Forging Muscle: How Much Weight to Lift When You’re Bulking Up

How can you expect to get your muscles looking jacked if you don’t know how much weight to lift in your routines?

There’s no “one-size-fits-all” weight load when it comes to piecing together a workout geared for increasing muscle mass. Nor is there a perfect load when you want to specifically improve your strength. But there are a few bits of advice I can share that will help you reach the physique you’re after.

How Much Weight to Lift

(Photo: philiphind)

Eeking out bench presses with a weight that’s heavy enough to concave your chest isn’t going to help get you bigger. Adding on size is about strategy. And there’s quite a bit of focus, and restraint, involved when trying to tip the growth of muscle size in your favor.

Why Lifting Heavy Won’t Get You Bigger

I think the impression a lot of beginners have is they’ll need to lift heavy every time they workout. For someone who’s dedicating an average of 3-4 days per week to a workout routine this process isn’t going to get you putting on size in a hurry.

Yes, your muscles will get bigger if you’re using a weight load that you can barely muster 1-3 reps at a time with. Growth and definition will occur with this setup, however it’s not going to get you putting on slabs of muscle.

The problem with the high-volume method is you see minimal progress after putting in way more time into working out than you should have to.

And this slow growth-process is often a motivation killer.

So if you’re looking for a new approach to help spark growth, and want to stop any kind of backsliding on a goal, I offer up the lighter-weight load approach.

How much weight to lift depends on your initial strength.

At first this system didn’t really seems to make sense when I first putting this into practice. I remember asking myself: How can you get bigger by lifting lighter weights? But gaining in size isn’t just about “bringing the pain” with every workout. It’s actually more about forging ahead and putting the muscles under the right amount of stress.

A good rule to stick with is lifting with enough weight that you can manage a set of 12 reps with good form at a fast tempo.

So how do you find the perfect starting weight?

Enter The 1-Rep Max Test

To determine how much weight you should be lifting per any given exercise the 1-Rep Max test is a pretty good standard.

I’ve seen quite a few websites recommending this test for people who are only looking to increase their strength. This is great for that—but those benefits shouldn’t be restricted to simply adding muscle density. There’s a hidden beauty when crunching these numbers that will help you tailor a workout plan around constantly pushing towards a significant end result.

Here’s an example of a 1-RM test for figuring out how to apply it to an exercise like the bench press.

Once you know the maximum load you can lift at one time, you can start proving you’re awesome by taking a step back and start applying the numbers that fall in between Zero-and your-Max. It’s these numbers in the middle that will help guide you on to the right amount of muscle fatigue with the right amount of weight.

If you want to determine your own numbers here’s a great link to an online calculator that will breakdown your 1RM into exact percentages.

The Idea Behind Fatigue and Hypertrophy

When talking about adding on muscle, you’re always going to hear about hypertrophy.

When determining how much weight to lift in your routine, there are two main targets you’ll be aiming for: sarcoplasmic or myofibrillar growth.

Muscles can rebound pretty quick during the short span of time in between sets. For the most part the muscles can bounce back in just a minute’s time. So either 45 seconds (my personal choice) or a minute before starting another set is a good amount of time to strive for.

The reason we want to pair low-volume weight loads with high reps it allows for using shorter rest times between sets. This is all supporting primary goals, which is to cause a fatigue reaction that supports sarcoplasmic growth.

On the flip side, high-volume weight loads coupled with lower reps spurs myofibrillar muscle growth.

Coupling Weight Loads and Reps for Better Results

For someone just starting out with lifting will want to make sure proper form is being used at all times. This is a constant in any workout program.

What using lower-volumes allows for is a way to offer up a shorter learning curve in a beginner’s training. Another benedfit behind using 12-15 rep range will be to pump up the mass of your muscles. By linking the reasons together we get more familiar with basic exercises like the squat and bench press while also meeting out growth targets.

When planning for strength and size using 8-10 reps per sets is kind of like getting the best of both worlds. And just below that is the 5-8 reps system. I routinely use this rep range when I’m wanting to maintain my muscle size while also looking to improve the performance of each muscle.

Anything in the lower rep ranges that’s coupled with higher volume is purely for increasing strength, and not size.

The order of exercises in a routine does play a role in either increasing muscle size or strength. Hitting the larger muscles early in a routine will help create a better situation for muscle fatigue.

I hope that the few tips outlined here will help you figure out how much weight to lift in a routine, so you’re nailing your muscle growth goals without too much trouble.

About the Author

mw 100x100Hey! I'm , and I've setup this blog to prove anyone can get in shape without needing a gym fee. Each article is drawn from my own experiences, expert trainers and bestselling fitness authors. Please feel free to chat me up on FacebookG+ and Twitter. Also, I do reply to every drop me a line down below.

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Darren @ Lertno's Training
Darren @ Lertno's Training

I remember when I first started working out I would do 8-10 reps and 3 sets per exercise while pyramiding up. I'm sure I would have had better results using less weight and a higher number of sets. I do remember doing drop sets at the end of my workouts so that was good for fatiguing the muscles. I guess that's what happens when there is no internet and you just listen to friends that are rookies themselves.


Darren, it's all about living and learning. I do know that having my nose in a book wasn't so bad back in the day. It saved me from a lot of wasted time and energy, and the hassle of my buddies touting their nonsense ways of training. -Mitchell


Nice approach. I have been playing around with a lower rep range and heavier weight approach for the bench press. It has totally improved my strength while keeping size the same (body weight set) which is my goal for a weight class sport.


Thanks, Richard. I usually concentrate on strength after size. And the lower reps /heavier weight setup is the method I prefer as well. For the most part, I spend most of my time building muscle density over increasing the volume of the muscle because my goal isn't to be massive, just intimidating...jk :) -Mitchell

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