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How Much Weight Should I Start Out With?

Dear Dr. Bell, I’m completely new to the gym scene. How do you determine how much weight you should start with?

I am going to answer this as if I were taking you through your first workout.

After we get you warmed up with some light cardio, I am going to take you over to a line of strength training machines.

Important Note: You will learn the positive, Concentric Contraction” is when your muscle fibers are “bundling” or “making a muscle.” You will always see and feel the weight or weight stack going UP during the concentric contraction. The weight or weight stack is always going DOWN during the Eccentric Contraction when your muscles are elongated under load.

During the Concentric Phase, you will EXHALE and take two seconds to go from start to finish. During the Eccentric Phase, you will INHALE and take four seconds to go from start to finish. You will commit to a slight pause between Concentric and Eccentric Phases.

As a beginner, you will start with 15 repetitions. If you are in good shape, you can go to failure, meaning, after you complete your 15th Repetition, you will not have the strength to do a 16th. Keep in mind it will take nearly 8 seconds to complete each repetition: Press-2 seconds-Pause-4 seconds on the Eccentric Phase-Pause and you will repeat 15 times.

So here is how you determine how much weight to start with. Adjust the machine for your height: For example, you are starting on a Chest Press Machine. The correct adjustment is to align the joint you are working (in this case the shoulder) with the fulcrum of the Chess Press. When gym machines are set up correctly, they put a colorful dot to show you precisely where you can find the fulcrum on the machine.

Keep in mind that human error sometimes misplaces the dot, therefore look at the machine fulcrum, even try a few reps with no weight in order to precisely determine the fulcrum yourself. Once you are sure you have found the fulcrum, raise or lower the seat to align the fulcrum of the machine with the fulcrum of your body.

Please Note: Misalignment of the fulcrums can place high shearing force on your joint, resulting in chronic injury overtime. 

Once you are properly seated, make your best guess on how much weight it will take for you to complete 15 Reps. Put the pin on the weight stack at that weight. As you begin your repetitions, using the proper timing, you will begin to determine within 3-5 Reps if the weight you selected is too heavy or too light. Adjust the weight accordingly to complete your 15 Rep set.

Document the weight you used and how many Reps you completed for every exercise and every set. Increase the weight by about 5% per workout to remain within the 12-15 Rep Range.

You will find your strength will increase very rapidly during your first 8 weeks of training.

Typically, the average beginner increases their strength by approximately 87% in the first 8 weeks of training. This increase is regardless of age or gender! An 8-year-old girl increases her strength by 87% in 8 weeks, just as an 18-year-old male, a 28-year-old woman, or a 108-year-old man. Their starting strength is all different, but their rate of improvement is 87% in 8 weeks.

Good Luck with your training!