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How do you find out how much weight to lift?


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I joined a gym about a month ago, and after about three weeks of hemming & hawing I went and lifted weights. First time in about 20 years I've done that.


It hurt like absolute hell.


I clearly lifted too much. Body isn't 25 years old anymore, so I overdid it the first time & spent three days in agony. But, I didn't wuss out and I went back, cut down on the weight, and after my 2nd full workout I felt much better. Didn't hurt, aches & pains from the first workout were gone, and I felt pretty positive afterwards.


Only thing is, I'm concerned I'm not doing enough. I looked around online and didn't see anything telling me how much I should lift.


How do you figure that out? I'm not young, so I can't lift my bodyweight on anything anymore. But I know I won't see much results from lifting 20lbs on everything.


My goal is to cut weight & tone. I'm a huge dude, I don't need to bulk. I need to fit into my work clothes and not get swoll. But I also don't need to candy-ass five pounds on a weight machine.


What do I do? Where do I find out how much to lift for me/my body?

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There isn't anything out there that will tell you how much to lift. It will be a trial and error situation for the first couple weeks. What you need to do is determine what lifts you want to do for the muscles you wAnt to work. When you get that taken care of, start out light with the weights and then increase the weight as you go. Let's say you are doing 3 sets of 5 reps on squat. The first set, you try 135lbs and get it easily. The next set, you should raise the weight by 10 pounds and perform the set. If that is easy, increase the weight again. If you get that easily, then the next time you do squats, start out at the weight you just finished with. Do that until you find a weight that you struggle with on the last reps of your sets. That should be the weight you start with and don't be afraid to do that weight for all your sets and reps.


You do this with all your lifts. Once you get the weight figured out, you should be able to really get into your plan.

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If you haven't lifted in years, the first time back will always be followed by brutal muscle sorness the for the next 2 or 3 days, it's normal DOMS: delayed onset muscle sorness. The second day is always the worst. I remeber after doing curles for the first time in 2 years I could barely move my arm for 2 days without squeeling. Joint pain would be a bad thing though, hopefully it wasn't that.


Do you have a routine identified that you want to do? Are you using free weights or only machines?




I'd take it easy on the weight the first month or so and concentrate on form. Its always a guessing game starting out with how much weight to use. Make sure you have enough weight that you are challenged at the end of your reps, but not so much that you are sacrificing form. Your muscles should burn, and your last rep should be very difficult to finish, but you should still be able to maintain proper form.


There are any number or sets and rep combinations you can use, but the two most common for beginners are 3 sets of 5 reps, or 3 sets of 10 reps. I'd stay with 3x10 until you have good form again. Since 3x5 typically lets you use more weight you could be more susceptible to injury if your form is off. Always feel free to add another set if you think you have more in the tank. If you complete all your reps then add 5 or 10 pounds the next week. You should be able to add 10 pounds to major muscle groups for the first 4 to 8 weeks, and about 5 pounds from there on. Just listen to your body and you should get a feel for how you can progress.

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Oops! Stumpies in here first... he's a smart guy!


I started out with a 12, 10, 8, 6 rep program when I started lifting again, 3 years ago and it was a fun style. You're going to make gains the first couple months no matter what program you use because you body isn't used to this and will be rapidly adapting. Form is the most important thing for you right now, especially the older you get.

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DOMS was definitely a factor last week. I hurt and I was making these little grunting noises for two days getting in and out of my car or putting on shirts. I didn't think I could work out again very soon it hurt so bad, but I went back and it was ok.

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DOMS was definitely a factor last week. I hurt and I was making these little grunting noises for two days getting in and out of my car or putting on shirts. I didn't think I could work out again very soon it hurt so bad, but I went back and it was ok.

The best thing for doms is movement and plenty of sleep for recovery. Just get up and move around or stretch during the day. If you're stationary your muscles get stiff and more sore.


I would work some dumbell exercises in with the machines. They're nice because they give you a greater range of motion than a barbell and you will not be able to use as much weight as a barbell. You will also be recruiting other muscle groups to stabilize your body during the lift, teaching the body to work as a system.


