Strength Training 101: How much weight should I be lifting?

Strength Training 101: How much weight should I be lifting?

Do you think he supplements with creatine?

“Do you plane lift?”

After today’s guide, not only will you be worldly-wise to say “YUP,” but you’ll moreover know exactly how MUCH you should be lifting!

We’ll help you get big and strong so you can fight when versus your older brother when he tackles you in the hallway.

Get strong so you don't end up a victim.

As part of our Strength 101 series, we’re going to tell you exactly what you need to know well-nigh lifting weights and strength training:

If you find yourself with a billion other strength training questions as you build your own workout, or you’re overwhelmed at all of this and not sure how to get stronger…you’re in good company!

It can be scary unbearable to alimony MOST people from starting, which is unquestionably why we created our Coaching Program.

Your NF Mentor will do an initial towage to summate exactly how much weight you should start lifting. They’ll then diamond a program that they’ll retread regularly based on your progress and schedule.

Plus, with our app, your mentor can do regular video form checks to make sure you safely make resulting progress.

With that out of the way, let’s jump into the nitty-gritty of “How much weight should I lift?

Step #1: Why You Should Lift Your Own Bodyweight First

This LEGO lifts his own bodyweight no problem.

Stop! (Wait a minute…)

Before trying to icon out how much weight you can lift, let’s make sure you know how to do the movement, as flawlessly as possible, without any weight at all.


Because if you can’t do a movement correctly without weight, how can you expect to do it right WITH weight?

Think well-nigh it – if you can’t walk up a flight of stairs normally, would you expect to be worldly-wise to walk up the flight of stairs delivering a sack of hammers?

No – you would only hurt yourself.[1]

Also, what are you plane doing with a sack of hammers?

STEP ONE: learn each movement without any bars, dumbbells, or widow weight.

Which might make you say:

Staci, how on earth do I do a deadlift or an overhead press without any weight? And I know I can do a bodyweight squat, but isn’t it completely variegated doing a barbell when squat?”

Easy – grab either a broomstick (be shielding for splinters!), mop handle, or PVC pipe (I use a 1.25” PVC cut in half) and pretend it’s a barbell.

If you’re trying to mimic a dumbbell movement, either grab a short dowel, PVC, or just hold your hands in a fist as if you were holding on to something.

While it’s not the word-for-word same as holding very weight, it will indulge you to practice getting into the correct positions.

Practice the movements in your own home without other people virtually you (so you’ll be less nervous).

Also, you can videotape yourself pretty easily. I’ve use my computer’s webcam, or my phone camera and a little tripod, then completed the movement with a broomstick.

Now, I can deadlift 455 pounds and I’m a Senior Mentor for our Online Coaching Program:

Staci showing you how to deadlift 455 pouds.

If you want a beginner strength training workout to follow:

If you are interested in nerding out well-nigh proper form for each barbell movement, start here:

We moreover HIGHLY recommend you pick up Starting Strength, widely considered to be the Bible of barbell training.

Once you finger good well-nigh your form, you can see if you can “pass the bar.”

(Guaranteed to be the nicest lawyer joke you’ll overly read on Nerd Fitness, by the way).

Now, if want a full Bodyweight Workout Program that you can follow withal with at home that will help get you prepped to start strength training?

You can download the worksheet to follow withal here when you sign up in the box below:

Step #2: How to Start Barbell Training with Lifting the Bar

Coach Staci doing a barbell lunge, an wide lunge variation.

Once you’re well-appointed with each movement with a broomstick or PVC, then you can move to the bar.

Your first gym workout shouldn’t go any heavier than “just” the bar, which ways the bar without any widow weight.

How much does a barbell weigh?

  • A standard barbell weighs 45 lbs (20.4 kg).
  • A “women’s barbell” weighs 35 lbs (15.8 kg).

Now, don’t be discouraged if this seems really heavy – expressly on upper soul movements.

When I started out, I could not bench press or overhead press an empty barbell.

Here Staci is pressing just the bar, a could practice for warming up.

If the bar seems too heavy to start:

  1. See if the gym has a lighter barbell – some have a “women’s bar” or a “training bar” that usually weighs 30-35 lbs and 15 lbs, respectively. These are usually shorter, but that’s okay!
  2. Start out with dumbbells – while the movement is not the word-for-word same, it allows you to build up the strength:In the neutral grip press, shown here, you have your hands together during the movement.
    This will help you handle a barbell lanugo the road.
  3. Focus on bodyweight training (push-ups, pull-ups, lunges, squats) until you build the strength to handle the bar.

Now, on opposite ends of the spectrum, if the bar seems really light, I would STILL encourage you to well-constructed your first workout with just the bar.


