Weight Lifting (Resistance Exercise)

  • Author:
    Richard Weil, MEd, CDE

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

How do I go about lifting for tone and endurance?

Tone and endurance is maximized when you keep the weight light enough to lift 12-15 reps. Again, the principle of progressive overload applies. That is, increase the weight when 15 reps become easy.

Lifting for strength, tone, and endurance (general conditioning)

Keeping the reps in the eight-to-12 range emphasizes a combination of strength, tone, and endurance. This is a realistic quantity of training for most individuals. The recommendation in the American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand, "Progression Models in Resistance Training for Healthy Adults," is for beginners to lift eight to 12 reps, and for the range to widen to one to 12 reps for intermediate and advanced training. Although research supports the eight to 12 recommendation, I believe it's prudent for beginners to start with 12-15 reps to reduce the risk of injury, and then the weight can be increased after a few weeks when the muscles have accommodated. Keep in mind that strength, tone, and some mass still accrue by training with reps in the 12-15 range, and so you don't have to lift heavier than that if you prefer not to.

How many days should I lift?

Beginners, because of their wide adaptive window, will accrue significant benefits with two to three days of training. Advanced lifters need at least three days per week, and typically more for significant gains because they are already so strong (more benefit takes more effort). It's not uncommon for bodybuilders and other strength athletes to train four to five days per week. The American College of Sports Medicine recommendation is for a minimum of two nonconsecutive days each week.

How do I know how much weight to lift?

Trial and error is the way to determine how much weight to lift. Select a weight that looks close to what you think you can lift based on your goals. If general conditioning is your goal, then select a weight you think you can lift eight to 12 reps (or 12-15 reps for beginners). If you can lift it 25 times with ease, then it's too light, and if you can lift it only four times, then it's too heavy. There are no formulas to calculate this. Simply decide what your goal is so you know how many reps to lift, take a guess by looking at the weights, and then give it a try. You'll quickly become adept at picking the right weight.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/28/2015

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