Fitness Articles

4 Signs You Need to Lift More Weight

When and How to Increase Your Resistance

When I was a Wellness Director for a YMCA I overheard a member ask my fellow director to help him adjust his workout regimen. He just “wasn’t getting anywhere” despite being very committed and diligent to his workouts. This was a very normal request from a member so my friend thought nothing about it and scheduled an appointment.

When they finally met, the member brought along with him a thick stack of stapled workout charts, which he had used for the past three years. (As I said, he was diligent, but also highly organized!) The director was shocked, not because of the years of detail, but because this member had never increased the weight or number of repetitions he lifted since his first introduction to the fitness center equipment. For over three years, he had done the same exercises, lifted the same weight, and performed the same number of repetitions day after day.

The fact that he wasn’t seeing results wasn’t entirely his fault, although the reasons were obvious to the director. The member simply did as he was instructed on day one, and no one had taught him the importance of progression in his strength training program. Are you stuck in a strength training rut too? Find out!

4 Signs You Need to Increase Your Resistance
Strength training is about building and maintaining a certain level of strength. You might not be lifting enough weight during one or many of your exercises if:
  1. The current weight you are lifting isn’t a challenge. Strength training is meant to be challenging, because the whole point is to “overload” your muscles so they get stronger. If the weight you are lifting isn’t as challenging as it used to be (or isn’t challenging at all!), then it is time to increase the resistance.
  2. You could go forever. Each strength training exercise you do should cause you to feel muscle “fatigue” within 15 repetitions (or fewer). Muscle fatigue feels like you couldn’t possibly do another repetition in good form. If you can do more than 15 reps in good form, or if you literally feel like you could go on forever because the resistance you’re using is so easy, then it’s time to take it up a notch.
  3. You have never increased the weight you lift. When you first started strength training, then the weight you lifted was a starting weight. Continuing to progress in strength training is essential to getting the most out of your workouts—that means lifting more weight as you get stronger over time.
  4. The progress has come to a stop. Without making your muscles work harder than they’re accustomed to, they won’t get stronger. As you train, your muscles will grow stronger in order to meet the demands you are placing on them. So if you keep offering them the same workload, they will keep working the same amount, and progression comes to a grinding halt.
Recognize if you are experiencing any of the four signs above, taking time to pay attention to the level of difficulty and challenge of each of your exercises during your workouts. If you experience any of these signs (or if it sounds like I have been watching you workout based on what you read), then it is time to increase the resistance! Use the three-step process below to do it safely and effectively.

How to Increase Your Resistance

Step 1: Increase the resistance by no more than 10 percent. For example, if you’re currently lifting 50 pounds, you’d increase that by five pounds (10 percent of 50 pounds = 5 pounds) to lift 55 pounds. This should automatically feel more challenging to you, but even if it’s not noticeably more difficult, 10 percent is a pretty safe place to start. Increasing the weight more than 10 percent at a time increases the likelihood of injury, so progress slowly. Tip: When using free weights and machines, an exact 10 percent increase isn’t always possible (sometimes 10 percent results in weird fractions or levels of weight that don’t exist at the gym). In those cases, round down to the closest weight available instead of rounding up to the closest weight.

Step 2: With your newly adjusted weight, aim for 1-3 sets of 8-15 repetitions. With your 10 percent increase, you’ll be working harder than usual.

Step 3: Once you can complete 2-3 sets of 15 reps in good form, whether it takes you just a few workouts or even a few months, it’s time to go back to Step 1 and increase your weight by 10 percent again.

A Note on Reps and Sets
Remember that the goal in strength training is first and foremost to fatigue the muscles. Completing the exact number of reps is secondary, but all too often people become too focused on reaching a certain number of reps without paying attention to the weight itself or how it feels. Instead of absolutes (i.e. 10 reps), give yourself a range to work with (i.e. 8-15 reps). This way you can choose a weight that allows you to do “at least” a minimum number of reps (a sign that the weight isn’t too challenging) and “no more” than a maximum number of reps (a sign that the weight isn’t too easy). As long as you reach fatigue (but keep good form) within that range of repetitions, you’re doing great.

Lastly, accept the fact that you will have good days and bad days. Sometimes you will feel like the Incredible Hulk, where the weight you lift is light as a feather, and other days you will feel like Pee Wee Herman, when what was easy two days ago feels like a ton today! Take it as it comes and adjust accordingly. Commit yourself to work hard when it is time to workout and you won’t regret that time well spent.

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Member Comments

  • Lift the weight you can lift in good form for the designated number of rep. If your form is bad at the end, you're lifting too heavy. If you could go another set, you're lifting too light.
  • Just what I needed to hear right now. Upping my weights today.
  • We learn the most not by doing everything perfectly, but making mistakes and figuring out what to do next.
  • Great article! It is soooo important to challenge your body and your mind as you move forward in life.
  • just kidding i found where it says go to the next page. lol sorry
  • Am i missing something- where are the 4 signs?
  • EAYW47
    I increased reps and experienced a bit of soreness. I'm taking

    a break but fear I will have to go back to the beginning. Felling a bit discouraged
  • I have been using machines at the YMCA and have not known when to increase weight. Thanks very helpful.
  • SHAHAI16
    I actually already follow these. I used to do the machines, and still do sometimes, but mostly use the free weights now and workout with my boyfriend. My problem is I really need to write down the weights I'm using for each exercise because it varies so much, each time I go I have to think "how much did I do last time?" I think I know my own body pretty well for what I can handle, and when (have to use lower weights that time of the month, but the week before I feel super strong). I've been focusing on compound exercises so it takes less time at the gym. Although I'm not quite sure how to enter bodyweight exercise info into my tracker if I can't put "0" weight.
  • After reading this article I think I will increase my weights. The ones I am using are not usually taxing. Thanks SparkPeople for posting this article.
  • Maybe through SparkPeople I'll do a weight training set long enough to need to increase the amount of weights I use. I tend to do weight training a couple of weeks and it falls by the way side.
    Awesome article!!! Looking forward to do this!!! I own weights stuff at home...thanks for excellent advice!!! :)
  • Yes, great suggestions! More weight to fatigue muscles and fewer reps. The range is between 8-15 reps. It is up to how your body feels. If it hurts don't do it.
    So AGE has got to have something to do with increasing weights. I am 70 years old.
    I ride my bike (causal) 2x's a week, power swim (2x's a week) and 'work out' (2x's a week) and on the 7th day I rest. I must CUT BACK on the number of reps if I go from say 10lb weights to 12lb just gets too difficult and I stop at pain. Suggestions?
    You know your weights are too light when you can do more than 10 reps in a set.

About The Author

Jason Anderson Jason Anderson
Jason loves to see people realize the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle. He is a certified personal trainer and enjoys running races--from 5Ks to 50K ultramarathons. See all of Jason's articles.

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