How often to increase weight when lifting is one of the most common questions I get asked as a coach.
You want to be able to push yourself to continue to get stronger and see results, yet you also want to be sure you stay injury free.
Maybe you think you could lift heavier weight, but when are you supposed to?
Is there a specific routine to follow? Are there certain markers that let you know yes you should increase your weight or no you should not increase your weight?
Tons of questions, right?
Don’t worry, we are going to cover all of that and then some in this article here today.
We are going to do a deep dive into how often to increase weight when lifting so just be sure to take some notes.
I don’t want you missing anything and I certainly don’t want you confused. I want you to leave this article knowing exactly what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.
I want you leaving this article confident, not confused. Both words that start with the letter c but vastly different meanings. I find that actually quite intriguing.
Anywho, let’s begin.
How Often To Increase Weight When Lifting
Why Do You Need To Increase Weight When Lifting
Before we talk about the exact how to’s of how often to increase weight when lifting, let’s first take some time to talk about why you need to increase the weight you are lifting.
I think the first and most obvious reason is you want to get stronger, duh.
Who doesn’t want to be able to confidently and safely lift more weight?
I have never met someone in my life who said “Man, you know what… I am just TOO strong!”.
I don’t think that phrase has ever been said in the existence of man kind (other than jokingly in this article.. I really think that’s the only time ever).
Of course you want to get stronger, who doesn’t.
Yet even beyond that I think it is important to discuss why you need to increase the weight you are lifting in order to see progress in your physique.
If you are looking to change the way your body looks, ie lose fat, build muscle, etc, there is one concept you need to understand and master.
This is the concept of progressive overload.
In layman’s terms, this simply just means doing more over a period of time.
I won’t dive too in depth on progressive overload right here because I wrote an entire separate article on progressive overload HERE.
I highly, highly suggest you check that article out after reading this one as those two back to back will teach you more about this topic than most people will ever learn in their life.
Yet I believe the concept of progressive overload applies here to increasing weights because it is literally how your body changes.
More on this now.
How Your Body Changes
If you are reading this article right now, you are probably looking to see your body change.
You want to transform your body. Get stronger, lose fat, build muscle definition, the whole 9 yards.
I think it is important to break this down in the most simplest form of how this actually occurs.
First and foremost to lose body fat you need to be in an overall calorie deficit. I won’t belabor this point because I have written tons of article and recorded tons of YouTube videos around this, feel free to check some of those out if you’d like.
For the purpose of this article, we are going to talk about how your body changes when it comes to getting stronger, building muscle, and seeing your physique change.
There is one simple cycle that your body goes through in order to change.
Stress > Recovery > Adaptation
This is the cycle your body goes through to change.
There is a stress placed on your body, in this case it is the amount of weight you are lifting.
Your body says “oh sh*t, this is not good. Something is trying to harm us, better adapt to be able to withstand this the next time to stay alive”.
Think about sweating for example. Yes sweating.
The heat is a stress on the human body. What did our bodies do? Find a way to cool us down so that we can stay alive.
Thus comes sweating into the picture.
There was a stress (heating), the body recovered, then it adapted (sweating).
Stress > Recovery > Adaptation.
In order for your body to change, it is going to need a stress placed upon it great enough to induce this change.
Otherwise, our bodies will not change. Our bodies like homeostasis, which is just essentially staying even keel. Not changing up too much and staying exactly as is, because that is what is the easiest to maintain.
Your body doesn’t care that you want to get stronger or build muscle, it only cares about keeping you alive.
Therefore staying at homeostasis makes it this easiest and most efficient way to stay alive because it does not waste extra time, energy, calories, etc on changing. It can solely focus on running the operating system.
Therefore, To Change Your Body, You Have To PUSH!
This is often why chaining your body is hard. It requires stepping outside of your comfort zone and quite literally going against what your body wants.
Yet this is what is required of you if you want to see change.
This is where how often to increase weight when lifting comes into play.
When you first start lifting weights, 5lbs is a stress to your body.
You are new, hell 1lb would be a stress to your body. You have never done it before.
Let’s say you lift 5lb dumbbells for 8 reps.
Your body says “Alert, there is a stress being placed on me. Let’s recovery and adapt to this so that if this happens again, we are going to be able to withstand it”.
Therefore that 5lb dumbbell for 8 reps is going to be a stress great enough that your body has to go through the stress > recovery > adapt cycle.
You lift the weight, you recover, and you grow stronger, more defined muscles.
