When To (or not) Increase Your Weights

I am encouraging everyone to not be in such a rush to increase the weight they are exercising with. I am not suggesting that weight should not be increased. Increasing weight is necessary for certain adaptations and highly advisable to be included in almost every exercise plan. What I am saying is that it should be increased slowly. Here is why…

When you lift weights you are intentionally putting forces on your body with the expectation of specific adaptation to specific tissues and systems. In other words, you want stuff to change. The thing is lots of stuff changes. More than just the stuff you are concerned about. Here is an incomplete list of what changes. Let’s begin with the stuff people care about: FAT and MUSCLE. Now for the list of stuff that changes that most people don’t care about: tendons, ligaments, fascia, bone, cartilage, and additional connective tissues.  

Here is the thing – all those tissues that change do not change at the same rate. Remember, with exercise, we are putting forces on our entire bodies by using weights, bands, etc. Our bodies are making structural (and other) changes to be able to tolerate the forces we are putting on them. When we add more weight, we are providing the stimulus for bodies to adapt. All tissues do not adapt at the same rate. That means, that when some have made the appropriate changes and are ready to handle greater forces, others are not.  

The fastest adapting tissue is skeletal muscle. Let’s look at what that means with an example:

Say you can currently perform some exercise with 50 lbs for 3 sets of 10 repetitions. That means all your tissues are capable of the stress that comes along with exercising with 50 lbs for 3 sets of 10 reps. Now you increase the weight to 60 lbs. When you first increase the weight you might still be able to perform all 3 sets and only be able to 8 reps for sets 1, 7 reps for set 2, and 5 reps for set 3. Fast forward four weeks. Now you can complete all 3 sets for 10 reps so you increase the weight to 65lbs. Here is the problem. The fastest adapting tissue is muscle. Muscle is the only tissue responsible for moving the weight. So being able to perform more reps with 60 lbs indicates that your muscle has adapted. Remember, muscle adapts the fastest. Most likely, all those other tissues have not adapted as thoroughly as the muscle.

Using the criteria of “when you can move the weight for the selected number of reps” as the time indicator for increasing weight means that the slower-adapting tissues aren’t as adapted as the muscle.

So what to do? Generally, when my clients can perform a desired number of reps with a new weight I wait an extra 2 weeks before increasing the weight. More specifically, you should think of things that would make you increase the time or decrease the time to change weight once someone has achieved a repetition goal. Here is an incomplete list:
  • Wait Longer
    • Older
    • History of more injuries
    • More stress in their lives
      • Disease
      • Medication
      • Home, work, financial, personal stress
    • Poor sleep
    • Poor nutrition
  • Wait Less
    • Younger
    • History of fewer injuries
    • Less stress in their lives
      • Disease
      • Medication
      • Home, work, financial, personal stress
    • Better Sleep
    • Better Nutrition

Getting stronger had profound, positive benefits to our health. You need to lift heavier weights to get stronger. Don’t avoid it and don’t rush it.


Jason M Weitzner, MS

Certified Medical Exercise Specialist,

Certified Muscle System Specialist

Co-Owner of Symmetry Exercise Clinic in Naples, FL

1750 J&C Blvd. Suite #10, Naples, FL 34109