It’s no secret that strength training is an essential part of any fitness routine, but whatever your goals, you have to continue challenging your body if you want to build lean muscle. Enter the concept of progressive overload. “If you’re looking to build muscle and get stronger, you have to begin increasing the volume of weight you’re lifting in each workout,” Jon Pearlman, cofounder of Mission Lean and an ACE-certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist, told POPSUGAR. “You can do this by either increasing your reps, the amount of weight you’re lifting, or both.”
Ultimately, you want to work up to doing at least a couple sets at a weight that’s 70 to 80 percent of your one-rep max, or the most weight you can lift in a single repetition. But in order to avoid injury, Jon suggests starting with lighter weights and working to increase your reps first.
For example, if you’ve never lifted before, you should start by simply lifting the weight of the bar for a given exercise, he explained. Complete eight to 10 reps with the bar by itself, and then add a small amount of weight (10 to 20 pounds) and do the same number of reps. “To find a good weight for yourself, repeat this process of adding 10 to 20 pounds more weight on the bar until you find that you’re having difficulty completing the final few reps within the eight to 10 rep range,” Jon said. “Make note of this weight as your ‘base,’ and continue adding blocks of 10 to 20 percent of your base weight until you can only do between four and six reps.”
When using free weights, apply the same method. Start with a set of five-pound dumbbells, and move on to 7.5 pounds, 10 pounds, and so on, until you find your “base” at which you struggle to complete the last few reps of an eight to 10 rep set. Continue adding 10 to 20 percent of your base weight, as outlined above. Again, “the goal is to get to a weight at which you can only complete four to six reps, as this will indicate you are lifting at that 70 to 80 percent level and, in turn, experiencing the strength gains of progressive overload,” Jon said. “Then, try to knock out two or three sets at this weight, and continue to work out consistently, aiming to build yourself up so that you’re lifting heavier weights in the four- to six-rep range.”