how much weight should you lift to build muscle

How Much Weight Should You Lift To Build Muscle? Here Is The Best Way If You Are A Skinny Newbie

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How much weight should you lift to build muscle? If you are a skinny dude who is new to lifting, you have probably asked this question numerous times. It’s a very good question! And one that I will be answering today.

The weight load you should lift to build muscle will vary according to lifting experience and the specific exercise you are performing. 8 to 12 reps per set is the effective range for muscle growth. Therefore you should choose a weight that allows you to stay within this rep range.

2 years ago I got serious about my weight lifting. I was a skinny guy on a mission to get big. And to do so required me to optimise my weight loads.

The only issue? I didn’t have a clue how much I should be lifting! The internet recommended I use my 1 rep max for guidance. But did they seriously think I (a skinny newbie) would start experimenting with 1RMs by myself?

Hell no.

Thats why today I want to share with you my 1 rep max estimation method. It will allow you to estimate your own 1 rep max and determine how much weight you should be lifting.

So let’s dive right in!

3 Factors Determine How Much Weight You Should Lift

There are 3 main factors that will determine how much weight you should lift to build muscle:

  • Experience- how long have you currently been lifting for?
  • Exercise type- which exercises are you performing?
  • Training goal- are you training to build muscle? Get stronger? Gain endurance?

Every guy is different. Furthermore- every skinny guy is different.

And these 3 factors will dictate how much weight you should be lifting.

Let me explain.

Disclaimer- since you are on this page, we already know your goal is to build muscle right? So this post will focus solely on building muscle!

Take a look at my other post if you want to learn how to build muscle quick!

How Much Weight You Lift Depends On Your Experience

Your current weight lifting experience is an essential factor when it comes to figuring out how much weight to lift to build muscle.

Some skinny dudes can have an extremely high relative strength.

In other words, they can lift a lot of weight for their size.(1)

And this is most often because they are experienced lifters who have been practising their technique for many years. Therefore, these guys will need to shift heavier weights in order to build muscle.

how much weight you should lift to build muscle depends on your abilities

In contrast, beginner and intermediate lifters will have a much lower relative strength.

In other words, they cannot lift much for their size.

And if you are a skinny dude on this page, chances are you are a beginner/intermediate lifter right?

If so- this means you will need to lift lighter weights compared to your stronger peers.

And I stress the word “compared”.

You will still have to lift heavy (relative to your personal strength levels) if you want to build muscle.

I will explain later exactly how much weight you need to lift.

How Much Weight You Lift Also Depends On The Exercises You Do

How much weight you should lift to build muscle also depends on the exercises you perform.

Compound lifts will naturally require you to lift heavier to make muscle gains. This is because they engage large muscle groups.

how much weight you should lift to build muscle depends on the exercises you do

In contrast, isolation lifts will limit the amount of weight you can lift. This is because they involve smaller muscle groups.

Furthermore- how much weight you should lift will vary between the compound exercises. For example, it is very normal for a guy to lift heavier on the squat compared to the bench press.(2)

Again, this is because the squat involves larger muscles (quads, hamstrings, and glutes) compared to the bench press (pectorals, triceps, and deltoids).

Always Remember You Are Absolutely Unique. Just Like Everyone Else.

Margaret Mead

To put it simply- how much weight you should lift to build muscle depends on highly personal factors, and will vary greatly between individuals.

But many of you knew this anyway right?

So what’s the good news?

If your goal is to build muscle, there is defined approach you can take to determine how much weight you should lift.

Let me explain this now.

Lift Weights In The 8-12 Rep Range To Build Muscle

It is widely accepted that lifting weights in the 8-12 rep range is ideal for muscular hypertrophy (building muscle).(3)

What do I mean by the 8-12 rep range?

Simple- always try to complete 8 to 12 reps per set (regardless of experience and exercise type), since this is the rep range for hypertrophy.

lift weights in the 8 to 12 rep range to build muscle

Does this mean you will automatically build muscle just by sticking to the 8-12 rep range?