According to Mike Rebold from Hiram College, when you start lifting the barbell or dumbbells for the first time you will notice muscle deficiencies (i.e., one side that is weaker than the other). It can often come lanugo to motor units, or the nuerons that help muscle fibers.[2]

Rebold explains:

When you first start strength training and lifting the barbell or dumbbells, your motor units don’t fire as quickly and smaller motor units that don’t generate a lot of gravity are recruited. As you protract working out and wilt increasingly trained, your motor units fire increasingly rapidly and your smart-ass recruits larger motor units that can generate increasingly gravity permitting you to lift heavier weights. This is why the progressive overload principle is important.

That ways focus on getting each rep correct, and worry well-nigh subtracting weight next time.

Check your ego at the door!

I would rather see somebody in the gym lifting the bar with proper form than watch somebody with villainous form lift 400 lbs.

That makes me…

Nick Offerman Cringes when people try to lift too much weight with bad form

Note: If you finish your first workout with the bar and still aren’t well-appointed with the movements, it’s never a bad thing to do your next workout with just the bar again.

If you’re not well-appointed with the movement and you start subtracting weight, not only will you be increasingly likely to injure yourself considering your soul isn’t ready, but you’ll be increasingly likely to hurt yourself considering you won’t be confident under the bar.

Confidence is something that is very important as you start lifting heavier and heavier.

Mike Rebold supports this idea:

Self-esteem is conviction in one’s own abilities. Research has shown that in order to modernize one’s self-esteem, or one’s conviction to exercise and lift heavier weights, you must first incorporate and master simple exercises.[3]

This is why we moreover recommend starting with the barbell or light dumbbells. Considering as you master these simple exercises, that will result in your self-esteem stuff improved and then you will have increasingly conviction to try new exercises and to lift heavier weights.

Speaking of, if you’re planning on using dumbbells as your main lift (and not a barbell):

Start with 5-10 lb dumbbells to get a finger for things.

If you don't have a spotter, the dumbbell printing can be a unconfined chest alternative.

Whether you’re starting with dumbbells or ready to move onto a barbell, it’s important to do it properly!

We trammels the form of EVERY online coaching vendee on their workouts so they have the conviction that they’re doing these moves correctly!

We’ve moreover created a specific sequence of workout routines you can follow withal with for self-ruling in our guide Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know.

Grab yours self-ruling when you sign up in the box below:

Step #3: How To Start Subtracting Weight to the Barbell

Man with weighted barbell at gym

If you’re looking to start on a beginner program, such as the workouts in our Beginner Strength Training Workouts or our 6 Beginner Gym Workouts, you need to start light!

A few worldwide rep ranges for beginner programs are:[4]

  • 5 sets of 5 reps
  • 3 sets of 8 reps
  • 3 sets of 10 reps

Let’s do an example: your program has you doing 3 sets of 8 on a particular lift.

1) Without a proper warm-up routine, start with the empty bar again, and well-constructed the prescribed number of reps (for this, it would be 8).

“But I thought you said we could add weight this time?” you might be thinking.

You can – but no matter how heavy you are going, unchangingly start with just the bar to warm up for EACH exercise.

As Staci shows here, alimony your stovepipe vertical (as much as you can).

If you watch the weightier lifters in your gym, you will notice they all warm up with “just the bar” to start, often for multiple sets!

This helps get your soul warm, primes your nervous systems and all of your muscles for that movement, and gets you ready to lift heavier weight.[5]

As a beginner to strength training, this is expressly important to ingrain proper technique.

2) Add a small value of weight to the bar. Depending on how heavy the bar felt, start by adding:

  • 2 – 5 pounds for upper soul exercises.
  • 5 – 10 pounds for lower soul exercises.

When in doubt, add the lower amount.[6] You can unchangingly add more! Do flipside set of 8-12 reps at this weight.

(Note: If you’re doing dumbbell training, instead of subtracting weight to the bar, increase the weight of the dumbbell. Start with 5 lb. dumbbells, then 10 lb. dumbbells, for example)

3) If you were worldly-wise to well-constructed those reps both without losing form and without the speed of the bar slowing, add increasingly weight to the bar.

Base the value of new weight off how it felt – if the last set felt really light, add 5’s, if it felt heavy, add 2.5’s’s.

Here’s a good guideline from NSCA :[7]

If a person can do two or increasingly reps than the goal in an exercise on two subsequent training sessions, then they should increase the load.

4) Protract to do this until your form starts to unravel lanugo or the speed of the lift gets slower on any of your reps.[8]

The weight you used right surpassing your form started to unravel lanugo is your starting weight on which you will wiring all future workouts!

5) If it is a lower number than you expect, that’s unconfined actually!

Don’t try to be a hero your first workout, it is better to start out too light than too heavy.[9]

Remember – we’re trying to get solid, productive sets in, not find our max, so we want all of the reps to be fast and with as perfect form as our soul allows.

