This question of “when should you increase your weights” comes up more than you might think. And to be honest the answer is quite simple:
You should increase your weights when the exercise becomes too easy.
But that advice is about as useful as telling our sustainable weight loss members to simply “eat less and move more.”
So today we’ll take a deeper dive into why it’s important to increase the weight you’re lifting and how to do it safely, and effectively.
Here’s what we’ll cover today:
- Why Is It Important To Focus On Getting Stronger?
- How Do You Actually Get Stronger & Build Muscle? (and the mistake most people make)
- When Is It Time To Increase Your Weights?
- The 4 Tools You Can Use To Build Muscle & Get Stronger
- Ready To Get Strong & Lean? Here’s Your Next Steps…
Ready? Alright then, let’s dive in…
Why Is It Important To Increase Your Weights & Focus On Getting Stronger?
Before we get into when and how to increase your weights, let’s discuss why you would even want to. And that reason is to build muscle and get stronger.
There are many, many reasons we should all focus on getting stronger and building muscle. And I covered 27 of them in detail in our Simple Guide To Strength Training For Beginners.
But let’s do a quick overview here…
Weight Loss Benefits Of Getting Stronger & Building Muscle
Having more muscle makes it much easier to keep the weight off once you lose it. One reason for this is that muscle is much more metabolically active than fat. This means that muscle is actually burning calories just sitting on your body!1
Not to mention muscle is much more dense than fat. So 1 lb of lean muscle takes up less space on your body than 1 lb of fat. This is why even if your weight stays the same, you might notice a dramatic difference in how your body looks simply by adding muscle and dropping fat.
Some other benefits of building muscle and getting stronger include:
- Improved insulin sensitivity & blood sugar control2
- Stronger bones & joints3
- Reduced risk of arthritis and osteoporosis4
- Decreased risk factors for heart disease, obesity, & Type 2 Diabetes5
- Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s & dementia6
- Improved brain function, memory, & learning7
For all of these reasons, strength training is the foundation of every program at BluePhoenix Fitness. Including our Personal Fitness & Wellness Coaching experience.
How Does Increasing Your Weights Help You Get Stronger? (and the mistake most people make)
To get stronger and build muscle the most important principle we need to remember is progressive overload.
Progressive overload is simply increasing the demand we’re placing on the muscles, slowly and consistently over time.
When we lift weights we’re actually creating microscopic tears in the muscle fibres. Then when we let our body recover, it rebuilds and repairs those muscle fibres. But our bodies are smart, so they rebuild the muscles a little bit stronger so they can withstand that previous demand next time.
So if we continue to increase the demand we’re placing on the muscles, slowly and properly, our body will continue to rebuild our muscles stronger.
But if we continue lifting the same weight, not much is going to happen. We might see a little bit of strength increase for the first few weeks, but that will plateau very quickly.
This is the biggest mistake people make when they start lifting weights – they’re not increasing the weight they’re using!
When Is It Time To Increase Your Weights?
Like I said in the beginning, when an exercise feels easy it’s time to increase your weights.
The key is that you always want to be using a weight that is challenging within the prescribed rep range. This is how we can safely accomplish consistent progressive overload and get stronger.
Let’s take a look at an example of how this might go in an actual workout.
Your Strength Training Workout A
Let’s assume you’re a strength training beginner and this is a sample strength training workout I prescribed for you:
1. Cable Rotations: 2 sets x 8-10 reps x 60s rest
2a. Goblet Squat: 3 sets x 12-15 reps x 90s rest
2b. Single Arm Dumbbell Row: 3 sets x 12-25 reps x 30s rest
2c. Hip Flexor Mobility: 3 sets x 5 reps x 30s rest
3a. Lying Hip Bridge: 2 sets x 12-15 reps x 90s rest
3b. Flat Dumbbell Bench Press: 2 sets x 12-15 reps x 30s rest
3c. Lying Clamshells: 2 sets x 5 reps x 30s rest
Now, let’s focus on the Goblet Squat exercise, prescribed for 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
How To Increase Your Weights
Let’s assume that last week your 3 sets looked like this:
- 20 lbs x 15 reps
- 20 lbs x 13 reps
- 20 lbs x 11 reps
In this case, I would suggest staying with 20 lbs until you can get at least 15 reps with all 3 sets.
But what if your 3 sets last week looked like this?
- 20 lbs x 17 reps
- 20 lbs x 15 reps
- 20 lbs x 15 reps
Well in this case I would suggest increasing your weight to 25 lbs because you were able to hit the high end of the prescribed rep range.
Staying with that example, today your Goblet Squat sets might look like this:
- 25 lbs x 12 reps
- 25 lbs x 11 reps
- 20 lbs x 14 reps
Now the goal becomes to work your way back up to being able to complete at least 15 reps with 25 lbs.
The Goal With Strength Training Is Always To Get Stronger
Like I mentioned earlier, we always want to use a weight that is challenging within the prescribed rep range (in this case, 12-15 reps).
Once we can complete the high end of the rep range – in this case 15 reps – we increase our weights. This will likely force us back down to the low end of the rep range – in this case 12 reps – and then we can work our way back up to 15 again.
Then when we can hit 15 reps easily, guess what? It’s time to grab the heavier weights and do it all over again.
Keep in mind, this is a very simplified example for how and when to increase your weights. There are many different progressive overload strategies we can use as you get more experience. But when you’re just starting to lift weights, this is the easiest way to think about it.
