When it comes to my relationship with weightlifting, I’d consider it up and down—literally. We may go steady together—as in, I lift those dumbbells several days a week—but the weight of the weights that I actually choose differs as much as my daily lunch of choice. This isn’t so savvy, though.
According to numerous trainers, it’s key to be making incremental increases in order to actually build your muscles (whoops). “In order to make progress in your fitness, you shouldn’t stay stuck in the same spot for too long,” says Tom Lavoie, Fitness Together trainer, owner, and operator. “You need to make incremental increases between each set in order to put enough stress on your body for it to respond and react, which in turn increases strength and builds muscle.”
It’s essentially just how fitness works. “One of the main principles of fitness is overload,” says Riley O’Donnell, a trainer at The Fhitting Room, a New York-based fitness studio. “The moment you master one weight, it’s time to move up to the next.” The magic number to shoot for? Five pound increases. “Five pounds can make a huge difference, especially in unilateral movements where you’re working one side of your body,” she says. “But you need to work on mastering that five pounds before you can get up to 10.”
“The moment you master one weight, it’s time to move up to the next.” —Riley O’Donnell
If you don’t move up, you’re hindering your fitness game improvement. “Making small changes in weight equate to big impacts and results,” says Phil Timmons, program manager at Blink Fitness. “Making them on a somewhat regular basis is exactly what it takes to keep your body making changes that you’re trying to achieve.” Aim for switching things up between two to four weeks. “Your body can start to adapt to small changes in roughly two to four weeks, so if you’re lifting the same weight on those dumbbell chest presses that you started with three months ago, it’s time to grab the next weight up,” he says.
In terms of what adding weights does to your workout, know this: “Generally, an increase or decrease of two and a half pounds will result in an increase or decrease of reps able to achieve by one,” says Timmons. “So for example, if you were performing a chest press with 20 pound dumbbells for 12 reps and increased to 25 pound dumbbells, it’s a rough estimate you’d be able to perform 10 reps with similar muscle fatigue by the end of that set.” Then once your body becomes more efficient and adjusts to that added weight, your body is improving—”Your body wants to become efficient at the demands it’s placed in on a regular basis,” he says.
While working on upping your strength, a mere five pounds may not sound like a lot. But it makes a significant impact (plus, whenever I pick up a 15 pound weight versus a 20 pounder, I can feel the difference). “Any safe weight increase is going to be beneficial,” says Garen McRoberts, another trainer at The Fhitting Room. “Five pounds in life doesn’t seem like that much, but five pounds in a workout class can be an incredible amount.” Twenty pound weights, here I come.
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