When it comes to lifting weights, gender doesn't have much to do with how much you should be lifting. While it is true that men tend to have more muscle mass than women, you'll find plenty of women out there who can lift more weight than some men. Finding the right amount of weight is going to be different for everyone; even women who appear of the same height, weight and level of fitness may be able to lift very different amounts of weight. Thus, finding the right weight for you is a process of trial and error.
Lifting to Fatigue
The key to lifting weights is making sure you're working your muscles to fatigue. That means that at the end of a single set, it should be really difficult to finish the last few repetitions. When you've finished the set, you should feel as if you have "nothing left," advises BodyBuilding.com. According to MayoClinic.com, you only need to do a single set of 12 to 15 repetitions to build muscle efficiently.
Testing It Out
To start out with the right amount of weight, you'll have to do some testing. One way to do this is to choose a weight that you think you can lift 12 to 15 times, such as a 5- or 10-pound dumbbell. Then simply do a set of biceps curls, triceps curls or any other exercise that you will be doing with the hand weights. If it's nearly impossible for you to finish 15 repetitions, you're at the right weight. Naturally, this will require you to have access to hand weights that you can try out. Work with a trainer or get a one-day pass at your local gym to test it out.
One-Rep Max Test
You can also use the "one-rep max test" as a way to test how much weight you should be lifting for various exercises. Essentially, you're trying to find the amount of weight that you can lift just one time. Your ideal lifting weight is typically about 70 percent of your one-rep max. You'll need access to a set of hand weights of various sizes. Choose an exercise such as the bicep curl and pick a hand weight that you think you can lift 15 times. Complete the set, take a break and then pick a weight that is a few pounds heavier -- which will mean you probably won't be able to complete the full 15 repetitions. Take a break and then move up to an even heavier weight, continuing this process until you've found a weight that you can only lift one time. Multiply that weight by .7 to find the approximate weight you should be lifting. For example, if you found that you were able to lift a 20-pound weight just one time, your ideal weight would be 14 pounds.
Ideally, you should be using your hand weights at least two times a week, doing one set of 12 to 15 repetitions for every exercise and giving your muscles at least one day of rest in between workouts. Exercises might include biceps curls, triceps curls, triceps kickbacks, lateral arm raises, bench presses and the dumbbell fly. As you continue your workout, your muscles are going to get continually stronger, meaning you're going to require more weight over time.
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