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When Should I Increase My Weights?

Updated: Apr 30, 2023

3 practical solutions to a common question

Not knowing when to increase your weights can be one thing that is holding you back in the gym. With out this pivotal skill, you may be doing exercises with weight that may not be challenging enough for you. If this happens, then we are not applying the aconcept of progressive overload and we my risk stalling our progress.

In simple terms, progressive overload refers to increasing the difficulty of your training throughout the training program. But if we do not know if we should increase the weight or stay at the same weight, we may not progress as well or as fast as wed like.

Here are 3 solutions to the question of; when should I increase my weight?

Method 1: Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) 

RPE is commonly used in training programs as a way to gauge the intensity of how an exercise or training day should be. The RPE is used as a scale of 1-10. With 1 being not difficult at all, and 10 being the hardest and most intense amount of effort.

Here’s an example, if you and I were working together, I may give you the leg press as an exercise. I’d write something like 
leg press:3x15: at an RPE of 7, with 2 minutes rest in between sets. Basically, these means you are working at what you would consider a 7/10 difficulty. 

If the RPE gets lower during the training program, then that exercise; with what ever weight you were using; for the prescribed sets and reps you were using; has gotten easier. If something is now easier than it once was, then we got better. If we got better, then now we can add more weight to gives us a challenge again. 

Method 2: Double progression method

RPE is a good starting point for some. However, what I don't like about it is that it is very subjective, and can change on a day to day based on life stressors. When it comes to progress, numbers and data don't lie. Which is why I would rather use something that I can measure more accurately to gauge my performance in the gym. 

The second method that I use with clients is called the double progression method. In this method, you will not increase the weight until you can do the given amount of reps for all the sets with the same weight. 

Here is a breakdown using the dumbbell bench press

Week 1: 4 sets of 8 using 75 lbs
Set 1: 8 reps
Set 2: 8 reps
Set 3: 7 reps
Set 4: 6 reps

In this scenario, I would not increase the weight. However, if the following happens for week 2: 

Week 2: 4 sets of 8 using 75 lbs
Set 1: 8 reps
Set 2: 8 reps
Set 3: 8 reps
Set 4: 8 reps

Then I will increase the weight 5-10 lbs for week three. 

What I like about this is that it is very black and white. Using numbers and data takes the guess work out of deciding when to add more weight. It can also be done with any set and rep scheme. This is a big help to become more efficient with your progress. 

Method 3: 2 for 2 rule

The 2 for 2 rule states that when you can perform an exercise for 2 more reps than what the goal reps are for 2 consecutive workouts, then you have the green light to increase the weight. This is what is recommended by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). 

This method also provides tangible and measurable feedback to determine your decision. An example would be: 

Week 1: leg extensions 3x10 at 50 lbs
week 2: leg extensions 3x10 at 50 lbs
Week 3: leg extensions 2x10 at 50 lbs, 1x12 at 50 lbs.

If this was on your program, and you were able to do the last set for 12 reps instead of 10, I would bump the weight up for week 4
The more measurable things are, the easier they are to track. This is way, the double progression (method 2) and the 2 for 2 rule (method 3) are two easy and fool proof ways to answer the question of when should I increase my weight? 

I hope this post gives you some clarity on progressing the weight you are lifting. As a coach, my goal is to make it as efficient as possible for you too achieve results. These 3 methods ensure my clients are progressing, and consistently challenging and motivating themselves throughout the training process. 
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