When should you increase weight?
Short answer: When you can complete all rounds or sets of an exercise without “technique failure”, or when you feel like attempting the challenge of trying to increase weight.
How should you increase weight?
For the most part, we want to pick up a heavier weight and work slightly lower reps then the range on written the board. If it is 8-10, we want to grab the next heavier weight and either crank out 5-7 OR grab a slightly lighter weight and do 12-15. 12-15 is only the better option if the jumps in weight are too high (kettlebells and some of the bigger sandbags) OR we are intimidated by the heavier weight.
These tips below are geared towards those who have been training for at least 6 months. For beginners it is as simple as keeping the weight “challenging.” Whatever that word means for you is correct. As time passes, we need to increase that challenge and push the comfort zone ahead.
We will try to provide some background that will help whether you are doing a coached session or traveling.
The big question: How safely can I fail this exercise?
90% of our programmed exercises are either self limiting or can be safely failed.
Self-limiting exercise would be like a bear crawl where as we tire, we lift hips to take tension off of our core OR we just stop and recover.
Safe failure is like a deadlift where we just stop being able to lift the weight with quality form. A pushup would be similar, we stop being able to push ourselves off the ground.
A few exceptions would be dumbbell pressing movements where failure can result in a face full of dumbell. Not to worry, most of the time we will pull our punches and stop at “technique failure” aka “when it gets dodgy/sloppy”
Technique failure comes before absolute failure and requires a bit of awareness on our part.
Can I complete the next rep without it being sloppy?
Again, most of the time, even if the answer is maybe, we can still attempt the movement because we can fail safely. We get better at this determination over time.
So for most movements, the answer is we can fail fairly safely. Especially if we go the lighter weight route.
For a rep workout:
The most important thing to understand is, “You are not a failure if you don’t fall exactly within the rep range” If the board/workout says 8-10 and you get 7, you aren’t a terrible human.
Super quick overview of progressive overload, the principle that gets you more toned/strong.
There are three components. Mechanical tension (think heavier weight), volume (more overall reps in a workout/per week), metabolic damage (how little we rest and how close we get to failure). These three components heavily influence the way our workouts are laid out.
Mechanical tension is the most important so we will focus on how we can do this.
Metabolic damage is also important.
Volume is only a little bit important, especially for our workouts.
If there is interest, I will share a bit more about these 2 components at another time.
Mechanical tension isn’t always about heavier weight, it is about load. A few simple explanations of this are stand elevated split squats which create vastly more tension than reps without our foot on the stand. Another example the jungle gym/trx tricep moves we do. There is no simple way to calculate how much weight we are lifting, and they typically result in extra soreness because of a high mechanical tension (and we are less likely to pick a lighter weight because we can’t)
For the most part, we want to pick up a heavier weight and work slightly lower reps then the range on the board. If it is 8-10, we want to grab the next heavier weight and either crank out 5-7 OR grab the previous weight and do 12-15. 12-15 is only the better option if the jumps in weight are too high (kettlebells, some of the bigger sandbags) OR we are intimidated by the heavier weight.
This intimidation isn’t a bad thing, and gradually we will become more and more empowered to push ourselves.
For a typical coached workout, the above adjustment would work fine. Doing an extra round (in a timed pairs/trios/or groups of exercise format) has a small effect on calorie burn but is unlikely to keep us seeing results long term. I’m not saying don’t try to get more rounds in, just that if you focus on weight increases with solid technique, that will make a much bigger difference.
What if we just aren’t sure we can get a heavier weight? Sometimes we can just try for as many reps as we can, especially viable on the last time we will complete that movement. Think of it like a challenge, and many of our clients will tell you, they can do more repetitions than they think. Those who had been using 20 pounds for sets of 10 reps, can often do 20-30 reps or more in a minute, when forced to try their hardest.
What about a timed circuit with set timing for work and rest?
Here is where we have to make a decision about the movement at the beginning.
Are we willing to accept that we may have to stop shy of the time as we get tired?
This is more a mental thing then anything else, there is no right or wrong answer here.
If we aren’t willing to stop short, we know that the exercise will become more difficult as time goes along, especially if it is a straight set workout (where we do all the sets of that particular move before moving onto the next). We have to reduce the weight at some point.
Let us consider 3 options for one exercise: Dumbbell goblet squat. 4 rounds of 40 seconds work, 20 seconds rest.
-Round 1 we start with 30 pounds, round 2 we go down to 25 pounds and stay there for the next 2 rounds. All rounds we work for the whole 40 seconds
-Round 1 we start with 25 pounds (and it is a little easier for this set only), round 2 we go down to 25 and stay there for the next 2. All rounds we work for the whole 40 seconds
-Round 1 we start with 30 pounds, all rounds we stick with 30 BUT we can only work for 40, 35, 35, 30 seconds in rounds respectively.
Which is better? They are all about the same so it will depend on your personality and whether or not C represents failure for you. I’d lean toward A or C but that is me.
Hopefully this helps you understand when and how to increase weight.
If you are still confused, ask a coach as you begin your exercise and give them some specifics so they can help you decide the best course of action.
CSCS, CFSC, FMS Level 1, FMS Level 2, Strength Matter Kettlebell Instructor