Not quite.

You will also need to choose a weight which will challenge the muscles in those 8 to 12 reps.

So how can you choose the right weight to challenge your myscles for muscle growth?

This is what I will explore next!

Use The Estimated 1RM To Determine How Much Weight You Should Lift

Choosing the right weight to lift in your 8-12 rep range is essential if you want to build muscle.

And you can use your 1 rep max (1RM) to determine how much weight you should be lifting.

I will now explain what a 1RM is, how to estimate your 1RM, and the 1RM estimation method to determine how much weight you should be lifting.

What Is A 1RM?

A 1RM (rep max) is the absolute maximum amount of weight you can lift for 1 repetition for a specific exercise.

1RM values will differ between individual lifting capabilities and exercises.(4)

The conventional way to measure your 1RM is simple- try to lift as much weight as possible in one go (with the help of a spotter of course).

use a one rep max to find out how much weight you should lift to build muscle

For example- if the maximum amount of weight you can bench press in one go is 80Kg, then your bench press 1RM is 80Kg.

Although effective, this way of determining 1RM may not suitable for skinny dudes (especially beginner lifters!). In fact, you are probably thinking:

Heck, you expect me- a newbie- to play around with weights I can’t handle?!

Skinny Beginner

Of course not!

In fact- I would recommend the exact opposite. Be smart and safe by estimating your 1RM.

This is what you will learn next.

How To Estimate Your 1RM

You can estmate your 1RM by using online databases (oh the luxury of online convenience!).

This 1 rep max database by Strength Level is awesome. They have essentially compiled the 1RMs of millions of people with different abilities and body weight, across various exercises.

This allows you to approximate your 1RM for a specific exercise, based on your abilities and bodyweight.

use strength level to estimate your one rep max which can be used to determine how much weight you should lift to build muscle

For example- if you are a 130 pound skinny dude who has just started bench pressing, then your bench press 1RM will be around 100 pounds (according to Strength Level).

This allows you to estimate the 1RMs for for all the exercises in your training programme.

And once you have estimated your 1RM values, you can determine how much weight you should be lifting to challenge yourself in the 8-12 rep range.

In other words- how much weight you should be lifting to build muscle.

Apply The 1 RM Estimation Method To Determine How Much Weight To Lift

You can now use your estimated 1RM to determine how much weight you should lift in order to challenge yourself in the 8-12 rep range. And thus build muscle.

I call this the 1 RM estimation method. And here’s how it works.

First, you will need to understand the relationship between reps and weight.

Take a look at the my strength curve below (it’s a visual adaptation of Bill Geigers Weight-Rep Relationship).

strength curve to calculate how much weight you should lift to build muscle

Copy and paste the code below to share this image on your site!

This curve shows an inverse relationship between weight and reps.

To put it simply- as reps increase, the weight decreases, and vice versa.

You can use this curve to estimate how much weight to lift in your 8-12 rep range.

Simply, plug in your 1 rep max and identify the best weight for an 8-12 rep range!

Top tip- this number is usually 60-80% of your 1RM!

1 rep estimation method involves taking 64 to 80% of your one rep max to find out how much you should be lifting in the 8 to 12 rep range

For example- if your estimated bench press 1RM is 100 pounds, then you should be lifting between 64-80 pounds pounds for your 8-12 rep range (64-80% of 100 pounds). 8 reps would involve 80 pounds, whilst 12 reps would involve 64 pounds.

Similarly, if your estimated bench press 1RM is 80 pounds, then lift between 51-64 pounds for your 8-12 rep range (64-80% of 80 pounds).

And so forth.

I call this the 1 RM estimation method.

The 1 RM estimation method allows you to effectively determine how much weight you should lift to build muscle.

As a bonus, it doesn’t involve physically lifting your 1 rep max!

And that makes it a much safer approach for skinny beginners!

Benchmarking Your Starting Weights

By using the 1RM estimation method, you can benchmark your starting weight.

