When it comes to lifting, the universal number for strength, power and muscle growth is between 15 and 25 total reps per exercise. (That could mean 8 sets of 3, 5 sets of 5, or 3 sets of 8.) The classic programs hit these numbers, and they get results.
But finding the perfect weight to complete all of your sets can be problematic. You want a load that will push you, but also one that will leave enough in the tank for you to finish all of your reps with good form.
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That's why I use the Goldilocks method. It can help you figure out if a load is too light, too heavy or just right.
How to Do It
Pick a weight and do 25 reps of any of the following exercises: military press, pull-up, bench press, row, squat, or trap bar deadlift. Your reps must be clean and you shouldn't miss a rep.
Rest when needed. Keep track of the total number of sets it takes to finish all of the reps, and then find where your number falls in the categories below.
Number of sets: 1 or 2
Number of sets: 8-plus
Number of sets: 3 to 5
Needed 6 or 7 sets to finish 25 reps? If you can usually handle this load, my guess is that you may just be tired or burning the candle at both ends. Take a break for a few days and try again. Then, if you hit 6 or 7 sets again, lower the weight. (Just keep at it. Here's Why Every Man Should Lift Weights.)
I recommend trying the Goldilocks method for all 6 exercises. Do it three days a week for 3 weeks, letting the sets dictate your load for each movement.
So if you see your total sets dropping for, say, the squat, add more load to the bar during your next session. If you see the number of sets climb above 6, reduce the amount on the bar.
If that's all too much to keep track of, remember You Can Lose Belly Fat with Just 2 Exercises.
This article originally appeared on MensHealth.com as "Are You Using the Right Weight for Every Exercise?." The author, Dan John, has coached for more than 30 years and helped hundreds of athletes pack on double-digit pounds of rock-solid muscle.
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