Whether you’ve just started lifting weights a month ago or you’ve been going hard in the gym for years, you’ve probably heard that in general, you should follow a specific set and rep scheme to help you achieve your goals. For example, if you’re focusing on maximal strength, you should do four to six sets of one to five reps with a heavy weight. If you want to build more muscle, the general consensus is that you should lift a moderate amount of weight, performing three to five sets of six to 12 reps. These guidelines are extremely helpful, but if you aren’t lifting with intensity, they don’t matter much.
“We have these rep and set schemes . . . but the most important thing to remember is that that may be the amount of repetitions, but it’s not actually going to achieve the goal unless you are fatigued within that rep range,” Heather Milton, MS, RCEP, CSCS, an exercise physiologist clinical specialist at NYU Langone’s Sports Performance Center, told POPSUGAR.
For example, if your goal is to build more lean muscle mass and you only lift 10 pounds for all the exercises in your workout, “If that was a light intensity for you, then it’s not actually going to achieve the end result that you’re looking for,” she explained. No matter your body composition or fitness goals, you’ve got to choose weights that are going to challenge you while maintaining proper form. At some point, squatting 125 pounds will become easy and you’ll need to continue to increase your weight and progress the difficulty of the exercise, to prevent hitting a plateau.
If you’re wondering how heavy you should be lifting, it’s first going to depend on your goal (strength endurance, maximal muscle growth, or maximal strength). If you want strength endurance (to develop strength and muscle endurance), you should be lifting 50 to 70 percent of your one-rep max (the heaviest weight you can lift for a given exercise with proper form). If you want to build muscle, you should lift 75 to 85 percent of your one-rep max. And, if your goal is maximal strength, you should be lifting between 85 and 100 percent of your one-rep max. Here’s a more detailed guide on how to choose the right weight.
If you’re still unsure, we recommend working with a certified personal trainer. If you’re ready to bring the intensity to all your strength workouts, give this four-week workout plan a shot.