How Often Should You Increase The Weight You Lift On Various Exercises?

If you are doing any form of weight training (or even just exercise in general) with pretty much ANY goal in mind, the most important factor in your workout routine isn’t the exercises you’re doing, or the schedule you’re using, or the intensity, volume or frequency you’ve set up.

Nope, those are all important factors for sure, just not the most important.

Instead, that description always goes to progressive overload, which is the one factor that can make or break all of the others. As I’ve covered before, progressive overload is what happens when you increase the demands being placed on your body through (in this case) weight training.

There’s a few different ways of doing it, but the most common example of all is to just gradually increase the amount of weight you lift on each exercise.

If you’re not doing this (or something similar) over time, then chances are you’re not getting anything close to positive results from your workouts. It’s seriously THAT important.

Now, when you understand this importance and realize that progression is the key to the success of your workout routine, a common question that comes up is how often should this progression take place? Exactly how often should you increase the weight you lift?

Let’s answer that…

How Often Should I Increase The Weight I’m Lifting?

There’s really two different answers to this question, as it depends on exactly what workout routine you’re using:

  • Some pre-designed weight training programs have very specific guidelines for how and when progression should take place on each exercise. You know… like increase this way on this exercise in this workout at this time. If you’re using a program like that, then that’s how often you should increase the weight you’re lifting.
  • But if you’re not using a pre-designed program whose progression is built into the program itself, then you should increase the weight you lift as often as you possibly can.

My Muscle Building Workout Routine specifies the method of progression and how and when to make it happen, but there’s no built in time frame for it. In that case (and the case of any other routine fitting the second description above), your goal is to increase the weight you lift on each exercise as often as humanly possible.

The more you progress and the faster you progress, the more your body will improve and the faster your body will improve.

But Don’t Be Stupid About It

While the really common sense answer here is that you should be increasing your weights as fast and as often as you can, I feel like I always need to add “within the realm of safety and sanity” to that answer to prevent certain people from doing something stupid.

What I mean is, you should actually be fairly capable of increasing the weight before you increase the weight. Progressing often is the goal, but you can’t just haphazardly add more weight to each exercise for the sake of adding more weight and unrealistically “creating” progress.

Your form will go to shit, the target muscle(s) will no longer be used properly, reps will fall well below where they should be, and injuries will likely occur.

So if you’re currently lifting a weight on some exercise that’s still a bit heavy for you, then you’re not ready to increase. If you’re supposed to be doing 4 sets of 8 reps on an exercise and you’re getting reps of 7, 6, 5, 4, then you’re not ready to increase.

These are cases where you need to spend a little more time with a weight and focus on increasing reps first and getting them into the range they should be in. When they are, and you’re now stronger with that weight, THAT’S when it’s time to increase it. You can see an example of this here: When & How To Progress At Weight Training

So, when capable, increase the amount of weight you lift as often as possible. That’s goal #1.

Will I Be Able To Progress On Each Exercise At The Same Rate?

Hell no! You’ll always be able to increase the weight of compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, various presses and rows much more often than isolation exercises like biceps curls, triceps extensions and lateral raises. This of course is one of the benefits of compound exercises over isolation exercises.

And even still, nothing really progresses at exactly the same rate… even compound exercises themselves. Some exercises will just progress faster and more consistently for you at different times for different reasons.

Sometimes you’ll be able to progress very well at 1 exercise for a muscle group, but hardly at all on another exercise for that same muscle group in that same time frame.

This is all perfectly normal. Your goal is to just keep trying to increase the weight you lift on each exercise you’re doing as often as you can and the rest will take care of itself.

Will I Be Able To Progress At The Same Rate In General?

Hell no again! The more experienced you get, the slower your progress will come. This is why beginners will often be able to increase the weight they lift damn near every workout on damn near every exercise without fail (which is why intelligent beginner workouts are designed with this in mind).

This progression will happen at a consistent rate for a while, until time and your own results change you from a beginner into an intermediate lifter. At that point, progress will slow down, and you will not be able to increase weights as consistently. And as more time passes and you get stronger and build more muscle and come closer and closer to either reaching your goal or reaching your genetic potential, you become advanced.

And at that point, you can bet your sweet ass you won’t be increasing weights too often on any exercise. It can and will still happen, just at borderline nonexistent levels compared to what you were doing as a beginner or intermediate.

Just Make Progress, Period.

So really, no matter what the scenario, if your goal is to get the best results as fast as possible, then your #1 focus needs to be on making progress as quickly as you can and increasing the weights you lift as often as you can.

The exact frequency these increases end up happening for you at different stages and on different exercises isn’t important. Trying to make it happen as often as possible is.

