Strength training participation is increasing as more and more Americans realize the health benefits of this form of exercise. Current research continues to support the mental, emotional, and physical benefits of strength training. Strength training principles require participants to select a weight designed to fatigue a given muscle within the desired reps. For example, if you are choosing a repetition range of 10-12 you should be able to perform at least 10 but no more than 12 reps with good form at the selected weight. Prior research has shown we are not good at estimating the appropriate weight with participants often choosing less than the effective weight needed for a given repetition range. A new review of the research shows how effective both novice and experienced strength training participants are at choosing their weights.
Steele and colleagues in the journal, Sports Medicine, reviewed the available evidence to determine if participants are self selecting an appropriate weight for each set (2022). Authors included 18 studies of 368 participants including both novice and experienced weight training participants. They found on average participants only select a weight equal to 53% of their 1 repetition max.
This weight would require approximately 30 repetitions of a 1 repetition max. Far below the 65% to 90% generally recommended for strength training. These participants likely selected a weight they thought they could perform for their repetition range but stopped at the top of the repetition range without trying to perform as many repetitions as they could perform. In our Boulder Physical Therapy and Lafayette Physical Therapy clinics we utilize repetitions in reserve. Trying to choose a weight that fatigues your muscles in the repetition range with 1-2 good reps in reserve. For example, if you are aiming for 12 repetitions you can perform no more than 14.