How Heavy Should I Lift?

This particular blog is part two of the follow up from my post “Why Dancers Need to Strength Train”. After I had posted the blog, many of you got back to me with a few questions. The two biggest being: How often should I train and how heavy should I lift?

Earlier I answered the question How Often Should I Train, so now let’s move onto the weight side.

This topic is a particular favorite of mine because I love lifting heavy. It took me a very long time to be able to complete what are now viewed as reasonably heavy weights but god it feels good when you can! What you have to remember is that while there are guidelines for lifting, what is heavy for one person many not be heavy for another. You need to work with your body and your goals in order to start progressing.

Back Squat

Before we talk about what defines heavy, let me take a moment to quickly tell you that you will not look like the hulk from strength training. Testosterone is one of the hormones responsible for increasing muscle mass in humans. Other hormones that play a role are Growth Hormone and Insulin Growth Factor. Naturally, women have 15-20 fold lower concentrations of testosterone than males. This means that it is difficult for women to gain muscle mass the way males do.

Strength Training Book Cover


For a more in depth explanation of testosterone, its effects and responsibilities, check out my book “Strength Training for Pole Dancer’s- A complete Guide“. In there, you will find a section dedicated to explaining the breakdown of testosterone, what it is used for and why women can strength train without becoming bulky.


Train for Your Goals

In order to begin lifting heavy, you first need a base amount of muscle mass and proper technique. Below are the three types of programs in order at which they should be completed.

  1.  Muscular endurance and weight training technique
    1. Training with fairly low weights and at a moderate volume until you understand the proper biomechanics of each lift.
    2. Ensure you are building your cardio respiratory base so that you can “keep up” on the pole.
  2. Hypertrophy
    1. The goal is to develop muscular and metabolic endurance and then transition to building lean muscle mass (ladies you will not get bulky!!)
    2. As you progress from endurance training to hypertrophy training your intensity and volume will increase. Essentially you are completing your repetitions to muscle “failure”. You will feel a burn in your muscles and you will not be able to complete more without rest.
  3. Strength
    1. Starting with basic strength allows the muscles to become accustomed to heavy lifting
    2. Repetitions and volume are lower but the overall intensity is higher because you are lifting extremely heavy weights (with proper technique of course).

A basic rule of thumb regarding repetitions and sets is as follows:

  • To increase strength perform 2-6 reps for 3-5 sets
  • To increase muscle mass perform 6-12 reps at 3-6 sets
  • To increase muscular endurance perform 12 or more reps for 2-3 sets

Does this mean if you want to increase your strength, you can simply perform 5 reps for 3 sets to see results? At first glance the answer is yes. However, if your body has not been properly prepared (if you do not have a base amount of muscle), you will find this difficult as you will not be able to lift heavy enough for results.

Pull Up Re-Size


Think of the training in relation to pole dancing: when you first started out, you probably had a weak upper body and were unable to pull yourself up the pole. You first needed to practice holding your bodyweight, ensuring you maintain proper shoulder position and building up your strength before you could hold a handspring. Strength training is similar, without the basics you cannot continue without injury.



Defining Heavy

Another problem that I encounter with females is their definition of “heavy”. Heavy is not 15lb dumbbells. Heavy is not the weight of your purse. Heavy is loading a bar with 45lb plates for a squat. Yes it will take time to work up to, but it will also give you the most results.

When you lift beyond your comfort zone, your muscles are forced to activate fibers it would otherwise leave alone. It is these fibers that increase your strength and defines your muscles. As you train your body to recruit these fibers, you will be able to lift more and more weight.

The best way to start thinking is in terms of lbs (pounds) versus body weight. Your goals should be being able to squat, deadlift and bench press your body weight or more. It seems daunting right now but you can work up to it!



Follow the repetition ranges in the rule of thumb. Training should always be challenging. As your body adapts you will be able to lift more and more. Ensure that you challenge yourself, work till failure, till your muscles burn. Recover and progress.

Remember that strength training is about finding what is right for you. When I started, twelve squats with 20lbs dumbbells was a challenge. Now, I can squat 100lbs pretty confidently for 12-15 reps. Don’t be scared to increase and challenge yourself, otherwise there is no way to improve.

For specific, progressive programs geared towards both beginners and intermediates, check out my book “Strength Training for Pole Dancer’s- A complete Guide“.

Happy Training 🙂