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33 Comments

  1. Ryan Y says

    I have a problem I want to put to you. I had always trained at home with free weights, a bench and a squat rack and that worked great. I could progress 1kg to 2kg at a time. The drawback was that I was wasting allot of time changing over weight plates from one exercise to the next. I worked out that over 20 mins of my workout was wasted changing from one exercise to another. So I joined a gym and now here is the problem. The dumbbells go from 1 to 12kg and then skip to 15kg, then to 17kg? The ez bar fixed weights go up in intervals of 5kg? There are no changeable free weights. Then the machines add in intervals of 5kg as well. How can one achieve safe and effective progressive overload in this circumstance? I don’t even know if this is common in a gym. I can’t go from 2 sets of 12 reps of 12kg dumbbell curls and then progress straight to 15kg? I can only do about 6 proper reps. Is there any way to overcome this issue and still train effectively?

    • says

      If my KG to LB math is correct, that sounds like a bigger increase than the typical 5lb increments dumbbells usually increase by. The fixed-weight EZ bars sound just like my gym (actually your situation is even worse), which is why I never use them.

      And most machines either go up in 5lb, 10lb, 12lb, or 15lb increments in the gyms I’ve been to, so your 5kg increments sound normal.

      In the case of the dumbbells, there’s really no great solution (there do sell little magnetic weights that can attached to dumbbells, but it’s a pain in the ass having to carry them around with you). With the barbells, the solution is simple… avoid the fixed weight bars and use the standard ones you can add weight to yourself.

      And regarding machines, the solution I use is to simply add a 2.5lb or 5lb plate (the ones that go on the barbells) to the machine. You can usually just put the pin through the plate and then into the weight stack in the machine (and if not, just lay the plate down on top of the weight stack). This allows you to increase in much smaller increments than the machine allows.

    • migbart says

      Hey Ryan, Ive had the same problem, and as weird as it might sound, my solution was a 2 liter water bottle :) If you are in a gym (and hoping you have nothing against cable machines) you can just place the water bottle on top of the weights pile, adding 2 kilos to the exercise (or less if you remove water)! Not a very professional approach, but worked for me, in the “in between” increases. Tell me what u think :)

  2. Ryan Y says

    By the way I should mention the ultimate muscle building routine works great, best gains I have ever had after 10 weeks. I have followed the advice on acaloriecounter.com as well and the results speak for themselves. Thanks and Congrats on two great sites. I have been recommending them to everyone and they don’t argue when they see the results standing in front of them.

    • says

      Yup, if your only real goal is to just maintain muscle/strength, then you just need to maintain the amount of weight you are currently lifting… not increase it.

      And obviously, not allow it to decrease either.

  3. josh s. says

    I have a few questions and i was very much hoping you could enlighten me. I train with free weights, 2 fifteen pound dumbbells to be exact. Today (9/03/12) is my second week doing the routine. Now id love to get a nice peak with my biceps, which i do every monday. My routine is as followed.

    4 sets of dumbbell curls, 20 15 12 10.
    4 sets of hammer curls, 20 15 12 10.
    4 sets of preacher curls, 20 15 12 10.
    4 sets of concentration curls, 20 15 12 10.

    Now is this routine ok?…. how do i know if its too much or maybe even too little?…. and if its alright, how long until i up the weight, it gets easier, sure, but i still slightly struggle. But my real question is this: say i add weight and i move up to 20 pounds, shout i keep the same amount of sets and reps as ive been doing before or should i lessen them seeing as im adding more weight.

    My question my sound a little dumb to some people who are just veterans in the gym, but im a begginer and im just really hope for a great streaight forward answer. Its really hard to find some, and im just desperate for answers. Thank you.

  4. Shashank Handa says

    Hello,

    Firstly, I’d like to thank you for putting together all this amazing information for helping millions of people around the world to achieve the body of their dreams. I have gone thru many articles on your website and had a few questions that I’d like to ask you. I will appreciate if you could take out sometime to get back to me as this will really help me a ton.

    So I have been lifting for a little more than a year now but havent seen much improvement in terms of my muscle size and strength. That brings us back to the principle of progressive overload. Even though I am applying it but probably not correctly. I aim to hit all my muscles twice a week and usually follow a 8-12 rep range for most of my compound lifts and 12-15 rep range for isolation movements. Now, I dont raise the weight until I hit 12 reps in all my sets for compound exercises and 15 reps in all my sets of isolation exercises. So my question is that is this a correct way to progress?

    1. Do I need to get 12 reps in all my sets to raise the weight or can I just raise it if I get something like 12reps, 10reps, 8reps? Is there like a minimum number that I need to reach in my last set in order to increase the weight i.e. should it fall in between the 8-12 rep range? What is the criteria?