Since you’re testing out heavier weights for the first time, never be wrung to have a spotter, or to use pins to ensure your safety!

If you don’t want to icon ANY of this out on your own, and you just want somebody to tell you exactly how much to lift, how many sets, reps, etc., I hear you.

I’ve had a lifting coach for years and it’s the weightier investment I make each month!

Step #4: How Do I Know When to Add Increasingly Weight?

Joni doing squats at Camp Nerd Fitness, a unconfined time for all involved.

Once you’ve found your starting weight, you’ll want to start using something tabbed “progressive overload.”

This sounds a lot fancier than it really is.

As Mentor Jim explains above, progressive overload ways gradually increasing the stress put on your soul during training.[10]

In other words, we need to increase something, regularly. Usually, this ways the value of weight we lift.

And for beginners, that can often happen without every workout.

During every workout, our muscles are torn and wrenched down. Then without every workout – for the next 24-48 hours, our soul repairs itself. If you’re getting proper sleep[11] and nutrition,[12] it heals when stronger than it was before.

the "crushed it" gif from Pitch Perfect

Conversely, if you do 5 sets of 5 squats at 100 lbs every single workout for months, are you getting stronger?

Most likely not.

Your soul is unquestionably just getting increasingly efficient at lifting 5×5 at 100 lbs, urgent fewer calories, and using less energy to make that movement happen.

So, how much weight do you add when you’re ready to increase your workouts?

That depends on how difficult the set was last time.

This is where great note-taking comes in (I’m a huge fan of a simple notebook, or Evernote docs on my phone).

Be sure to document each workout with:

Did you go to failure on your last set?

Did your form unravel lanugo on any of the reps?

You’ll end up in one of two positions:

PATH A: You failed to well-constructed any of your reps or your form started to unravel down. Do the same weight then next workout, and focus on boosting your form and technique of each rep.

Remember, if you are doing the same workout as last time, but each rep is increasingly solid and with largest form than before, you’re still doing largest than you were the last workout.

In other words, you’re still leveling up.

These notation know how much to lift, so they can get strong and defeat their enermies.

You don’t necessarily have to go up in weight every workout to see gains.

You could moreover focus on:

  • Less rest between sets.
  • More tenancy and largest form.
  • More repetitions.

All of which ways you are getting stronger.

PATH B: You were worldly-wise to get through all of your sets with unconfined form, and without the bar slowing down. Congrats! Consider subtracting increasingly next week. It’s not unheard of for beginners to add 10-20lbs a week to some lifts (especially squats and deadlifts), though don’t get discouraged if you’re only subtracting 2.5 or 5![13]

The BEST THING YOU CAN DO: slowly add the smallest value of weight possible, and progress consistently. This is much preferred to progressing quickly and then hitting a plateau.

Each week, as you add a little bit of weight, you are building strength, confidence, and momentum.

Note: For some lifts, expressly the overhead printing or seat press, subtracting just 5 lbs may be too much to go up per workout.

I personally have a set of 1.25lb plates that I bring with me to the gym so that I can still progress regularly.

Remember: You’re going to have shitty days at the gym. There will be days when you can’t add any weight, or you finger like you have to take a step backward.

So many things stupefy how your lifts are going to feel:

  • A victual crying all night – causing sleep pennilessness and resulting in systemic inflammation and decreased GH release = poor recovery
  • Lots of stress at the office.
  • To drinking too much at the big game – causing stomach discomfort and bloating.
  • Just not eating unbearable for your goalsnot consuming unbearable carbohydrates and fats to support energy demands or not consuming unbearable protein to facilitate muscle protein synthesis and recovery.[14]

It’s important to listen to your soul over listening to some number telling you what you should be lifting.

You want to make progress every time you walk into the gym, and that ways having a specific plan to follow.

Don’t have a workout to follow? Tired of not getting results despite all the effort?

This is what we do for a living! Help people like you get out of ruts and finally get them the results they want.

After doing my own workout programming for 5 years, I hired a coach and it reverted my life. Let us help you hit your goals too.

Step #5: How Do I Summate My 1 Rep MAx?

Deadlifts make a unconfined wing when you build your own workout.

It’s really fun to find the maximum value of weight you can do for one repetition (one rep max) every once in a while.

However, as a beginner who is just starting strength training, it’s largest that you start with getting the movement right and subtracting weight slowly surpassing trying to find a one-rep max.

I would suggest you follow a program for at least six weeks surpassing plane attempting “a heavy single”.


Even if your form is as good as you can get it now, you will get far better, learning how to make tweaks and corrections as you go.

When you first start out, you’re still getting everything down, so your one-rep max won’t be a “true” one-rep max.

Plus, when you train, you’re training everything in your body.

Some things, like muscles and bones, get stronger, while others, like your nervous system, get increasingly efficient.