To lose weight your most important facet will be diet. Make sure you're not over eating, but still getting enough protein, fats, and carbs to recover. You should see results no matter what you do the first month or so, but later on diet will be key. You can still eat tatsy things and lose weight, but sweets and fatty things in moderation.

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I've settled in at a decent weight. I'm using 18 machines for as long as it takes me to get used to this and get the motions down, then I'll move to free weights. I've got no goals and no timetable, so I'm just going to keep going until I feel comfortable moving to free weights.


It's funny being such a huge dude and seeing guys much smaller than me lift more weight. There's a woman working out there who I've seen twice, who's lifting more than me. She's probably 15 years younger than me and she's clearly been working out for a while, but it's funny to see her move my weight pin down when she takes over the machine. I used to be so strong, but time does some ugly things to those old muscles.


The good thing is that I have no ego about it. I don't care if I'm lifting less than everyone there, I'm just there to get in better shape.

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The only issue I have with using machines exclusively is that you don't work secondary muscles through a lift. These muscles help you stabilize the weights through the motions of the lift. If you use machines for an extended period of time and then try to move to free weights and continue with the same weight, you will have issues.


I would try and use free weights for your core lifts ( bench, squat, OHP ) and use machines for your auxiliary lifts. This will help you in the long run.


Don't be ashamed of a gal lifting more then you. The fact that you are in there trying to better yourself means more then anything.


My oldest son decided to start lifting seriously the summer before his So. year. I wrote him up a plan and we went and figured his weights he needed and he began. He continued that during school last year and a lot of his friends made fun of him cause he wasn't lifting as much as them. He got irritated about it and I told him to just keep at it and things will change. He has continued and this year, they had a lifting contest for football. My son tied for second on the team and the only one to beat him was a lineman who is 80 lbs heavier then him.

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I'm in agreement with the above.


Get to the free weights as soon as possible. Many/most machines limit range of motion. Machines Are better than nothing though, especially if you need to build up some confidence with your lifting.


Stick with compound movements - squat, bench, row, deadlift. There is an excellent program called AllPro on the bodybuilding.com forums. There's lots of good info on there. There is a good slow steady progression of weight that works very well for many people.


Start with low, easy to lift weights. You want to develop muscle memory and begin strengthening not only your muscles, but your central nervous system and your tendons, joints, bones, etc. Lift with good form. Control the weight on both the concentric and eccentric part of the lift. Two seconds up, two seconds down.


Compare weight lifting to long distance running. You wouldn't go run a 20K without going on a few 1Ks, 3Ks, and 5Ks. Don't expect to throw around heavy weights the first day either.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've worked out about eight times now, I think. I've figured out how much I can lift on the machines and I'm working on building stamina and muscle. Already feeling results, which is kinda neat.


To answer my own question in the OP, turns out nobody knows how much you can lift but you. Your body tells you, and it's basically trial and error until you figure it out. It took me three or four sessions to settle in on a specific weight on a specific machine, but once I zeroed in I realized I could lift, get sweaty & tired, but not feel like I'd been ripped in half the day or two after.


Last time & tonight I bumped my weights up on several machines. It worked out - I'm tired, but I could do it. I'll keep doing that until I'm pretty comfortable, then I'll move over to the free weights.


For cardio I've been doing bike & shooting baskets. I bought a basketball and I've been trying to find some kind of shooting touch. It's a workout because I suck and I'm constantly chasing missed shots. For the bike, I've been hitting the highway and going ten to fifteen miles. I'm focusing on hills, and my legs are doing all right. I've got my breath back and it's fun to ride again.

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Sounds like you're doing great. Just wanted to say take it easy on the free weights. Learn how to squat and deadlift properly before going to heavy. The other guys have given you pretty good advice. If you're just looking to lose weight right now high rep light weight squats and deads will change you're body. Also you don't have to waste a lot of time on isolation exercises. I don't know how old you are or if you have any injuries but hang cleans are also a great way to lose weight. Do those a couple times a week and you'll see results. And keep doing the cardio you enjoy you'll be in shape before you know it. Good luck!

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