Woman looking puzzled trying to select the proper weights for workout

How to Select the Proper Weights for Workout

What size weights should you use?

The answer to that question is not a simple one because it greatly depends on two things; the goals you have and the type of workout you are doing. There are also times when using no weights is the right answer. Let’s explore a few different reasons you exercise and combine that with the types of workouts you do to answer this question with various scenarios.

exercise to maintain functional movement

This is the focus of most of the classes we offer at Coach Mel’s. You want to be able to carry the groceries in from the car, lift and pour from a gallon jug, and walk up and down stairs safely.  You want to be able to do what you want to do when you want to do it. These are all examples of functional movement, being able to do day-to-day tasks.

Exercising to maintain functional movement should include full-body workouts using some form of resistance but it does not have to be done with heavy weights. When a workout includes full-body movements you may not have time to change your weights from one move to another.  The best way to select the proper weights is to use what you can safely control with the weaker muscles. For example, a lateral arm raise (raising your arms straight out from your sides) would require less weight than a bicep curl, therefore you should use the weights that you are able to control for the reps of the harder move. Even though your legs have larger muscles and can handle more weight, keep in mind that when you do a squat you are also using your own body weight as resistance, you do not have to also hold heavy weights to be effective.

exercise to tone your muscles

When you want to physically change the appearance of your muscles there is the need to be a bit more selective with your weights but it is not as vital as you may think. You should consider using heavier weights for lower body exercises, increasing your weights over time. You need to be certain you are using your muscles, really squeezing the muscle throughout the exercise you are performing. There was a study done that had half of a group use weights in their workouts, the other half did the same workouts without weights. Both groups saw an improvement in muscle tone, the difference was in their strength. Those who used weights were stronger and those who did not still improved the look of their muscles but did not have significant strength improvement. Focusing on form and use of your muscles is key.

Exercise to build muscle mass

This is the type of exercise where you really focus on the weights you are lifting and you are constantly increasing your weights, often within the workout. Typically, when you are looking to increase your muscle mass, you are also focusing on specific muscle groups with each workout. You would not want to do a full-body workout with heavy weights, that would be too stressful on your body. If this is something you are interested in doing it’s best to start with a personal trainer. We do offer limited personal training at Coach Mel’s, please contact me if you would like more information.

exercise to get stronger

Some may argue that this goal and the last goal are the same, I assure you they are not. Yes, building muscle mass will also make you stronger but on the flip side, you can get stronger without building huge muscles. The types of classes that we offer at Coach Mel’s can help you get stronger. Working the full body in lower, upper, and core sections allows you the flexibility to change your weights for the exercise being performed. You should focus on heavier for lower body exercises and a bit lighter for upper. Focus on how you are feeling at the end of that exercise set and whether you feel you could do more reps. If the answer is yes then it may be time to increase your weight selection.  The last couple of reps should be difficult but not impossible. If the answer is no then keep yourself at that weight and increase as you get stronger and the exercise gets easier. Using this approach will make you stronger while toning your muscles. If you feel it is making your muscles gain mass then you may need to stop increasing the weights you are using.

Exercise to increase cardiovascular function

You may want to do a workout that gets your heart rate up for a period of time. These types of workouts usually include movements that use the upper and lower body at the same time and are done at a quicker pace. When you focus on quantity of reps over quality of reps you want to reduce your weights or not use any resistance at all. At Coach Mel’s these are our HIIT and Tabata workouts. You will be moving various body parts at once for short periods of time thus increasing your heart rate. While I do encourage weights for most of the exercises, I prefer you use lighter weights and get in as many reps as you can in the time allotted.

Exercise for flexibility

Put the weights down for this one. Yoga and Pilates are a couple of examples of exercise for flexibility. These types of workouts are more about stretching and strengthening using your body weight. They tend to move slower and focus on posture, breathing, movement patterns and isometric holds. You can see muscle toning benefits, balance benefits and you may see increased strength as well.  It all depends on what you do and how you use your muscles to do it.

Please keep in mind that these are general guidelines and that everyone’s body is different so results may vary. The important part is that you find the type of exercise that works best for you and helps you be healthy BEFORE you NEED to be healthy.

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