Use this "Two-Rep Rule" to Lift The Perfect Weight In The Gym

One question I’m often asked is “what weight should I use” for a given exercise.

It comes from all levels of experience, more so from those newer to the gym or new to specific exercises and movements.

Honestly, it’s something I wish more “experienced” lifters and gym-goers would ask.

While “what weight should I use” is a good question, an even better question is “am I using the right weight for this lift?”

The latter is dynamic and challenges you to ask it more frequently - something all of us could benefit.

Because much of my approach to fitness and nutrition comes from both Agile Software Develop and more specifically the Scrum Framework, my response leverages empiricism.

Empiricism is a philosophical theory that all knowledge is derived from sense-experience. That is, we use experience and practice to find our way to an answer.

In this context, to answer the question “am I using the right weight” we start with a test or experiment and then make adjustments based on the feedback and results.

Every exercise or lift you perform in the gym is going to get a different answer, and every modification and variation might get yet another.

The Two-Rep Rule makes it easy to quickly answer this question, regardless of the lift or exercise.

The goal of the Two-Rep Rule is to get you +/- two reps with the weight you’re using. In most training programs, you’ll see the reps listed in a range aligned with your specific goals or the goal of the movement.

This is because the goal isn’t really to perform a certain number of reps, it’s to achieve a certain amount of volume lifted, time under tension, or a combo of both.

Your volume is simply the total number of reps (multiplied by the weight used but for this conversation, we’re just focusing on reps).

Your time under tension is just that, the amount of time your muscles are working to lift the given weight.

Three sets of eight reps is twenty-four reps total. Your results will be similar if you hit twenty to thirty reps though ideally you’ll be recalibrating as you go.

Anything less than twenty and more than thirty won’t produce results you want; you either won’t be getting the desired volume (more of the focus for strength development) or the time under tension (more of the focus for muscle development).

This is where the weight used comes back to play. If your weight is too heavy, you won’t be able to get to twenty reps. If it’s too light, you’ll easily perform well over thirty.

The Two-Rep Rule will make it easy to recalibrate mid-workout. Using an 8-rep target as our example, using the Two-Rep Rule would look like this:

If you can easily perform more than 10 reps (+2), then you should look to increase your weight on the next set. Your ninth and tenth rep should be very challenging. You might be able to eek out an eleventh your form would likely start to diminish.

If you can’t perform at least 6 reps (-2), then you should look to decrease your weight. You may even want to decrease it slightly to help move you a bit closer to the eight-rep target.

As always, all reps should be done with impeccable form. You’re not helping anyone, especially yourself, you’re trying to get reps for the sake of reps. If your form begins to suffer, reduce your weight or stop completely.

Over time, you’ll quickly learn what weights to use and how to adjust as you go. The best part about the two-rep rules is it makes it easy to know when you to progress the weight used.

If we use the same weight for the same movements workout after workout, our progress is going to stall, and the inevitable plateau-driven frustration starts to settle in.

Everything we do in the gym and in the kitchen sits on some type of range or a continuum. Some may argue with me on this, but there is very little specificity, especially specificity over time.

Our bodies and lives are dynamic. You didn’t “fail” if you didn’t get 8 reps in the situation above. What you got was valuable insight you can use to adjust and adapt not just for that workout but for each future workout as well.

We have targets and goals, and we want to get as close to those goals as we can. The Two-Rep Rule will give you more freedom and flexibility as you make progress toward those goals. And, quite honestly, you’ll have a bit more fun along the way.

On your side,

Ev