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Five Signs it’s Time to Increase Your Weights in the Gym

Is it time to increase your weights?
Do you know when it's time to lift more?

Muscles grow and get stronger when we stress them. One of the basic principles of strength training is that to improve, we must always do more. We have to increase the weight, number of reps or the duration of exercise to grow.

It’s easy to say, but tough to know when an increase is appropriate. Push yourself too hard and you might be dealing with overly sore muscles the next day or two. Don’t push yourself hard enough and your body won’t improve. To figure out when doing more is appropriate, look for these telltale signs.

When you finish up an exercise set, your muscles aren’t tired. If you’re doing 8-12 reps, you should start experiencing some difficultly as you get to the last two or three reps. You may not need help finishing, but you should at least be straining a little to complete the set. Your final set should leave the muscles you’re working nearly exhausted. If you’re not struggling a little to finish, it may be time to add more weight.

If you can do at least three more reps over and above your goal, it’s probably time to lift more. The reverse can also be true. If you stop short of your goal by at least three or more reps, you might have overestimated your ability. Drop the weight down a little, make sure your form is good, and work back up to the heavier equipment.

You can’t remember the last time you changed your weights. For people who’ve worked out three years or less, you can probably increase how much weight you lift every 4-8 weeks. Your muscles are growing and adapting quickly, so you need to constantly lift more to keep challenging your body.

The same holds true if you’ve been lifting for several years. You might not be physically capable of increasing the weight anymore, but that doesn’t mean you keep doing the same routine. Instead, you should change up the type of exercises you’re doing. Target muscles with different movements. Work multiple muscle groups together. Change how fast you’re moving and how long you take on each set.

When progress stops, it’s time to do something different. Over time your muscles will adapt to your exercise program. Once it becomes routine, your muscles stop growing because they’ve gotten used to what you’re doing. If your body quits improving, shake it up and start grabbing heavier weights to get growth back on track.

The day after you exercise, nothing is sore. There’s a fine line between a little bit of soreness after a good workout and pain that prevents you from moving. The purpose of exercise is to create microscopic tears in your muscle. As you heal, the muscle gets stronger. If you’re working out hard enough, your muscles should be a little sore the day after.

If you’re too sore to brush your teeth, get up from a chair or bring a fork to your mouth, you’ve overdone it. But if you can’t remember the last time your muscles were even a little tired the day after, it’s time you started lifting more.

To make sure you’re not hurting yourself, don’t make dramatic increases in the weight you lift. Keep increases in the range of about 5 pounds for your upper body and 10 pounds for your lower body; don’t try to increase more than 10% of what you were doing previously; and always pay attention to your form. If you have to cheat to complete a set, you’re not building muscle, you’re risking injury.

Remember that our bodies aren’t machines. External factors can change our abilities. If you go in for a workout overly tired, or without eating enough before, you’re not going to be able to do as much. You should make decisions to increase your weight based on what’s happening to you over time. Track your workouts and the signs I’ve outlined will become obvious.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.