How To Increase The Amount Of Weight You Lift At The Gym
You see it all the time…
People who diligently go to the gym, week after week, but fail to make any visible progress.
Yup, despite all of their hard work, they look pretty much exactly the same as they did years ago.
When you really get down to it, one of the major reasons why this is so common is because many people simply don’t steadily increase the amount of weight they are lifting.
Instead, they go in and lift the same weights for each exercise – over and over and over again…
And what do you think happens when you lift the same amount of weight each week?
Your strength doesn’t increase.
Your muscles don’t develop.
You stay pretty much the same.
However, in my experience at least, many of these people know that they should be increasing their weights; they just don’t know how to go about doing it.
I mean, it’s pretty obvious that if you bench press 135 pounds now, and are able to progress to benching 315, you are going to be a whole lot bigger and stronger.
But like many things, the devil is in the details…
Not to worry, though, because in this article I’m going to go through a simple 3 step approach to reliably increase the amount of weight that you’re lifting.
And then, before you know it, the fruits of all of your gym labor will finally start paying off.
A 3 Step Approach To Increase The Amount Of Weight You Lift
Getting bigger, stronger, and more muscular isn’t rocket science (far from it), but you do need a plan of action if you expect to be successful.
To help with this, I’m going to give you a simple formula that you should follow if you want to make steady gains in the gym.
Here it is…
Step 1: Define your rep range
One of the first things you need to do if you’re looking to really increase the amount of weight you lift is to define your rep ranges.
You see, many people just pick out a weight (somewhat randomly), and then lift it for however many reps they can get – but this isn’t the best way to go about it.
Instead, you want to pick a specific range of reps that you’ll be working in for each exercise.
Common rep ranges include 4-6, 6-8, and 8-10 – but there are no hard and fast rules here.
The most important thing is that you pick a rep range that you’re comfortable with, and you stick to it.
Step 2: Figure out your starting weight
Now once you’ve decided on the rep range for each exercise (they may be different) the next thing to do is to figure out your starting weight.
Depending on how you’ve been lifting before, this may be either lighter or heavier than you’re used to.
For instance, if you’ve generally been doing higher reps, and have decided on the 4-6 rep range, then it’s very likely that you’ll be using more weight.
It may take a bit of trial and error to figure this out the first time for each exercise, but the goal is to find the amount of weight where you are only able to hit the low number of your chosen rep range.
So, if you’re working in the 4-6 rep range for bench press, start with the amount of weight where you can get 4 reps, but not 5.
Step 3: Focus on steadily increasing reps/weight
Finally, the last step is to focus on increasing either the number of reps or the amount of weight you lift for each exercise every time you go to the gym.
This is where the rep range that you defined in step 1 comes in.
Say you start out bench pressing 155 pounds for 4 reps during your first workout.
Then, for the next workout, you are able to do 5 reps of that same weight.
And then the next workout, you are able to get 6 reps of that weight – which is the top of your rep range.
What that means is that the next time you do that workout, you should increase the amount of weight by 10 pounds (or 5 pounds with dumbbells), and aim to hit the bottom the rep range with the new, heavier weight.
So in this case, your goal would be to hit 4 reps with 165 pounds.
Realistically, you won’t always be able to make the jump – especially as you become more of an advanced lifter – but it is generally better to be ambitious and go for it, even if you don’t always make it on your first attempt.
Of course, in order to do this effectively, you need to be logging your workouts, as I cover in detail in this article.
How Fast Should You Expect To Increase The Amount Of Weight You Lift?
This varies considerably depending on whether you’re a beginner, an intermediate, or an advanced weight lifter.
If you’re newer to lifting weights (less than a year), or haven’t trained properly before, then you can typically increase very quickly, and often expect to jump 5-10 pounds each week, especially for the major compound exercises (bench press, deadlift, squat, etc).
If you’re an intermediate lifter (1-3 years experience training properly), then you probably won’t increase your weights each week, but you should still reliably be able to make progress with your reps, allowing for weight increases every 2-3 weeks.
If you’re a more advanced lifter (more than 3 years training properly), then things will be slower. You may not even increase reps each week, and aiming for 5-10 pounds per month on each major exercise becomes a lot more realistic.
…But at that point you won’t care as much, since you’ll already be very strong and lifting a lot of weight anyway!
Now, of course, all of this assumes that you’re being consistent with your workouts and not missing too many days.
And that you’re actually pushing yourself hard each time you work out, and not just going through the motions.
When You Should Not Try To Increase Your Weights
Increasing the amount of weight you lift in the gym is essential if you’re a natural weight lifter looking to build strength and muscle effectively.
That said, there are times where it isn’t a good idea to push that additional weight…
First of all, you should not try to increase the amount of weight you’re lifting if it means compromising form.
Having proper form is important for many reasons – such as injury prevention and simply getting the most out of each exercise – and when you’re really fixated on making those weight jumps sometimes it can be easy to throw form to the wayside.
Basically, unless you are getting all of the reps in your set without cheating – including that last rep at the top of your rep range – then it isn’t time to move up yet.
This means if you’re compromising range of motion on your squat, lifting your ass off the bench on your bench presses, or jerking around wildly on your bicep curls, then you should hold off until you aren’t doing any of these things!
Next up, you shouldn’t attempt to increase your weights if something just doesn’t feel right.
This means not pushing your deadlift if your lower back isn’t feeling good, or your military press if your rotator cuff is feeling shaky.
Again, this often comes back to having good form, so take a step back and really evaluate whether you’re doing the exercise properly before pushing yourself towards a potential injury.
A Final Caveat
Before we wrap up here, there are a couple other points worth mentioning…
Generally speaking, you should always be mentally pushing to safely and steadily increase the amount of weight that you’re lifting, but in reality there are a few other factors that come into play.
The biggest of these is your diet.
Simply put, if you’re not eating enough calories, enough protein, or even enough carbohydrates, you’re going to find it much more difficult to progress with the amount that you’re lifting.
This is why it is much harder to increase your weights while cutting, compared to bulking, since unless you’re newer to weight lifting it is very difficult to build strength/muscle while losing weight at the same time.
In addition, other factors like sleep and stress can make a big difference to the speed of your gains, so bear that in mind if you’re not seeing the progress that you want.
Now all of that said, if you follow the basic 3 step method outlined above, you are considerably more likely to make steady, consistent progress in the gym, increasing the amount of weight that you lift, and building more muscle as a result.