How Much Weight Should I Lift? (Pick Your Starting Weight)

“Do you even lift?”

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

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

Step #2: How to start lifting with barbell training

Step #3: Adding weight to a barbell

Step #4: When should you add even more weight?

Step #5: How to determine your 1 rep max?

Step #6: How much should YOU be lifting?

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 enough to keep MOST people from starting, which is actually why we created our Coaching Program

Your NF Coach will do an initial assessment to calculate exactly how much weight you should start lifting

They’ll then design a program that they’ll adjust regularly based on your progress and schedule

Plus, with our app, your coach can do regular video form checks to make sure you safely make consistent 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

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

Before trying to figure 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?

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

“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 different doing a barbell back squat?”

Easy – grab either a broomstick (be careful for splinters! ), mop handle, or PVC pipe (I use a 125” 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 exact same as holding actual weight, it will allow you to practice getting into the correct positions

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

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 Coach for our Online Coaching Program:

Learn more about our Online Coaching Program:

Learn more about our Online Coaching Program:

If you want a beginner strength training workout to follow:

Go from zero to barbell with our 6 Beginner Gym Workouts

Pick one of our Beginner Strength Workouts

Build your own workout!

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

How to do a proper barbell squat

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

Once you feel good about your form, you can see if you can “pass the bar”

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

Grab Your Beginner Bodyweight Routine Worksheet

Complete this workout at home, no equipment required

Avoid the common mistakes everybody makes when doing bodyweight exercises

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

Once you’re comfortable 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 means the bar without any added weight

A standard barbell weighs 45 lbs (204 kg)

Now, don’t be discouraged if this seems really heavy – especially on upper body movements

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

If the bar seems too heavy to start:

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

Start out with dumbbells – while the movement is not the exact same, it allows you to build up the strength:

This will help you handle a barbell down the road

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 complete 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 (ie, one side that is weaker than the other)

It can often come down to motor units, or the nuerons that help muscle fibers [2]

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 force are recruited

As you continue working out and become more trained, your motor units fire more rapidly and your brain recruits larger motor units that can generate more force allowing you to lift heavier weights

That means focus on getting each rep correct, and worry about adding weight next time

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

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

If you’re not comfortable with the movement and you start adding weight, not only will you be more likely to injure yourself because your body isn’t ready, but you’ll be more likely to hurt yourself because you won’t be confident under the bar

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

Research has shown that in order to improve one’s self-esteem, or one’s confidence to exercise and lift heavier weights, you must first incorporate and master simple exercises [3]

This is why we also recommend starting with the barbell or light dumbbells

Because as you master these simple exercises, that will result in your self-esteem being improved and then you will have more confidence 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 feel for things

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

We check the form of EVERY online coaching client on their workouts so they have the confidence that they’re doing these moves correctly!

Get your form checked by an expert, and never worry if you’re doing the movement right:

We’ve also created a specific sequence of workout routines you can follow along with for free in our guide Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know

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

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 common rep ranges for beginner programs are:[4]

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

1) After a proper warm-up routine, start with the empty bar again, and complete 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, always start with just the bar to warm up for EACH exercise

If you watch the best 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 body 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 especially important to ingrain proper technique

2) Add a small amount of weight to the bar

Depending on how heavy the bar felt, start by adding:

2 – 5 pounds for upper body exercises

5 – 10 pounds for lower body exercises

Do another set of 8-12 reps at this weight

(Note: If you’re doing dumbbell training, instead of adding weight to the bar, increase the weight of the dumbbell

Start with 5 lb

3) If you were able to complete those reps both without losing form and without the speed of the bar slowing, add more weight to the bar

Base the amount of new weight off how it felt – if the last set felt really light, add 5’s, if it felt heavy, add 25’s’s

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

4) Continue to do this until your form starts to break down or the speed of the lift gets slower on any of your reps[8]

The weight you used right before your form started to break down is your starting weight on which you will base all future workouts!

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 body allows

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

If you don’t want to figure 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 best investment I make each month!

Let us build a custom program for you to follow in our Online Coaching App!

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

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

As Coach Jim explains above, progressive overload means gradually increasing the stress put on your body during training [10]

In other words, we need to increase something, regularly

Usually, this means the amount of weight we lift

And for beginners, that can often happen after every workout

During every workout, our muscles are torn and broken down

Then after every workout – for the next 24-48+ hours, our body repairs itself

If you’re getting proper sleep[11]  and nutrition,[12] it heals back stronger than it was before

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

Your body is actually just getting more efficient at lifting 5×5 at 100 lbs, burning 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

Be sure to document each workout with:

How many sets and reps

How many sets and reps

How many sets and reps

How many sets and reps

How your lifts went

How you felt during the workout

Did your form break down on any of the reps?

PATH A: You failed to complete any of your reps or your form started to break down Do the same weight again 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 more solid and with better form than before, you’re still doing better than you were the last workout

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

More control and better form

All of which means you are getting stronger

PATH B: You were able to get through all of your sets with great form, and without the bar slowing down

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 adding 25 or 5! [13]

The BEST THING YOU CAN DO: slowly add the smallest amount of weight possible, and progress consistently

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

Note: For some lifts, especially the overhead press or bench press, adding just 5 lbs may be too much to go up per workout

I personally have a set of 125lb 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 feel like you have to take a step backward

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

A baby crying all night – causing sleep deprivation and resulting in systemic inflammation and decreased GH release = poor recovery

Just not eating enough for your goals – not consuming enough carbohydrates and fats to support energy demands or not consuming enough protein to facilitate muscle protein synthesis and recovery [14]

It’s important to listen to your body 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 means having a specific plan to follow

Don’t have a workout to follow?