    2. Since I try to get the same reps in all my sets it get rather difficult for me to raise the weight very often; sometimes I am stuck with a weight for a couple of months? Is this a normal way of progressive overload if I want to see muscle size and strength gains?

    3. For Isolation exercises, for eg. biceps; if I am doing 2 exercises for 03 sets i.e barbell curls for 3 sets and alternate dumbell curls for 3 sets; it gets difficult for me to move up in weight for my second exercise i.e. dumbell curls coz all my energy and strength is taken up by doing 3 sets of barbell curls for 15 reps so now I need to use really light weights or I am unable to reach 15 reps in all my sets for dumbell curls. Is this normal?

    4. Last but not the least, what is your opinion on the rep ranges I use for my compound and isloation lifts? Would you rather suggest something different? The reason I use 8-12 rep range for compound lifts is to not keep the reps too low or too high and as some people beleive that low reps are great for building size and strength and some believe that high reps do all the magic due to the increased time under tension so for that reason I have chosen the 8-12 rep range which is netiher too low nor too high. But the question is that is that the optimum rep range to see the results that I want-muscle size and strength?

    I know I have bombarded you with questions but I’ll truly appreciate if you would throw some light on this for me. I will be very grateful!

    Thank you!!

    • says

      1. There’s a lot of ways to do it. What you’re doing is one of those ways. And it depends on what your rep goal is. Some people set their goal to be getting 12 reps in all sets. Others set the goal to get maybe all sets in a rep range of something like 10-12, in which case getting 12, 11, 10 would allow you to progress. It’s really a matter of personal preference, finding out what method of progression works best for you, and just setting your rep goal for each exercise and sticking to it.

      2. Like I just mentioned, you might be someone who sucks at trying to progress that way and might do better shooting for a rep range rather than the same reps every set. More here: http://www.aworkoutroutine.com/pyramid-sets-vs-reverse-pyramid-training-vs-straight-sets/

      3. It’s normal for isolation exercises like curls to progress pretty slowly. More here: http://www.aworkoutroutine.com/how-to-progress-better-at-isolation-exercises/

      At the same time, maybe you don’t actually need 6 sets of biceps curls in a single workout.

      4. For muscle growth, anything between 1-20 reps can work. In my experience though, the 5-8 rep range is most ideal for big primary compound movements, 8-12 for secondary movements, and 10-15 for isolation movements.

  5. Ben says

    Just wanted to say Ive been doing the Upper Lower A/B workout for a Month now and for the first time I am absolutely loving my routine. No more guess work no more 6 days in the gym and feeling like crap no more pyramid up or pyramid down just straight weight so no changing plates every set! I hit the gym for 40 min to an hour give it everything ive got intensity wise and im really seeing a difference. Thanks again.

  6. Eric says

    Hey awesome write up. Right now I’m just starting out and doing my workouts with the weight machines, until I get a bit more experienced and stronger with lifting weights. So I’m not doing your workout plan. I was only going to be increasing weight weekly if I hit my goal at least for a whole week, but won’t do that any more. Since I’m doing my own workout plan should I always be doing the same machines in the same order, or can I bounce around from one to the other?

  7. LEE says

    HELLO,
    I AM CURRENTLY DOING A/B FULLBODY WORKOUT THREE TIMES A WEEK , I DO 4 SETS ON ALL MY COMPOUND EXERCISES WITH A REP RANGE OFF 8-10, WHATS HAPPENING NOW IS THAT I HAVE GOT TO THE POINT WERE MY FIRST SET IS MY HEAVIEST AND MY LAST SET IS THE LOWEST WEIGHT (I ADD WEIGHT WHEN I GET 8 REPS) , THE PROBLEM IS I AM STARTING TO GET A BIT STUCK BECAUSE THE FIRST TWO SETS ARE MAKING IT HARD TOO PROGRESS ON THE LAST TWO SETS,I WAS THINKING OFF MAYBE SWITCHING IT ROUND STARTING ON THE LOWEST WEIGHT , WHAT WOULD YOU RECOMMEND TOO DO
    CHEERS.

  8. Jane says

    I am doing your three-day beginner workout. On Thursday I did set B, and increased the weight from the previous time for the shoulder press. My form in the last set was imperfect, so I repeated the same amount of weight when B came up in my rotation again on Tuesday (again almost there but imperfect). The next time B came up – Saturday – I worked out at home and used different weights – a handle with weights screwed onto it (larger and bulkier, but presumably the same amount of weight) instead of the one-piece weights at the gym, but I couldn’t get more than five reps. Could it be the weights themselves even though they weigh the same? Are there days when a person is just tired and can’t do it? Yikes, I don’t want to lose the progress I’ve made!

    • says

      There are definitely days where you just don’t have it for whatever reason… that’s normal and bound to happen at some point. But, a change in equipment could very likely be the cause too.