This is how we can safely achieve progressive overload, build muscle, and get stronger.
The 4 Ways To Increase Your Weights, Build Muscle, & Get Stronger
In the above example we were using dumbbells to increase the demand on our muscles, but that’s not the only tool in our progressive overload toolbelt.
The first tool you can use to increase the demand on your muscles for progressive overload is changing the exercise variation.
This, combined with volume (see below), is how you can get stronger and build muscle with bodyweight exercises.
By slowly progressing into more challenging variations of an exercise, you can increase the demand on your muscles.
For example, a squat movement might have an exercise progression something like this:
- Assisted Box Squat
- Box Squat
- Assisted Bodyweight Squat
- Bodyweight Squat
- Bodyweight 1.5 Squat
If you’re just starting out, an assisted box squat might be very challenging for you within a certain rep range. But with consistency and proper training, that will eventually become easier. That’s when you would move into a box squat, which is a little bit more challenging.
Over months or years you would slowly move into more challenging squat variations, which would increase the demand, and you would get stronger.
Another example would be a simple push up progression:
- Wall Push Ups
- Push Ups w/ hands on countertop
- Push Ups w/ hands on couch
- Push Ups
- Decline Push Ups
The same rules would apply here. Start with whichever push up variation is the most challenging, and when it becomes easy, move up the ladder.
*Note: Technically this would fall under the “load” category (see below) because by changing the exercise variation we’re leveraging more of your bodyweight. But I like to separate it out anyways.
Tempo is how fast or slow you’re doing each individual rep. And each rep can further be broken down into sections:
- Eccentric, or lowering, phase
- Stretch position
- Concentric, or lifting, phase
- Transition, or squeeze, position
By adjusting the speed of each section we can increase the demand on our muscles.
Think of it this way, what’s easier:
- To blow through a set of 10 bodyweight squats so you can get it over with
- Or to do those same 10 reps of bodyweight squats super slowly, focusing on squeezing the muscles
If you’ve ever done 10 slow reps of squats you know the correct answer.
This is a tool that a lot of people either don’t understand, or use improperly. Basically, volume is the total amount of load you’re placing on a muscle. Too little volume and nothing happens. But too much volume can lead to overtraining or injury.
We can calculate this with a simple equation:
Volume = Weight x Total Reps (of an exercise)
For example, let’s go back to our goblet squats from the previous section. Last week your sets looked like this:
- 20 lbs x 15 reps
- 20 lbs x 13 reps
- 20 lbs x 11 reps
This means that last week your total volume was 780 lbs on goblet squats.
- 20 x 15 = 300
- 20 x 13 = 260
- 20 x 11 = 220
- Total volume = 300 + 260 + 220 = 780 lbs
So that means we need to do a little bit more than 780 lbs of total volume this week to continue getting stronger.
That could be as simple as pushing out 2 more reps on sets 2 and 3. Or it could mean adding a 4th set. It could also mean increasing the weight on your first set, as we did in the example in the previous section.
Just remember, there’s a fine line between “not enough” and “too much” volume. This is where working with a professional comes in very handy.
And finally we have the most common way to increase demand on the muscles and get stronger – increasing load.
Load is basically the weight or resistance you’re using for an exercise. This could be a number of things:
- Barbell with weight plate
- Resistance bands
- Medicine balls
- Steel mace or clubs
- Grocery bags or backpack loaded up
- A small child (kidding, kind of…)
Like I described above, to get stronger by increasing load you would slowly increase the weight you’re using over time. When you’re able to complete the top end of the prescribed rep range, it’s time to grab something a little bit heavier.
Head back up to the section on “When Is It Time To Increase Your Weights?” for more detail on this.
Ready To Get Strong & Lean? Here’s Your Next Steps…
This guide showing you when to increase your weights has no doubt given you a lot of tools to get you started.
So now you have 3 options:
OPTION 1: Do nothing
I don’t recommend it, but yes, you could absolutely take everything you just learned and do nothing. Simply go back to living your life like the last few minutes never even happened.
OPTION 2: Do it yourself
A slightly better option is to take this information and do it yourself.
You have everything you need in this guide and all of the other articles we’ve written to get started with strength training and make phenomenal progress.
OPTION 3: Let us help you
And the best option is to let us help you.
Like I mentioned throughout this guide, the absolute best investment you can make when you’re starting to lift weights is coaching. Ensuring you’re using proper form, and performing the exercises safely is critical to your success.
Helping people get started with strength training is what we do every single day with our BluePhoenix Fitness Coaching members.
So if you’d like us to help you too, simply take 5 minutes to fill out a short application, and then schedule a complimentary, no-pressure Goal-Setting Discovery Call.
During your call we’ll talk about:
- Where your health and fitness is at right now.
- Where you’d like it to be; any goals you may have.
- Any challenges or obstacles standing in your way
- And finally we’ll make a plan to get you through those challenges, to achieving your goals
Then if you’d like to continue, we can talk about how to get started with one of our coaching programs that’s the best fit for you.
And remember, there’s no pressure and no obligation.
If one of our coaching programs makes sense to you and you’re a good fit for us, great! But if not, that’s O.K. too. At least you’ll have clarity around how to become stronger and healthier.
So there’s really no risk to scheduling a call. But do it now before this gets lost in the shuffle of life.
Rise up & live awesome,