USE LIGHT WEIGHTS WHEN STARTING A WEIGHT TRAINING REGIMEN, AND MASTER THE FORM AND TECHNIQUE OF EACH EXERCISE. THEN INCREASE THE AMOUNT OF THE LOAD TO AN AMOUNT THAT YOU CAN DO FOR ONLY 6 TO 10 REPETITIONS. WHEN 10 GETS EASY IT'S TIME TO UP THE WEIGHT.
The lowdown on loads is simple. Never lift more than you can handle. But how do you know what you can handle? That's simple too. You start easy and work your way up.
What are the rules of thumb? That's a bit more complicated. They vary depending on your fitness level and where you are in your individual weight lifting program.
Take it easy. Really. That's the right way to start. A lot of beginners will try to lift as much weight as they can, and they frequently use different muscles than the exercise is designed for.
Let's say that you're training your biceps by doing barbell curls, and you begin with a heavy weight. A lot of guys do this. And they develop this rocking motion that helps them swing the bar up toward their chest. Wrong. Barbell curls are not about rocking. Rocking brings in large muscles in the back and legs, which you really aren't trying to train with that exercise.
Doing the exercise incorrectly won't even help you inadvertently develop those back and leg muscles. You're not training them intensely because the weight you have is relatively light for those large muscles.
To avoid this common mistake, use light weights for the first two or three weight training sessions and concentrate on mastering the proper form and technique for the exercises. Once you've done that, select a weight you can lift between 6 and 10 times.
"If you pick a weight and you do 3 repetitions and you're fatigued, then you drop down in weight. If you pick a weight that you can do 12 or 15 times, then you increase the weight."
Once you can do several sets of 10 repetitions, you can add more weight. The new load should be such that you can do about 6 to 10 repetitions again.
If you can do 10 repetitions, you are lifting about 72 percent of your 1-rep maximum; the greatest amount of weight you can lift one time. Six reps amounts to roughly 85 percent of your 1-rep max. It's at these higher percentages that you are especially taxing the high-twitch muscle fibers that grow so fast. And that's the idea. If you do 15 to 20 repetitions of an exercise, you're performing at 50 to 60 percent of your 1-rep max. Now you're hitting more of the slow-twitch muscle fibers that promote endurance but grow less quickly.
It's especially important for novices to use proper technique in their weight training programs. They can become easily discouraged if, because of poor form, they don't see results in a few weeks. If you work out in a gym, ask the trainer to keep an eye on you and let you know when your form is wrong. If you're working out at home, just keep at it. And read the instructions for each exercise again every few days so that you'll keep proper form in mind.
If you can get to the 6-week mark, you probably won't have to convince yourself to keep going with your program. Once you see results, it's easier to get yourself motivated to go to the gym.
Odds are that you aren't following a weight-training program to get bowling ball biceps and bulging veins that look like ropes. But you probably do want to reach a level where you look and feel better. Once you do, should you then keep lifting the same load in each exercise to maintain the status quo? No.
"You should try to change your workout anyway," says Mediate. This is crucial because if you don't adjust the amount of weight you're lifting, your muscles eventually stop adapting to the stimulus you place on them.
To avoid this, go a little heavier with the weights for a few weeks, doing fewer repetitions. Or try lighter weights and more reps for a while. Change the order in which you do your exercises. Or perform some new exercises that work the same muscle groups.
How do you know whether you've reached a plateau? If you're lifting the same amount of weight as last month for the same number of repetitions and you just can't seem to add any, that's a plateau. Maybe a month ago you were doing 10 repetitions of 140-pound bench presses, and today you're stuck on that number.
Plateaus happen if you don't alter your workout. After a period of time, the body will adapt. The same stimulus that initially created the strength gains will not be strong enough to continue the changes. As the muscles get stronger, fewer fibers are needed to do the same load. If you don't increase the load, then those fibers that initially had to be called in to lift the barbell will become lazy. They just will not get involved to the same extent.
So all those muscle fibers that teamed up to help you make those tough lifts are now kicking back and snoozing and falling out of shape. You've got to wake them up. The theory is that by creating some shock to the system, the muscles are stimulated to make further gains. How do you do this?
"An appropriate workout is going to have variation to it, so that it's not the same every week. Otherwise, you're going to plateau and get stale and it will be status quo for you."
It's helpful to have a menu of exercises broken down into body parts, muscle groups, and objectives in the front of your workout log. Then you've got something to refer to and work from. In other words, think it through and chart out some viable variations.
If you are working out at home, you can hang a blackboard (or whiteboard) in your gym and chart some routines and variations on it as a reminder.
To increase the intensity of your workouts, put those siesta-taking muscle fibers back to work, use the same techniques we described earlier for maintaining what muscle you have built. Change the order in which you do exercises, and lift less weight but do more repetitions or sets. Or you can try doing your repetitions more slowly.
Note: Even though you can't do 10 repetitions, increase the weight anyway. Often, you'll find someone who's doing 6 to 8 repetitions with a certain weight. They increase the weight and they can still do 7 or 8 repetitions. It's just kind of a psychological plateau. We probably only use a fraction of our potential strength.