After all, each individual’s body is different. In fact, some train for muscle, some go for strength and few do it for ego to impress others in the gym.

Regardless of the purpose, the form should not be compromised because of the weight to avoid injury. Also, when you just begin to learn to train with weight, use lighter weight with more repetitions for the first few weeks.


Again, the above is purely my experience. Feel free to leave your comment. If you disagree, by all means, please do so as I would like to learn from you too.



Category: Weight Training

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2 responses so far ↓
  • aknil // May 24, 2011 at 3:22 PM

    long time reader of your blog. Good job!
    this post made me change my workout routine.
    see im training at home and i got only 2 dumbbells, i do get more than 15 reps of bench press done with those dumbbells so yesterday i did 4 sets of flyes prior to the bench press and that lowered my max reps to 10-12 range.
    thanks for the post, useful.

    keep it up! Keep it Fit!

  • Henry // Jun 27, 2011 at 1:33 AM

    Like Aknil I too only currently have 2 dumbbells with 30kg of weight (I can’t lift that though), I will eventually buy a barbell but I donot have the room yet.
    I do alot of body resistance (if thats the right word) exercises too i.e pressups, pullups, dips.

    I have CF and find it so hard to keep weight and put it on especially muscle this article really helps to make things clearer for me. Thank you so much I love your blog.

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