How do I know if I’m choosing the right amount of weight in my workouts?

By Jesse Kepka
NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist


In weight training routines, progressive overload is an ideal way to increase your strength. You want to gradually increase your weight, frequency or repetitions of a movement in each workout. In forcing our bodies into this good stress, we’re allowing for adaptations to occur, usually in 4-5 week increments depending on your body and number of workouts per week. 

Choosing the amount of weight you need depends on your specific fitness goals. Weight loss, the addition of lean mass or athletic performance will all have varying answers. Today, we’ll stick with a goal of all-around fitness which fits into the 3 sets of 10 rep range for most. There’s 3 key components you can use to find the right weight for your level. Let’s talk about form, rest and the ever-so-important mind-to-muscle connection. 

Never sacrifice form for a heavier weight. If you feel your posture crumbling, you’re lifting too heavy. Not only will you find yourself injured on the other side of this workout, it’s not going to do you any good in the first place. There’s no strength to be gained here, when pumping out messy reps. Take the overhead press, for example. If you can’t hold on to solid trunk tension and your back starts to arch, go down in weight. 

Never sacrifice form for a heavier weight. If you feel your posture crumbling, you’re lifting too heavy.

Rest in between sets matters. When doing the 3 sets of 10 reps per circuit, you want your rest time to fall anywhere between 30 and 60 seconds, generally speaking. If you find you need no more than a few seconds, you can pump out more weight. If you’re needing longer than 60 seconds, try a lighter weight. There’s an energy depletion-repletion ratio here. You expend energy in your set, and it takes that 30-60 seconds for your body to create more to use for the next round. Again, you’re not doing yourself any favors trying to push through if you can’t nail every rep with precision. 

Last, pay attention to using the right muscle for the right function. If you want to grow your biceps and you choose a weight that’s too heavy, you’ll find yourself recruiting other muscle groups to help get to the top of the rep. Not only is that not efficient, but you’re not going to grow your bicep in the first place if you’re not isolating it. If you start swaying your back to rock that dumbbell to the top, go down in weight. If you find yourself flexing your wrist to have the forearm do all the work, go down in weight. 

This was a question brought forth by a member of the Make Fitness a Priority Community. If you have any questions you’d like to have answered during our Fit Tip on Saturday’s, let us know! We do this for you. We want you to be constantly striving and reaching goals for a better, faster and stronger you.


Tip shared by Jesse Kepka, NASM-certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist and owner of Elevate Fitness. Jesse is a co-organizer for Priority Fit Camp. Each week, we publish a health and wellness tip that is shared at the Priority Fit Camp community workout. The free group class happens every Saturday at 7:50 a.m.  

Click for more info on the free Saturday group workout.