A women with dumbbells on her shoulder

Strength training: how to lift heavier weights in the gym

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Want to start lifting heavier but aren’t sure how to add more weight onto the bar? Here’s where to start. 

So, you want to get stronger and build muscle? The best way to do that is to lift heavier weights, but let’s be honest: increasing the number on the dumbbell or the plates on the bar can be hard.

Even if you’ve been deadlifting the same weight for a while and yet, adding an extra 5kg might mean that you’re unable to lift it off the ground. Perhaps you’re ready to graduate from kettlebells to barbells but aren’t really sure what weight you should choose. It may feel easier to stick with the weight you’re lifting, rather than challenge yourself – but there are ways to up what you’re lifting safely and efficiently. 

Why should you lift heavier?

If you feel confident with the weight you’re lifting, why would you change it? Aside from the fact that your workouts are a time when you should be challenging your body, “people should increase the weights they’re lifting to bring on progression and adaptations to the body,” explains Martena David, personal trainer at Gymbox. This is all about the concept of progressive overload, which means gradually increasing the demand on your body so your body keeps adapting. 

“Applying progressive overload to your training routine ensures you are gaining muscle, getting stronger and continuously challenging your body,” adds David. With that comes all of the health benefits of building muscle, while also keeping your workouts motivating thanks to new accomplishments. 

A woman doing a lat pull down in the gym.
How to lift heavier weights

How to know when you’re ready to increase the weight you’re lifting

Before adding more weight you first need to make sure you’ve gone as far as you can with the weight that you’re currently using. “Ensuring your movement in your lifts is correct and with good form should always be done before adding more weight,” says David. She suggests asking yourself these three questions: 

  • Do you feel the muscle groups you are trying to target in the exercise activating? 
  • Is it pain free with no aggravation of other parts of your body when lifting?
  • Has your current routine and weight started to feel easy? Ie are you are able to complete your desired number of reps without it feeling too taxing? 

If the answer to any of these is ‘yes’ then your body is probably ready for a new challenge. 

How to progress to heavier weights

Start small

Don’t make huge leaps with the weight your adding, advises David. “Depending on the exercise and lift you can start by adding 1.25kg or 2.5kg to the bar. It may sound small, but it’s still progress. Adding a little weight at a time ensures you are still being challenged and bringing on adaptations while moving correctly.” 

Try new techniques 

Adding in training protocols such as pyramid sets will help the body get used to lifting more weight without demanding four sets at your max weight. You can also try reducing your rep range; if you’re used to doing hypertrophy training (eight to 12 reps), try upping the weight and working in a strength phase, where you perform one to five reps

Go heavy for you

“Know that we all start somewhere, and weight is all relative. What is light or heavy for you will be different for someone else,” David reminds us. The most important thing to concentrate on is feeling comfortable performing fundamental movement patterns before adding more weight. “Don’t rush the process, it takes time!”

Want to starting lifting? Sign up to the Strong Women Training Club to access strength training programmes for all levels. 

Images: Getty

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).

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