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 changed my life

Let us help you hit your goals too

Let us create an exact program for you to follow!

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

It’s really fun to find the maximum amount 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 better that you start with getting the movement right and adding weight slowly before trying to find a one-rep max

I would suggest you follow a program for at least six weeks before even 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 more efficient

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

But only slightly less well-known is this: “Never attempt 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 close to your 1 rep max your form will start to break down, and you are more likely to hurt yourself

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

One-repetition maximum testing has been found to overload the neuromuscular system resulting in lower motor unit activation, less force production, and ultimately more fatigue

This level of fatigue experienced by the lifter can be enough to result in injury, especially if the lifter is a novice (ie, beginner)

When your form starts to break down, you need to have the experience behind you to finish (or bail out of) the lift safely

However, the lifters are experienced enough to handle this, and know how to bail if something goes wrong

If you want to work with a coach 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 coach in your corner is an absolute game-changer

Work with our Online Coaching Program and start getting results!

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

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

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

You should be lifting the amount that’s right for you today

In your next workout, you should be trying to lift more (even if you can’t do more weight, try doing one more rep, or with less rest between sets) than you did last time

As a part of this journey, I want you to completely forget about strength standards and forget about everyone around you

I don’t care 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

Never EVER adjust 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?”:

The strongest lifters warm up with “just” the bar

The strongest lifters focus on getting their reps in, and aren’t ashamed that they’re lifting less than the guy next to them

The strongest lifters take time to get things right, even if that means lifting less weight than they know they “can” do

The strongest lifters started off doing a beginners program just like you

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

It’s amazing how much even adding just 5 lbs (2kg) a week adds up to!

It’s far better to play it safe in the beginning than to find yourself injured and frustrated before you have a chance to progress

Our strength coaching program changes lives

Hopefully, this article EXCITED you about 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 check out:

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

You’ll work with a certified NF instructor who will get to know you better than you know yourself, check your form, and create a workout strategy that will evolve alongside you

2) If you want a daily prompt for doing workouts at the gym (or at home), check out NF Journey

Our fun habit-building app helps you exercise more frequently, eat healthier, and level up your life (literally)

Try your free trial right here:

Join hundreds of thousands of people like you

Download our comprehensive guide STRENGTH TRAINING 101!

Download our comprehensive guide STRENGTH TRAINING 101!

Everything you need to know about getting strong

Everything you need to know about getting strong

Workout routines for bodyweight AND weight training

Workout routines for bodyweight AND weight training

How to find the right gym and train properly in one

How to find the right gym and train properly in one

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

What are your other big questions about lifting weight and how much you should be lifting?

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

Strength Training 101: How to get Strong

Strength Training 101: Where do I start?

Strength Training 101: Finding the Right Gym

How to Train in a Gym: 6 Beginner Gym Workouts

Strength Training 101: Equipment

Strength Training 101: Building Muscle & Muscle Training

Strength Training 101: How to Squat Properly

Strength Training 101: The Overhead Press

Strength Training 101: The Deadlift

Strength Training 101: Inverted Rows

photo source: Strongman, Four Bricks Tall: Scenes from an empty lot in Brooklyn, vol 1, hxdbzxy © 123RFcom, Lego Lifting

Incorporating body-weight exercises has been found to improve postural control and limb stability

Read, “Effects of a 12-week resistance exercise program on physical self-perceptions in college students” Source, PubMed The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends for novice (ie, untrained individuals with no strength training experience or those who have not trained for several years) lifters, lifting loads that will allow for the completion of 8-12 repetitions

The ACSM also recommends a training frequency of 2-3 days per week for novice lifters

According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), for less trained people (ie, beginners), it is recommended that for upper body exercises you increase the load by 2 – 5 pounds and by 5 – 10 pounds for lower body exercises

You may be asking yourself why is the speed of the lift important?

Barbell speed is important because it allows one to train for power, which is important not only for athletic success, but also to decrease our risk for frailty and sarcopenia

How does one train for power?

The NSCA recommends the following: 75-85% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM); 3-5 sets; 3-5 reps; and 2-5 minutes of rest in-between each set and exercise

If you go too heavy too soon then you are increasing your risk of sustaining an injury and experiencing the worst delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) 24-72 hours post-exercise

Sustaining an injury and/or experiencing the worst DOMS may likely be enough to cause you to call it quits and not commit to your exercise goals

Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning

Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning

Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning

Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning

Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; American College of Sports Medicine

Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; American College of Sports Medicine

Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; American College of Sports Medicine

ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription

ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription

ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription

Sleep deprivation has been found to have a negative impact on immune health resulting in systemic inflammation

A decrease in systemic inflammation is needed for the restoration of energy and recovery

The recommendations do change depending on your training, but that is for another time and place

As mentioned earlier in this article, according to the NSCA, for less trained people (ie, beginners), it is recommended that for upper body exercises you increase the load by 2 – 5 pounds and by 5 – 10 pounds for lower body exercises

For more trained people (ie, advanced), it is recommended that for upper body exercises you increase the load by 5 – 10 pounds or more and by 10 – 15 pounds or more for lower body exercises

For more trained people (ie, advanced), it is recommended that for upper body exercises you increase the load by 5 – 10 pounds or more and by 10 – 15 pounds or more for lower body exercises

A lot of people fail to realize that genetics does play a huge role in how we respond to exercise

One of many genetic-related variables that determines how we respond to and succeed in exercise is our muscle fiber type

Although, with the correct exercise, you can increase all of them

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