Filed under: Weight lifting
How do you know how much weight to lift when you start a resistance-training program? Most programs are designed around lifting a percentage of your maximum strength.
First, you need to find out what your maximum strength is. A popular method is the one-repetition maximum test (1RM): the most weight you can press once but not twice. You can also do multiple-repetition tests for a reliable estimate of maximum strength. A 5-repetition test seems to be accurate, but more than 10 reps is unreliable.
This instructional video demonstrates the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) protocol for a 1RM test. ACSM’s protocol can also be applied to a multiple-repetition test. For example, determine the most weight you can lift 5 times, but not 6 times, for a 5-rep max test. If you have doubts about whether this is the right test for you, be sure to consult a healthcare professional.
The second step is to determine what amount of weight—as a percentage of your 1RM—you should use to improve your muscular strength and endurance. Typically, your muscular strength should improve if you use 60–80% of your 1RM. You should be able to improve your muscular endurance using about 50% of your 1RM. Once you’ve assessed your maximum strength, use this conversion chart from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) to determine your 1RM percentages.
If you’re trying to increase your muscle mass, whether you’re just starting a program or recovering from an injury, lifting lighter weights (with more repetitions) can be a useful way to minimize the risks associated with heavy weightlifting while still building muscle.
Lifting heavy weights can be risky, especially if you’re using improper form, don’t have a spotter, or try to lift weights during recovery from an injury. However, research suggests that lifting about 30% of your 1RM (one-rep-max) to fatigue has effects on muscle growth similar to lifting 70–80% of your 1RM. When your muscles are tired, they still use the same amount of energy, despite the weight, causing them to replenish protein loss in similar ways, resulting in muscle growth. It isn’t that lifting heavy weights is necessarily bad, but lifting lighter weights may be good for maintaining muscle mass and growth in certain cases, such as when your risk of injury may be greater than usual.
You’ve probably seen the pictures on social media and in the news: a very pregnant woman, with a heavy barbell on her shoulders, mid squat, in an Olympic powerlifting move. But is it safe for mother and baby? If this is a situation you might find yourself in, and/or you’ve talked to your doctor about a pregnancy exercise regimen, there are some things you should know about weight lifting and exercise. Read HPRC’s “Lifting weights during pregnancy” for more information.
Have you ever wondered why people who do the same resistance training workouts day after day aren’t getting the results they want? The goal of resistance training is to create an “adaptation response”—that is, to get your body to change in response to the demands. Once your body has adapted to a specific training program, you need to change the demands you place on it. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself eventually reaching a plateau where you don’t make any more gains—or sometimes even lose progress. One way to avoid this common training mistake is to implement “periodization”—the systematic shaking up of your routine (intensity and numbers of sets and reps). This method can optimize your training gains and minimize the risks of overtraining and injury. Implementing these training routines requires a strength training expert, so make sure you seek assistance. For example, the Army has implemented a new program for Master Fitness Trainers. And for more information on strength training, check out the HPRC’s Performance Strategies for Muscular Strength.
Strength training is an important aspect of military fitness and resilience. Building muscle through strength and endurance training can increase bone density, improve balance and stability, and reduce your risk for injury. There are several training options for getting strong: free weights, machine weights, body-weight exercises, and/or circuit training are all effective strategies for building muscle. For more details, read HPRC’s Performance Strategies for Muscular Strength. If you have never done a resistance-training program, learn the proper form first by working out with a professional instructor, which will keep you injury-free and help you choose a program you can stick with. Training for the PFT/PRT? Read more about building muscular strength and endurance for optimal test results.