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Developing a Weight Training Program

How Much Weight?
The question of how much weight to lift is probably asked more than any other question in weight lifting.

Now that we've established that a range of 10 to 12 reps is ideal for most exercises, we need to find the weight that will allow you to do that many without compromising your form. As we said before, early on your goal is to learn to do the exercises with the proper technique. In this initial phase of your lifting life, you should err on the side of caution when picking a weight to start with. A rule of thumb to keep in mind is that generally, the larger the muscle, the more weight you can handle. And as you'll quickly learn, you can move more weight with your legs than with your arms.

In the next chapter, we begin to give you step-by-step instructions on how to actually perform these exercises. When you get started with each of them, begin with the lightest weight possible. If it's a machine, set it to one plate to get the feel for it and then add a little more. Right now we want you to focus on technique without worrying about completing the lift. For exercises that require dumbbells, use relatively light ones to accomplish the same aim. And for exercises with a barbell, try using the Olympic bar without weight, or even a lighter one if necessary.

In any event, be sure not to strain or push too hard during your first few workouts. Once you get the feel of things, you can gradually start to increase the weight during the next few workouts. Be patient. Increase the weight a little each time until you find a weight that will be challenging by the tenth or eleventh rep. Once you've found that weight, stay with it until you can do 12 good reps. When you can do 12 solid reps without straining a vital organ, it's time to increase the weight. When you bump up the weight, try for about a 5 percent increase. Adding that extra weight should make reaching 10 a challenge again.

Here's another issue to keep in mind. If you've been lifting for six months and find you're unable to perform 12 reps even though you did so last week, don't worry. The key is form, concentration, and intensity. As long as you reach elegant failure on your ninth, tenth, or eleventh rep, you've making progress. Lack of sleep, stress, and a myriad of other factors will impact on how you feel on any given day, so cut yourself some slack as long as you're working hard.

How Much Rest?
The amount of rest to take between exercises is as fundamental a concern as any other, but for some reason it is the one issue that is often overlooked. For example, most gym veterans can tell you how much weight they use and how many reps they do for any exercise, but few pay much attention to how much rest they take between sets.

From a physiological point of view, there's no real reason to take more than three minutes between sets. By that time, your ATP (remember, ATP is your body's source of immediate energy) is about 99 percent replenished and your body is as ready as it's going to be. From a practical point of view, there's no reason for a beginning lifter to wait that long between sets. Two minutes allows your muscles ample time to recover and gives a workout partner time to change the weight and do a set, without wasting undue time.

While we don't want to make working out into a stressful bit of time management, you should be aware that when you're not thinking about time, two minutes flies by. In fact, very often people have brief chats between sets that last anywhere from 4 to 15 minutes. Ask them how long they take between sets and they assume it's only a few minutes. Before you know it, the workout that should take you 45 minutes to an hour has stretched to 11/2 hours. As a result, it's good to time yourself between sets early on. Once you find a rhythm, your body will know the appropriate amount of rest to take.

For certain advanced programs like circuit training, supersets, bodybuilding, or powerlifting, we will vary the rest interval that we recommend. But for now let's stick with two minutes.

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Excerpted from he Complete Idiot's Guide to Weight Training © 2003 by Deidre Johnson-Cane and Jonathan Cane. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide website or call 1-800-253-6476.


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