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How to Start Lifting Heavy

I'm a Personal Trainer, and This Is How to Start Lifting Heavy Weights

Whether you've been lifting weights for years or you're just getting started, you're probably wondering when you should increase the amount of weight you're lifting. A great indicator that you should select heavier weights is if you never feel fatigued after completing multiples sets of a particular exercise. For instance, if you know you can easily do more than 12 reps of a weight without being fatigued, you should increase the weight.

As you continue reading, you'll see that there are three different training phases addressed, each with instructions on how to increase your strength. To determine how much weight you should be lifting during each phase, you'll need to know what your one-rep max (1RM) is. This is the maximum amount weight you can lift for any given exercise with proper form. If your 1RM for barbell squats is 75 pounds, in the strength endurance phase, you would be lifting between 37.50 and 52.50 pounds whenever you perform barbell squats. Here are some tips to help you along the way.

Have a Strength Foundation

Before you begin to squat 200 pounds, you must train your body to be able to handle that load. Having a solid strength foundation will ensure that you have stability, muscular endurance, muscular coordination, and proper form. Without this, attempting to lift heavy will only put you at risk for injury.

Learn the Basics

Some basic movements to focus on to increase your strength are:

There is no standard weight to begin with, as everyone's strength levels will vary. If you're new to lifting, begin lifting just the bar to become familiar with the movement pattern, and then increase the weight by 10 pounds.

Train in Phases

Training for strength can be broken down into the following phases: strength endurance, hypertrophy (increasing the size of the muscle), and maximal strength.

  • Strength endurance training: This phase promotes increased stabilization endurance, hypertrophy, and strength. In this phase, your rep and set range will be: one to three sets of 12 to 20 reps at 50 to 70 percent of your one-rep max. Stay in this phase for four to six weeks and then progress to hypertrophy training.
  • Hypertrophy training:This phase is specific for adaptation of maximal muscle growth. It focuses on high volume (heavy weight) and minimal rest periods, causing cellular changes to increase muscle size. In this phase, your rep and set range will be: three to five sets of six to 12 reps at 75 to 85 percent of your one-rep max. Stay in this phase for four weeks. From there, you can either go back to the strength endurance phase or advance to maximal strength training.
  • Maximal strength training: This phases focuses on increasing the load placed on the tissues of the body and improves the rate of force production. The goal in this stage is achieving maximal strength. For this phase, your rep and set range will be: four to six sets of one to five reps at 85 to 100 percent of your one-rep max.

Be Consistent

Training for strength takes time — literally months! You'll want to spend the necessary amount of time in each phase to ensure that your muscles are reaping the benefits of the particular phase. In general, it will take anywhere from eight to 12 weeks to see an increase in your strength.


Because your body will be experiencing a lot of stress, in order to improve muscular growth and strength, you're going to need to become religious with recovery work. This means eating properly, eating protein, improving your mobility, foam rolling, stretching, and sleeping.

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