If you lift weights, you probably know that you have to continually increase your load to get the gains. This means upping the weights as soon as your body gets too comfortable or it feels too easy. But what about those times when you feel like you could have pumped out another rep but aren’t sure whether you’re ready to up your weights for the next round?
You want to challenge yourself, but you don’t want to tap out after one rep—or worse, do it with poor form and increase your risk of injury. Yep, if you don’t have a trainer telling you what to do, it can be hard to know when you’re ready to add more weight to your workout. But thankfully, there’s a solution: use the rule of twos to determine whether it’s time up to the ante.
The rule of twos or the ‘two-by-two rule’ is an empirical formula for weight progression created by scientists Graves and Baechle. The principle is simple: if you can complete two or more repetitions in the last set in two consecutive workouts for any given exercise, the load should be increased. Testing this out on two separate occasions helps you determine that you are ready to go heavier due to strength gains, not just because you had extra energy or a good night’s sleep.
The next question is—how much should you increase your weight if you pass the two-by-two test? According to Matt Berens, CSCS, Beverly Hills-based director of the Equinox Fitness Training Institute, just 5% is enough to activate muscle growth without putting yourself at too much risk of injury. So say, for example, you’re doing ten reps of barbell presses with a 20-kilo (around 45 pounds) barbell on two consecutive occasions, and you’re able to smash out two extra reps. You could add 1 kilo or approximately 2 pounds in your next session.
It’s a simple strategy to ensure you’re continually making progress and getting stronger. But, of course, you should always listen to your body. If you’ve used the rule of twos and upped your weights but don’t feel like you can do more than a rep without dropping the weights on yourself, play it safe by reducing your weights or asking someone to spot you.