Thank you for all the great questions on my last post! I’m surprised at how many of you want to see more personal posts from me, but I’m happy to oblige. I will work my way through the questions in the order I received them, so today’s question is from Erika:
What’s a normal expected rate of weight increase for what I am able to lift? Like, after each week or month, what should I expect my gains to be? I’m guessing it depends on the muscle group? I also lift heavy! I am in the second part of the 12 week program where I do sets of ~8, lifting till it hurts!
Great, let’s start with a question that has no clear answer! Kidding aside, the rate of progress will vary from individual to individual. Beginners can easily add more weight to the bar week after week, but a more advanced lifter would be happy with just a couple of increases per year.
A beginner isn’t necessarily someone brand new to lifting, either. I started lifting almost four years ago, but I didn’t start training for strength until June 2013. Over the course of my first six months in the gym, I increased my strength by at least double for almost every exercise. While that sounds impressive, remember that I’m talking about going from a 30kg squat to a 60kg squat.
I began dabbling in a 5/3/1 style of programming in late 2012, but didn’t really push my true maxes until I started training with my coach last June. When I started training with him, my deadlift one rep max (1RM) was 100kg. In December, I pulled 130kg.
Even though I wasn’t a true gym newbie, I had never properly trained for strength and therefore didn’t know how much my body was capable of – a 30kg increase, apparently.
This year, my progress has been sloooooow – which I largely attribute to events in my personal life as well as the injury I had at the beginning of the year. I am gearing up to test my maxes at the end of next month, but I would be ecstatic to pull 135kg. I’ve spent almost an entire year training for a 5kg PR, which would probably sound crazy to a beginner.
Keeping all of the above in mind, the following can be used as a rough guide to weight progression.
- If you have been training for six months or less: You should be able to add 2.5kg (5lbs) to your squat and deadlift almost every week, and 2.5kg to your overhead and bench presses every other week. You may feel weak to start off with but your body will adapt quickly. While the best results will always come from following a structured program, beginners will generally see results regardless of what they do. Within six months, I have seen clients double and even triple their strength. Beginners will not benefit much from testing their 1RM at this stage, and should perform sets of five to eight reps.
- If you have been training for six months to two years: You will benefit from following a periodised program where the weights increase each week for 6-8 weeks, culminating in the testing of your 1RM at the end of the period.
- If you have been training for two years or longer: Your periodisation cycles will need to increase and you should not test your maxes so often (no more than once every 3-4 months and preferably only during competition if you are a competitor). Finding the ideal training style will involve experimentation as some people do better with high weight and low volume, while others respond more favourably to lower weight and high volume (the latter of which I am personally trying right now). It is also important to note that more advanced lifters will find it difficult to hit a PR under pressure – all physical and mental factors must be aligned perfectly for this to happen. You will be lucky to add 10kg to your lifts each year.
When a brand-new trainee is lifting, their bodies will grow stronger between each lifting session so they can typically handle a small addition to the bar each week without faltering. This is generally the addition of the smallest plate possible (1.25kg) to either side of the bar, or the next heaviest set of dumbbells (a 1kg or 2kg increase).
With slightly more advanced lifters, I typically increase the number of repetitions they are performing first. For example, if someone can squat 80kg for three reps, we stick with the same weight until they can perform five reps. I will then increase the weight to 82.5 or 85kg and have them perform three reps, again working their way up to hitting five comfortably.
The latter technique is how I approach my accessory lifts. While I am following a specific cycle for my main lifts, I typically just slightly increase the weight of my accessory exercises once it starts feeling too easy.
A good rule of thumb is that the last one to three reps (depending on how many total reps you are performing) should feel difficult, and there should be a small doubt in your mind that you might not be able to make them. If you are doing sets of eight repetitions, it should be hurting by the sixth rep! If it’s not, or you feel like you could do another two or three reps, then increase the number of reps you are performing.
How often do you increase the weights you lift?