  9. Ken says

    Jai, I’ve been doing your 4 days a week intermediate workout almost exactly as prescribed for almost 2 months now and think that it is great! I think you are absolutely right in your view of progression and it is a really big motivator for me to keep training and see my weights go heavier and heavier. The last few sessions though, I seemed to have regressed on some exercises, which is a bit of a downer. Is this normal? Maybe I just went really hard the previous couple of sessions and couldn’t match the same weight and amount of reps this time round because I’m not a robot. Or mabye I’m not really dieting properly and getting the right nutrients and energy. Any thoughts or comments would be much appreciated. Cheers!

  10. Louis says

    Hey ive just started the begginer routine which contains 3 full body workouts a week. Ive been doing it for 2 weeks now and ive been going for a rep range of 10 and keeping the deadlifts lower at 5 . I see you said you think that 8 reps is best in your opinion for compound lifts, and i kind of agree because the lower the reps the heavier the weight and the more strength needed rather than endurance. However i now dont no if to stick with my 10 rep range or to take it down to 8, i feel like i would progress faster with 8 but have less of a burn. What rep range do you suggest ? My goal is to increase in muscles mass and strength, however i want my gains to help me be able to enhance my performance when playingg soccer?

    What rep range would you suggest?

    My second question is how should i progress the weights, is it better to progress them gradually by small amount like 2.5 kg or to just increase it by the largest incriment i feel is possilble, because in some cases i feel like i could increase my lifts by 5kg rather than something like 2.5kg. I had a thought in my mind that if i progress it smaller incriments all the time my body will pissibly grow more because its getting more tome to build throughout the progression of the lift.

    • says

      For the beginner routine, if you prefer 8 reps over 10 reps, that’s perfectly fine. The most important thing is that you’re progressing. Whether you’re doing 8, 9 or 10 reps per set is a minor detail at this point.

      As for progression, more often than not progressing in smaller increments is the right idea.

  11. Lemres says

    I’m fairly new to the gym and have been going for about a month now and I have been seeing some nice progress. For the past 2 weeks, I’ve been stuck at the 20lbs weight with dumbbells when doing bicep curls. It sucks because my chest needs to go on to 30lbs to progress but I’m afraid that I can’t even pick up the 30lb dumbbells to begin with. I’m currently doing 25lbs for my triceps and I know I’ll need to progress to 30lbs soon. My biceps are just really slow at gaining strength for some reason. I do 3 sets of 8 for all upper body exercises for growth. When doing the bicep curls, I can do 2 sets of 8 just fine but I’ll always fail on the 3rd set around the 5-6 rep mark. So I’m close but I just can’t get there. Any advice?

    • says

      The amount of weight you do curls with has no meaningful relation whatsoever to how much you can pick up and bench press. Bench what you can bench, curl what you can curl.

      And in terms of biceps curl progress… it’s an isolation exercise for a small muscle group. It’s not going to progress all that well.

  12. david says

    It is a very useful writting that has loads of useful information. I work out at home 3 times a week and my one workout lasts about 1 hour and 10 minutes. The problem that I have come across is that my biceps are small. However I lift the 66lb bar 4 sets of 10, 9, 9, 8 reps . Furthermore, I do 4 sets of 18 reps (9 reps on each hand) biceps curls using 12.5 kg (27.5 lb) dumbbells. Compared to my triceps it is so much easier to see the progress on triceps than on biceps. So my question is should I decrease the reps and increase the weight on these two biceps excersises? Or should i be patient and wait for the results by increasing the weight steadily when i feel like the current weight is too low for me?

  13. John says

    Jay, you said:
    “Yup, if your only real goal is to just maintain muscle/strength, then you just need to maintain the amount of weight you are currently lifting… not increase it.

    And obviously, not allow it to decrease either.”

    So progressive overload is just if you want to increase your muscle size/strength? I am a little over 20% body fat. I’m very sceptical about this ‘losing fat and building muscle at the same time’. I just end up doing neither. It’s more realistic, I feel, to concentrate on losing fat and maintaining my muscle, then when I get to my right fat levels to increase strenghth and muscle size.

  14. bobby says

    So I’ve been doing your program for a couple weeks now and I like it..my only question is this..say for example I’m using 50 pound barbell for curls where my rep range is 10-12..i usually always go to failure..so sometimes my first set will be on the lines of 15 but then second set is 8 because of the amount of reps in first set.should I increase my weight or no..wait until I can get those last two reps on the second set?

    • says

      If the first set is a good 15 reps and that set feels ready and capable of increasing, then increase just that set. Leave the second set at that same weight.

      Also, there’s some additional advice specifically about progressing at an exercise like curls right here.

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