The increasingly you do something, the largest you get at it. And in the whence you’ll get largest very quickly.

It’s unwise to struggle a 1 repetition maximum when you’re learning the movement.

This is one of the archetype blunders! The most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia.”

Vizzini from Princess Bride knows you shouldn't do 1 rep maxes as a beginner

But only slightly less well-known is this: “Never struggle a 1-rep max as a beginner.”

Even if you can do it with proper form with lighter weights, as soon as the weight gets tropical to your 1 rep max your form will start to unravel down, and you are increasingly likely to hurt yourself.

Some words of circumspection here from Mike Rebold, an expert in exercise physiology:

During 1RM testing, fatigue will happen! One-repetition maximum testing has been found to overload the neuromuscular system resulting in lower motor unit activation, less gravity production, and ultimately increasingly fatigue. This level of fatigue experienced by the lifter can be unbearable to result in injury, expressly if the lifter is a novice (i.e., beginner).

When your form starts to unravel down, you need to have the wits overdue you to finish (or ladle out of) the lift safely.

If you watch any weightlifting or powerlifting competition, sometimes the lifts are not the prettiest lifts you’ve overly seen.

However, the lifters are experienced unbearable to handle this, and know how to ladle if something goes wrong.

As a beginner, you are not.

Team NF’s Steve worked with a coach for 4 years to finally get his 420 lb. deadlift:

Rebel Leader Steve showing how to do a 420 lb deadlift at the gym.

If you want to work with a mentor that can help you perfect your form and train to hit 1-rep maxes too, we’re here for ya! We’re slightly biased, but having a mentor in your corner is an wool game-changer.

Step #6: what is a respectable value to be lifting?

Camp was great, for lots of reasons, but mainly considering we benched.

The simple answer? The weight that’s right for you.

You are not competing versus the guy next to you; you’re competing versus the YOU from last week (like racing your ghost in Mario Kart).

Lifting at the gym can be like racing versus yourself in Mario Kart.

As far as what you can strive for, there’s no easy numbering or formula.

While some people have put out strength standards, it’s truly up to your body, your soul type, your preliminaries as an athlete, your genetics, and many other factors.[15]

You should be lifting the value that’s right for you today. In your next workout, you should be trying to lift increasingly (even if you can’t do increasingly weight, try doing one increasingly rep, or with less rest between sets) than you did last time.

That’s it.

As a part of this journey, I want you to completely forget well-nigh strength standards and forget well-nigh everyone virtually you.

I don’t superintendency if the guy (or girl) next to you is squatting 500 lbs for sets of 10.

If you’re squatting 50 lbs, and that’s the weight that is challenging for you, then that’s the weight you should be lifting.

These are the BIG mistakes you need to avoid:

Never EVER try to outlift the person next to you.

Never EVER retread the weight to impress someone.

No one’s judging you based on the weight on the bar, and if they are, they aren’t worth your time or energy.

To recap “How much should I lift?”:

  1. The strongest lifters do a dynamic warm-up first.
  2. The strongest lifters warm up with “just” the bar.
  3. The strongest lifters focus on getting their reps in, and aren’t red-faced that they’re lifting less than the guy next to them.
  4. The strongest lifters take time to get things right, plane if that ways lifting less weight than they know they “can” do.
  5. The strongest lifters started off doing a beginners program just like you.

So remember – start slow, add weight slowly, and stay conservative.

It’s wondrous how much plane subtracting just 5 lbs (2kg) a week adds up to! It’s far largest to play it unscratched in the whence than to find yourself injured and frustrated surpassing you have a endangerment to progress.

Do You Plane Lift?

Hopefully, this vendible EXCITED you well-nigh strength training, and you now know exactly how much to lift.

For people looking for the next step, we’ve got 3 options you want to trammels out:

1) If you want to follow a strength training program that’s specific to your goals, trammels out our popular Online Coaching Program.

You’ll work with a certified NF instructor who will get to know you largest than you know yourself, trammels your form, and create a workout strategy that will evolve slantingly you.

2) If you want a daily prompt for doing workouts at the gym (or at home), trammels out NF Journey. Our fun habit-building app helps you exercise increasingly frequently, eat healthier, and level up your life (literally).

Try your self-ruling trial right here:

3) Join the Rebellion! Join hundreds of thousands of people like you. It’s self-ruling to join, and we have a dozen self-ruling guides for you when you sign up in the yellow box below.

Let’s get these questions answered so you can get when to getting stronger!

What are your other big questions well-nigh lifting weight and how much you should be lifting?


PS: Be sure to trammels out the rest of Strength Training 101 series:


photo source: Strongman, Four Bricks Tall: Scenes from an empty lot in Brooklyn, vol 1., hxdbzxy ©, Lego Lifting.

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