Yet, that is the whole point. Once your body has adapted to this stress, that stress is no longer great enough for your body to adapt and change.
It will say “Well, hell, we have seen this before. We have already adapted to this, so why waste any extra time on it?”.
This is where lifting more weights comes into play because quite literally if you don’t lift more weights, your body has no reason to adapt and change.
It has already adapted to your 5lb dumbbells for 8 reps, so if 6 months from now you are still lifting 5lb dumbbells for 8 reps, your body has no reason to change.
Therefore don’t expect your body to look or perform any different either.
Now that we know why we need to be lifting more weight over a period of time and how it is essential for seeing change in your body, let’s talk now about how often to increase weight when lifting.
How Often To Increase Weight When Lifting : The How
We learned above about why increasing the weight you are lifting is important to seeing your physique change.
Without it, you are limited to how far you can take your physique. This is why bodyweight workouts or only using 5 or 10lb dumbbells will only get you so far.
Don’t get me wrong, bodyweight workouts or 5-10lb dumbbells is amazing, and certainly better than nothing.
Yet the limit will be capped much sooner due to this simple fact of you needing to create a stress great enough on your body that your body is forced to respond to.
The more external load (weights) you have, the easier you can continue to apply said stress to your muscles.
Now when it comes to actually how often should you increase your weight when lifting, let’s first talk about what not to do.
Form > Everything
I thought about not including this section in this article and just diving right into the meat and potatoes of it, but this has to be said.
When talking about when to increase weight, we must first have to clearly lay out the order of importance here.
If you are lifting weights, your form is the most important thing. That is the bottom of the pyramid, that is your foundation.
I would never tell my client or anyone else to increase weight if their form is not already there.
This is for two reasons.
Number one is going to be if you increase weight with improper form, you are going to get injured.
If you get injured you won’t be able to workout for weeks, months, or even sometimes years at a time. Good luck getting stronger or changing your body then.
Number two is if you have the incorrect form, you won’t be using the correct muscles anyway.
So if you are doing a bicep curl, yet doing nothing but humping the air and swinging the weight up, you aren’t actually using your bicep.
Therefore your bicep won’t grow, get stronger, and become more defined because it isn’t actually getting the work.
Your hips humping the air will, which if you are trying to get better at thrusting for your partner in bed, that’s one thing. If you are trying to work your bicep, not getting too much done.
All of this to say if you don’t have proper form first, increasing weights is a distant second because this groundwork and foundation need to be laid first for any future weight increasing endeavors.
You wouldn’t build your house without drywall and a foundation, right? You can’t have your exercises built off of terrible form.
Take the time, get your form down first, then once you feel confident in it, you can take things from there with increasing the weights you are using.
Don’t Listen To Your Body
Okay so this is kind of weird, yes I want you to listen to your body.
For example if you are doing a movement, and your lower back is screaming to you in pain, you probably want to take a look at your form for that movement and get it right.
What I mean when I say “don’t listen to your body” is what we talked about earlier. Remember, your body doesn’t want to change.
Your body likes homeostasis, therefore you trying to come in and change it is actually the opposite of what your body wants.
So when you go into the workouts, your brain is going to tell you “No, don’t do this” “Too heavy” “You can’t do this” etc.
I will talk about this here a bit later in this article, but if there is one thing I have seen coaching people for the past 5 years is that you are way stronger than you think.
The amount of times I have told a client to do a certain amount of weight or reps, then they look at me like I have 3 heads.
Only to.. kindly suggest again they pick the weight up (ahem). Then they go on to do it with ease and more reps than I even wanted.
Then I look at them like “see MF, told you!”.
Your brain is trying to talk you out of it because it does not want you causing stress on your system.
Plus, some days are going to feel better or worse than others.
Some days you might feel like you can take on the entire world and lift all of the weights.
Others you might feel like the weight is lifting you and you can’t do it for sh*t.
This is completely normal and something we call *being a human being*.
Therefore solely going by how you feel can be volatile and inconsistent.
I am not saying go try to hit a 1RM when you got no sleep, have a cold, and feel like sh*t. No, that isn’t smart.
But any lifter will tell you that even on days where you walk in and might not feel 100% the best, you have some of your best lifts that day!
Then on the days you feel great, you might not have a great workout.
Simply how it goes sometimes, therefore having a concrete system in place for how often to increase weight when lifting can be incredibly beneficial.
Which, we are going to talk about, right now.
