Often when working with individuals and designing programs, I am asked to specify what resistance they should lift and for how many sets and reps. Developing exercise programs and issuing planned sets and reps is one thing, deciding the correct resistance will come down to the individual, and many various factors such as strength, exercise history, technique, and confidence.

Once you start lifting weights, you will be able to adjust your resistance with a scale in mind to improve the effectiveness of your sessions.

Sets & Reps

Firstly though, you need to know what your goals are. If you are starting and wanting to improve general health, understanding sets and rep guides are important.

Type of training Power/ Strength Hypertrophy Endurance
Sets 2-6 2-6 2-3
Reps < 6 6 – 12 12-20
Rest 2-5 minutes 1-3 minutes 0-90 secs

As you can see, the variables here are different per principal or goal, and within each principal, the variance can be quite different. If you are new to exercise, working within the ‘hypertrophy’ values is likely where you would start to build on your foundation.

This is where 3 x 10 so often comes from. It fits in nicely in the hypertrophy (increase in muscle size) category.

Borg RPE Scale

Now, I am going to introduce an RPE (or Rate of Perceived Exhaustion) chart to you, there are different types, but we will stick with the 1-10 scale as it is generally the easiest to understand.

1 – 10 Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale




Really Easy






Sort of Hard





Really Hard



Really, Really Hard



This scale can be used after each set to recognize if you are working at an appropriate intensity. If you finish a set of squats in your working sets and rate it 4/10 on the RPE scale, you are likely working at too low intensity to reap the benefits, as the stimulus on the muscles is not yet high enough for adaptation.

Typically, I would aim for a 7-8.

Work it out

So, back to the question, what weights should I be lifting? Ask yourself – how hard was the exercise? Is the stimulus at a level in which hypertrophy is to occur?

I’ve written previously about resistance exercise specifically for females.

This is general advice, always consult a health professional before commencing a new physical activity regime. This is general advice, always consult a health professional prior to commencing a new physical activity regime.

1 Comment on “How do I find the right resistance in exercise?

  1. Pingback: Hypertension and Exercise - HoveyEP

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