In other words- you can calculate how much weight you should be lifting in order to build muscle for each exercise.

Don’t worry- it’s more simple than it sounds!

Simply apply the 1 RM estimation method to each of the exercises in your training programme!

This allows you to identify suitable starting weights without messing about and trying out all the different weights on the dumbbell rack!

Check out my other guide if you are interested in learning about the trial and error method for determining how much weight to lift!

An Example

Let’s take Leon as an example.

Leon is a 130 pound dude who has just started his weight training. In other words, he is a beginner. And his goal is to build muscle.

how can you use the one rep max estimation to calculate lifting weight?

To do so, Leon’s training programme includes the 5 core compound lifts and 5 common isolation lifts.

Leon knows he has to lift 8-12 reps per exercise.

But how much weight should Leon be lifting for each exercise to achieve maximum muscle gains?

Starting Weight For The 5 Compound Lifts

By applying the 1RM estimation method, Leon get’s the following benchmarks for his 5 core compound lifts:

ExerciseEstimated 1 RM(lb)Estimated 8 Rep Weight (lb)Estimated 12 Rep Weight (lb)
Bench Press715745
Overhead Press443528
Barbell Row625040
Barbell Squat987863
Barbell Dead Lift1239879

Now Leon knows how much he should be lifting when he hits the weight room!

And he didn’t need to try testing his real 1 rep max (which could be dangerous). Nor did he have to waste time on the trial and error method for determining 1 rep max!

Starting Weight For 5 Common Isolation Lifts

The 1RM estimation method can then be applied to get benchmarks for the 5 common isolation lifts:

ExerciseEstimated 1 RM(lb)Estimated 8 Rep Weight (lb)Estimated 12 Rep Weight (lb)
Dumbbell Chest Fly865
Lateral Raise543
Dumbbell Back Fly221
Leg Extension564536
Leg Curl362923

Adjusting Weight To Hit The Sweet Spot To Build Muscle

One thing you need to bear in mind.

The 1 RM estimation method gives you an estimated weight (the clue is in the name!).

You will have to adjust the weight as you begin (and throughout) your training.

Your Goal Is To Find The Optimum Weight Which Fatigues Your Muscle Within 8-12 Reps

Kal

This is because everyone is different. Where Leon may have a relatively strong chest, you may have a relatively strong back (as an example).

Don’t worry- finding the optimum weight is also a fairly simple process (you’ve done most of the hard work already!)

Your ultimate goal is to fatigue your muscles by the end of your 8-12 reps.

So how do you know when you have fatigued your muscle?

Well, the last few reps should feel challenging! It should also initiate the infamous lactic burn!

If you breeze through your 8-12 reps whilst being able to scrool social media at the same time, you know to increase the weight.

Conversely, if the last few reps are igniting a lactic inferno within your muscles, you have found the right weight!

diagram showing the optimal weight to lift to gain muscle

Great!

Now you have found the optimal weight which challenges your muscle for 8-12 reps.

And you have also found the the right weight to lift to build muscle.

Give yourself a pat on the back and train to gain!

Conclusion

That’s the end of the post!

Exactly how much weight you should lift to build muscle will vary amongst individuals. That being said, I have shown you how to determine the ideal weight load for your specific circumstances.

More specifically- I have taught you the importance of lifting within the 8-12 rep range and how to estimate your 1 RM (using the Strength Level database). I have also shown you (with examples) how to use your estimated 1 RM to then determine how much weight you should lift (using the 1 RM estimation method).

Finally, I have explained the importance of optimising your weight estimations. And this will ensure you challenge your muscles in the 8-12 rep range for maximum muscle gains.

Will you be using my 1 RM estimation method to benchmark your lifting exercises?

Please let me know in the comments below! It would be be awesome to see my fellow skinny dudes fulfil your own lifting potential!

Alternatively, signup to the Kalibre Newsletter for weekly posts!

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Thanks for reading guys!

Peace Out,

Kal

(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)

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