How Often To Increase Weight When Lifting : Two Main Ways
When it comes to the actual how to of increasing your weights, there are two main principles of progression you can follow.
A linear progress scheme.
And a double progression scheme.
This can give you a road map to follow for your movements, so let’s dive into them right now.
Linear Progress Scheme
This is by far the most OG, old school, tried and true ways of increasing the weights you are lifting.
Essentially what the linear progression scheme looks like it exactly how it sounds.
Over time, you are simply adding more weight little by little.
Let’s take a barbell back squat for example.
Let’s say week 1 you are doing just the empty barbell, no weights on it, which would be 45 lbs.
Let’s say you do this for 5 reps.
If you were follow a linear progression scheme, you would essentially add 5-10lbs to the bar each time.
*Note, this would mean either adding 2.5lb plates to each side or subsequently 5lb plates to the bar each time.
So it would look something like this.
Week 1 – 45lbs (empty bar) x 5 reps
Week 2 – 50lbs (bar + 2.5lbs each side) x 5
Week 3 – 55lbs (bar + 5lbs each side) x 5
Week 4 – 60lbs (bar + 7.5lbs each side) x 5
And on and on and on.
Slowly but surely, each week, you add weight to the bar.
This works incredibly well for Novice lifters and for bigger compound movements like
- Bench press
- Overhead press
- Chin ups
And so on.
Once again, assuming you have your form down and are confident in it, this is one way to increase the weight you are lifting week by week.
Notes On Linear Progression
As mentioned above, this is best for Novice lifters and or for your bigger, compound movements.
In fact, I am not a Novice lifter as I have been lifting for 9+ years at this point, yet I still use linear progression on my lifts to this day.
I followed a linear progression scheme to take my RDL from 275lbs to 425lbs, simply by adding 5lbs to the bar each week.
Yet what I want to say on linear progression is that number one, you may find yourself sacrificing form for weight a time or two.
Listen, we all do it. You want to lift more and you get caught up in adding 5-10lbs each week. It fuels you want you want to keep going.
Just be sure that after a few weeks of doing this you double check the form to make sure it is looking good. The more you increase weight the harder it becomes to maintain form.
You are getting proper range of motion, you aren’t doing things like rounding back on your deadlifts, you aren’t completely out of control with the weights.
Be sure to be honest and objective with yourself when it comes to applying linear progression and your form over time.
Number two is don’t try to rush it. There may be periods of times where you want to add 10, 15, 20lbs to the bar week after week.
This is sub optimal for many reasons. The first in which there is more to your body than just your muscles.
You have your tendons, ligaments, connective tissue, etc. If you are increasing weight at a rapid weight, your muscles might be able to handle it, but the other parts of your body aren’t ready yet because you haven’t taken the time to build them up.
In the same way you don’t want to lose weight rapidly, you don’t want to increase the weight you are lifting rapidly either.
Slow, steady, and progressively over time wins the race.
To wrap up linear progression
- Works with bigger compound movements
- Works incredibly well for novices
- Keep your form in check
- Don’t try and rush the process
Now, the only issue with linear progression is that for all movements that’s not realistic.
Let’s take a bicep curl for example. You aren’t going to go from lifting 10lbs one week, to 15 the next, to 20 the next. You’d be curling 100lb dumbbells in like 8 weeks or something. That’s not realistic.
So, what do you do for other movements for how often to increase weight when lifting?
Enter something called double progression scheme.
Double Progression Scheme
I came across the double progression scheme when reading Eric Helms book The Muscle & Strength Pyramids. I highly suggest you check them out, you will not be sorry you did.
The double progression scheme is a way to increase the weight you are lifting on literally any exercise.
Yet the way you do this is by increasing reps AND weight over time. Let me show you.
Let’s say you are doing reverse lunges for 6-8 reps.
First off, notice the rep range? It is not just one rep you are shooting for, there is a rep range.
Why is this important?
Let’s say you are lifting 10lb dumbbells on your reverse lunges for 6 reps.
A double progression scheme looks like this.
Week 1 – 10lbs for 6 reps
Week 2 – 10lbs for 7 reps
Week 3 – 10lbs for 8 reps
*Week 4 – 12.5 lbs for 6 reps
Week 5 – 12.5 lbs fr 7 reps
And on and on.
Can you see the difference here?
In a double progression scheme, you are increasing reps first, which in turns is going to lead to you increasing weight over a period of time.
