What weights should I be lifting in the gym?

In short, it depends.

In this blog, we’ll give you some tips and advice so the next time you enter the gym you feel more confident to pick up the correct weight!

So let’s get into it…

When new to strength training, it can be hard to know which weights to pick up or how hard you should be pushing yourself.

Firstly, it is important to understand that the weight we use is only a small piece of the puzzle.

It is vital that we first work on building the skill of lifting weights with good form and nailing our technique before we start to worry about the intensity.

With that being said… no one wants to leave the gym feeling underwhelmed. So how can we make sure we are challenging ourselves appropriately?

The Goldilocks Principle

Some weights will be too heavy… some weights too light… and some just right!

What we must also consider is the context around your Goldilocks weight.

Whilst a 20kg goblet squat is ‘just right’ for 8 reps, it is not going to suit 15 reps. In the same vein, even if we are sticking with 8 reps, 20kg may be too heavy if the program calls for you to lower yourself down for 5 seconds and pause for 2 at the bottom.

One way we suggest finding this ‘perfect’ weight is by aiming to leave around 2 reps in the tank on each set. So, imagine I ask you to do a set of 8 reps. I want you to use a weight that you may just about be able to grind out for 10 reps if you really pushed yourself! But if you could have got to 11 or more, that is a pretty good indicator you could push a bit harder!

On the flip side if you get to rep 6 and your form breaks down or lose control of the weight, then you have gone too heavy!

small group personal training in brighton and worthing


The first set of each movement should typically be classed as a warmup anyway, so pick a weight that you know you can comfortably do for the chosen number of reps.

You can use feedback from this warm-up to guide your selection for the subsequent sets. Don’t be afraid to adjust your weights as you move through the session, however, we do want to get to a position where we are sticking with a certain weight for a good number of working sets to accumulate enough volume.

As you get more training experience you will develop a good idea of where you should start out.

Rep Ranges

Rather than being super specific with finding the right weight for an exact number of reps, consider using a rep range. For example, instead of just going to exactly 8 reps, set yourself a range of 8-10.

This way, if your weight was a little light for 8, you can complete an extra couple of reps to reach the right intensity. Vice versa if you were a little optimistic for your set of 10 then you can stop at 8.

If you take this approach, stick with a weight until all your working sets hit the higher end of the rep range. In your next session, you can then increase the weight and drop back down to the lower end to rinse and repeat.

This can be particularly useful in exercises that use smaller dumbbells such as bicep curls or shoulder presses.

Adding a kg or two on a larger barbell lift may be achievable but going from 2.5kg to 5kg on a bicep curl or from 5kg to 7.5kg on a shoulder press is a big jump when we look at it as a percentage; so, playing around with the rep schemes or slowing the tempo down may help you keep in your goldilocks range, without changing the weight at all.

Your best on the day is good enough.

personal trainer in brighton coaching a deadlift

A final note…

Whilst this guide has given you a few tips on how to find the right weights in the gym, it’s important to remember that your best on the day is good enough.

So, if you know that last week you hit 10kg on your shoulder press, but today your warmup on the 8kg’s is feeling heavier than you expected, that’s ok!

Life happens…

You may have slept badly, you may have a lot on at work, you may be returning from a holiday or you may be recovering from being unwell.

We cannot always expect performance to go up every week or month… Do the best you can and meet yourself where you are on any given day.

Keep showing up.

As always if you ever need support, guidance or motivation with your training, then our small group personal training sessions would be the perfect environment for you!

Simply book a call with us today and let’s see how we can help you with your fitness.

Written by Coach Nick.

tips for personal trainer in brighton worthing in 2023