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Get Better Results Working Out
How much weight should you use?

Get Better Results Working Out

Building muscle is all about progressive resistance. Technically that means if you want to make progress, you have to stimulate your body by increasing the resistance you use in your workouts.

The simple version is; you'll only grow stronger if you lift heavier weights.

It's a very basic concept, but so few people do it right you would think it's brain surgery. If you're going to the gym to improve yourself, these are a few rules you need to follow.

First, record every exercise, the weight you're using and how many reps you do for each set on a workout sheet. That workout sheet is how you'll know if you're making progress. When you can complete an entire set, using perfect form, it's time to add more weight. You won't know when that time is if you're not writing everything down.

I don't want to get letters or emails from those of you who claim you've memorized your workout. If you've done the same routine so many times you've committed it to memory, you're probably no longer growing muscle. Ideally, you should change your workout routine every four to eight weeks. Doing the same thing leads to muscle adaptation and your body stops making progress.

Keep notes of any aches and pains on your workout sheet. If you feel a twinge every time you do a specific exercise, write it down. Then check with a personal trainer or physical therapist to make sure you're doing the movement right.

Whenever you increase the weight, be sure to maintain perfect form. A little "cheat" early on in training can magnify as you move forward. Don't compromise your form unless you're trying to get injured.

Quit ego lifting. Believe it or not, most of the time nobody's looking at you. You're not impressing anybody when you lift weights that are too heavy and then hurt yourself. Anytime you choose a weight, make sure it's an amount you can move in a controlled manner.

Beginners pay special attention. In the first few weeks of training, you should concentrate more on form than weight. Then, once you have the form down, start using the heavier stuff. Constantly using a weight that's too light will increase your endurance, but won't stress muscle fibers enough to stimulate significant growth. It typically takes 2-4 weeks before a beginner has started to get the form right and is lifting enough to make real progress.

To determine if a weight is heavy enough, try this test. If you can do 20 reps with perfect form, (and you're not just warming up), the weight is too light. In fact, anytime you can do more than 15 reps with perfect form, the weight is probably too light. If you're doing 12 reps, it should be a struggle to finish numbers 10, 11 and 12.

Lifting too heavy can be a problem as well. Make sure you can do at least 5 reps of any exercise. If you lift fewer than that, you'll increase your strength, but you're not doing enough repetitions to increase muscle size.

When you're ready to add more weight, shoot for at least a 5% increase but not more than 10%. When an exact increase isn't possible, round down (not up) to the closest weight available.

These rules apply equally to both women and men. If you're a woman, don't believe the myth that you should lift only light weights to avoid getting bulky. Women simply don't have the testosterone levels to build big muscles. When women lift heavier weights, it tightens up the muscles they have and helps them lose fat.

Finally, remember that you will have good days and bad days. Sometimes you'll feel like Superman and nothing can slow you down. Other times you'll struggle with weights that were easy just a few days before. No matter what kind of day you're having, commit yourself to work hard as you can and your body will reap the rewards.

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Updated 3/14/2011