You have a given rep range, and once you get to the top of that rep range with a given weight, you simply drop the reps back down to the bottom of the range while increasing the weight.
Then, you do it all over again until you get to the top of the rep range again in which then you would drop the reps, up the weight, and continue the cycle.
This is by far my favorite way to increase the weight you are lifting over time.
Notes On Double Progression Scheme
As mentioned above, you can use this with any movement.
It all depends on how your program is set up and what your sets and reps look like , but you can never go wrong with a double progression scheme.
Keep in mind with this progression scheme as well that just do one more rep, on one more set, is still considered progressive overload and you are still going to change your body.
So for example, let’s use the scenario above.
Let’s say you start off doing reverse lunges with 10lbs for 3×6 in a rep range of 6-8 reps.
This could potentially look like
Week 1 – 3×6 @ 10lbs
Week 2 – 1×7 @ 10lbs, 2×6 @ 10lbs
Week 3 2×7 @ 10lbs, 1×6 @ 10lbs
Week 4 3×7 @ 10lbs
You see how each week you just added one rep to one set to get you from 3 total sets of 6 to 3 total sets of 7?
This may not seem like much at the time, but over time this adds up to building a ton of strength and change in your physique.
This is also a great way to challenge yourself when you go into the gym and do more than what you did last time.
Even if it just one rep on one set, if you do more, you won for that day.
Let Me Be Clear
In the examples above we talked about essentially how to increase weight or reps every single week you go into the gym.
Realistically, this won’t happen every single time.
Can it happens a lot of times? Especially with realizing even if you just do one more rep on one more set that is considered progress? Yes, it absolutely can.
Yet as we talked about above some days you are going to just not have it, you might be fighting a cold didn’t get the best sleep, whatever the case may be.
If you don’t increase one week, that is absolutely 100% okay. It doesn’t mean you are a failure or you aren’t making progress.
Remember one week doesn’t make or break anyone. It matters what you do over a long period of time and as long as you are improving over a period of time, that is what matters most.
Therefore yes look to push yourself each week with one of these progression schemes, but don’t beat yourself up if you have a week where you just don’t got it.
Trust me, it happens to the best of us and always will. This is why consistency is the most important factor of this equation, you just keep going and never quit.
How Often To Increase Weight When Lifting : Progressive Overload
We just went over the two best ways to increase the weight you are lifting in your workouts.
Now, let’s circle back around to the concept of progressive overload.
While this article is about increasing the weight you are lifting because that is what is going to drive the change in your physique.
There are other ways to apply this progressive overload principle without necessarily lifting more weight or doing more reps.
For example, let’s say you are squatting.
Let’s say your range of motion right now only allows you to get 1/4 of a full rep squat.
If you can eventually work your way to a proper, 90 degree range of motion squat, this is a form of progressive overload.
Improving and increasing your range of motion will allow you to put more stress on your muscles over a period of time which is going to lead to you changing your physique and getting stronger.
Let’s also say you are are lifting 100lbs for 5 reps on the deadlift and it is a STRUGGLLEE.
In 4 weeks, let’s say you are still lifting 100lbs for 5 reps, yet this time around, it is moving smooth.
The bar is moving fast, you are having great form, you feel strong.
That is a form of progressive overload where you are getting stronger and your body will see change from that.
*Yet, at this point, you probably want to increase the weight! 😉
There are ways to get stronger and see change in your body outside of just lifitng more weight or doing more reps, like
- having better form
- Having increased range of motion
- Having more control over the weight
- Having better speed with movements
- Doing more sets
To name a few.
Yet the bread and butter of what you should be looking to do is increasing reps or weight or both over a period of time in order to see the most change.
How Often To Increase Weight When Lifting : Final Word
I want to end this information packed article with something I touched on earlier which is, don’t be afraid to push yourself.
So many times I see people put these glass ceilings on themselves thinking they can’t do this, they will never be able to lift that weight, they aren’t strong enough.
For lack of better terms, it’s bullsh*t.
You are strong enough. You can do it.
If you go into it thinking you can’t, well what do you think your result is going to be.
Yet if you go into it thinking you are going to push past your limits and give it all you got no matter the outcome, well now that outcome is going to look a lot different.
Again, do it safely, I don’t want you getting injured. Yet please, I am begging you, do not put glass ceilings on yourself. You can do this, I promise.
Hope this article helped out. If it did feel free to let me know below.
If you want some extra help with your journey, feel free to head HERE to see if we may be a good fit for coaching.