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How to Choose Weights For Your Workouts

Milton Holdiem
Milton Holdiem
2 min read

Workout weight depends on the workout

Different workout can have different intents. Some days you'll be lifting with lighter weights and higher reps. Other days will be about heavier weights and lower reps.

In this post, we'll talk about:

  • Using the intention of the workout to choose the right weights.
  • Choosing weight
  • How to use the RPE scale to choose weight.

Choose weights based on intent

Is today's workout designed to be heavier with less reps? Lighter weight with more reps? Are the movements explosive, or slow? Will your rest period be longer or shorter? All of these factors guide us on choosing weights for that day.

Try out the movement

If you've never tried a movement, it's best to just try the movement with lighter weight, or even just bodyweight. We want to ensure we're hitting the right stimulus before starting your first working set, so doing a couple of reps with a light weight is important.

If you're just starting your training journey, it'll take some guesswork. Session by session you'll learn more about yourself and what different weights feel like for different movements.

The RPE Scale

The RPE scale is a number that expresses how a set feels on scale of 1-10.
It stands for the "Rate of Perceived Exertion."

It can be based on feeling, or how many reps you have left in the tank. The latter is more objective for my type-A people. (Also known as "Reps in Reserve")

RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion)

RPE Feeling Percentage
10 Can't do more reps or load ~ 100%
9.5 Could do more load but no more reps ~ 95%
9 Could do 1 more rep ~ 90%
8 Could do 2 more reps ~ 80%
7 Could do 3 more reps ~ 70%
6 Could do 4-6 more reps ~ 60%
<5 Light set, more like a warmup ~ 50%

RPE in Practice

How it looks like in practice

5@5RPE (warmup)
5@6RPE (warmup)

Here you'll do a set of 5 deadlifts that should feel like a 5 out of 10 in difficulty. Take a quick rest, then swap the weight to something think will feel like a 6 out of 10. From there, make the final swap to a 7 out of 10, then you'll start your first working set. By doing this, you also ensure that each set was heavy enough to feel like the 7.

Why using RPE is so powerful:

  1. You’ll learn about yourself. RPE makes you reflect to understand how to adapt your training day to day. It's important to find what works for you.
  2. The stimulus of the workout more consistent when you adjust your weights accordingly. Not everyone lifts the same weight for every lift. RPE helps you regulate weight whether it’s hangover Sunday, or you feel like you can conquer the world.

The weights can change based on feel

The weight used for RPE can change, based on how you feel on that particular training session.

For example:

Week 1:
3x8 Squats @8RPE.
This week, you hit 200lbs for each working set.

Week 2:
3x8 Squats @8RPE
On week 2, you feel tired from work and sore from previous workouts.
That 200lbs feels more like a 9RPE or 10RPE. Instead of forcing the 200lbs, you drop down to 185lbs to get to the 8RPE. You know this because you hit 8 reps at 185lbs and feel like you have 2 reps left in the tank.

By taking down the weight, you regulate yourself by adapting to how you feel. You have a guide on what weight to use based on the RPE number. You allow yourself to make consistent gains without by preventing yourself from overreaching.

Hope this helps! 🤘🏾

Milton Holdiem Twitter

I'm a fitness coach, but always learning. Cold brew drinker. Curator of corny dad jokes. Constantly looking towards the brighter side of things. ☀️


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Welcome to Building Blocks! Here is the supplemental content that'll teach you the tools you need to get the most out of your program! 01 | Welcome to Building Blocks 02 | Sustainable Fitness 03 | How to Plan & Prioritize Workouts 04 | How to Read Workouts (Sets, Reps, Tempo, Weights) 05 | Choosing Weights