How strong really are you?

It has happened to me recently that I piled on way heavier weight than usual on an exercise and I was shocked how easy it was to lift. I started thinking about why many people, especially women, underestimate their strength. Of course, not everyone wants to be a bodybuilder or a power lifter.

But can lifting too light make you skinny fat or be a total waste of time?

Of course, first of all it’s clever to do a set or more with just bodyweight, to warm up and practice form. Then you would gradually move up with smaller weights, that is obvious to anyone that goes to the gym regularly (hopefully). But sadly this is the point where many people (mostly women) stop their progress. It’s dangerous to lift too heavy or with incorrect form, but that’s a different subject.

So how do you determine how much to lift and why are women so afraid of these extra kilos on the bar?

Personally I observed that I was just scared of the weight, afraid of not being able to lift it or worse, dropping it on my head (too many tragic Youtube fail videos).  Some common workout programs suggest sets of 5, 8, 10 reps. Basically, this means that you should lift enough that you fail at the last rep! I repeat: you can’t go past 10 reps!  If you can, up the weight! If you don’t, you’re not progressing enough.  Two observations for the most common complaints about this:

a) ‘I don’t wanna get too bulky’
If it was so easy getting bulky, life would be a whole lot easier for bodybuilders. (Un)fortunately, especially for ladies, it’s not easy at all to grow muscle and bulk, so if you are a hobby, 3-times-a-week gym goer, don’t worry, you won’t be the next Hulk! If, somehow you notice excessive growth, just focus more on other areas of your body and work that larger, bulkier part less.

b) ‘I am not a bodybuilder’
Small rep ranges are not all you are going to do, and definitely not all bodybuilders do. They are, however a vital part of your progress and development; a good way to determine how strong you are and to have a point of reference for your progress. Depending on whether you’re more into muscle growth or toning you will choose the lower or higher spectrum of reps, but the most effective range seems to be 8-12 reps.
Again, this is not a universal rule, bodybuilders use various methods of alternating (supersets, drop sets, pyramid, over-training), however it is a good starting point for beginners and a tool to assess your strength.

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