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Bodybuilding FAQ - How Much Weight Should I Use for Each Bodybuilding Exercise?

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Question: Bodybuilding FAQ - How Much Weight Should I Use for Each Bodybuilding Exercise?
I'm just getting started back into bodybuilding after many years of not training. My question is how do I know what weights to use during my bodybuilding workouts? Everyone at the gym tells me to train heavy but I am not sure of how heavy is too heavy. Also, could you suggest a routine for me as well with what body parts to train and how many repetitions?
Answer: The question about what weights to use during the bodybuilding workouts is a very common one amongst beginners. The answer, however, is a very simple one but before I discuss it, we need to first talk about muscular failure.

What is Muscular Failure?

Muscular failure is the point in which performing another repetition on your own with good form becomes impossible. I always suggest that you stop an exercise once you know that you won't be able to complete another repetition by yourself with good form. So for example, if you are doing incline dumbbell presses with 60-lb dumbbells and you have done 12 repetitions but know that you cannot do another one, then you have reached muscular failure in the 12th rep.

How to Select the Weight for an Exercise?

Your weight selection for an exercise will be based on the amount of repetitions that the routine calls for. So for example, if your routine calls for 10-12 repetitions of an incline bench press, then you need to select a weight that will allow you to reach muscular failure within 10-12 repetitions. Since you are just starting out, your weight selection will be a trial and error process. Here are the steps that you will need to follow.

  1. Start out by knowing how many repetitions the routine calls for. For the purposes of this explanation, we will use the above example of the incline bench press where the routine calls for 10-12 repetitions.

  2. Select a weight that you think may allow you to perform 10-12 repetitions to failure with good form.

  3. If you fail within the 10-12 repetition range, then keep that weight and use it for the following set.

  4. If you fail before achieving the 10th rep (say that you failed at 8), then reduce the weight for the following set.

  5. If you fail after the 12th rep, then increase the weight slightly for the following set.

As a beginner, it is imperative that you keep a journal where you write down the weights used for each exercise at a given repetition range. In this manner, you will start getting familiarized with what weights to use every time you go to the gym. This is also a great way to keep track of your progress.

When to Increase the Weights?

Even though you did not ask this question, since this topic is related to the weight selection process, I would like to address it.

The weight for an exercise should only be increased when the current weight used will consistently result in reaching muscular failure above the repetition range that is recommended for an exercise.

For example, let's say that your workout routine calls for 3 sets of dumbbell curls for 10-12 reps, and your training journal indicates that you use 35-lb dumbbells for this exercise and that you fail at 12 reps. You start the exercise with the 35-lbs but this time you see that you fail at 13 reps. This tells you that it is time now to go up in weight.

Note: Again, this example shows the value of having a training journal.

What is a Good Bodybuilding Workout Routine for Beginners?

As far as what routine to use, please take a look at my guide for Getting Started in Bodybuilding. This guide will not only show you what bodybuilding workout to use, but it will also talk about other important items that one needs to take into account when getting started.

About The Author

Hugo Rivera, About.com's Bodybuilding Guide and ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer, is a nationally-known best-selling author of over 8 books on bodybuilding, weight loss and fitness, including "The Body Sculpting Bible for Men", "The Body Sculpting Bible for Women", "The Hardgainer's Bodybuilding Handbook", and his successful, self published e-book, "Body Re-Engineering". Hugo is also a national level NPC natural bodybuilding champion. Learn more about Hugo Rivera.

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