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AICR HealthTalk

Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: How do I know how much weight to use for strength training?

A: That’s an important question. Strength training (also called weight or resistance training) strengthens muscles and bones, improves insulin function and is vital for true fitness. Some studies suggest that beginners often start with weights too light, and that will not give you the maximum benefits. On the other hand, weights that are too heavy are not safe. Whether you use free weights, Nautilus-type machines or elastic bands, you should work with a weight or resistance that you can lift at least eight times using proper form while maintaining normal breathing according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When you can lift it more than 12 times (or perhaps more than 15 times if you are an older adult or have been advised for health reasons to stick to lighter weights lifted more times), switch to weights five to ten percent heavier, or the next smallest increment. For example, if you’ve been lifting a two-pound weight, move up to three pounds; if you’ve been lifting 10 pounds, move up to 12 pounds. For overall safety and best results, proper form is crucial, so make sure you are learning your technique from someone properly trained.

For more strength training ideas: One-Minute Resistance Training Video


The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed over $105 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF).

Published on 03/23/2015

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