How to calculate your weight training intensity


When starting off a weight lifting program, often the hardest part is to determine how much weight you should lift, how many sets and how many repetitions per set. This is rather complicated so I will break it down into the necessary steps to accurately predict your required weight for lifts.  To do this we must, as accurately as possible, figure out your maximum lift for one repetition: in workout lingo we call this your 1 RM. This is recommended to do as it will not only allow you to achieve your goals, but will also add a good safety margin to your workouts.  The first step will depend largely on your goals. 

What are your goals?

Answer this question first, as the training protocols are different based on your goal for the training. There are 4 main goals, strength, hypertrophy (building muscle mass),endurance and power. As power training is significantly different from the other three, I will leave it to a future article. They all require a different application of stress so I want to focus on intensity.

Strength Training

Since  goal here is to maximise your strength, the intensity must be high. 80-95 % of your 1 RM. You are aiming for 4-8 reps per set.


The goal here is to maximise muscle growth so you must have increased time under tension (TUT). This means lowering your intensity to between 70-85% and increasing reps to 8-12 repetitions per set.


The goal is to increase the anaerobic efficiency of the muscle, meaning it can work more effectively for longer. To do this we have to increase the reps to 12-25 and lower the intensity to 50-70% 1 RM.

How to figure out your 1 RM

I know this is the question you are all asking by now. The best (and safest) way to do this is use a sub-maximal test, predictive equations, and then tweak from there based on RPE (perceived effort) and actual set/rep completion. Say what you say? Let me put this in plain english. 

  1. Select a weight you think you can lift at least 3 times
  2. Perform the lift using proper technique to failure (meaning you can't do one more rep)
  3. Plug the numbers into the formula

This is the formula you would use:

1 RM = resistance used x {1 + (0.03 x repetitions performed)}

Note: There is a considerable amount of research behind this, it is accurate but not exact. The best predictability is when you do a lower number of reps (say 4-6), as the formula does not factor in stability requirements.

Let's use an example. Lets say you want to set your weight for bench press. You would then pick a reasonable weight. For me I would say 70kg. I set it up and successfully do 5 reps to failure. Now I plug into the formula:

1 RM = 70kg x {1 + (0.03 x 5)}

1 RM = 70kg x 1.15

1RM = 80.5 kg

Easy right? 

Setting your resistance

To set your resistance based on number of reps and according to your goals (see below for intensity versus reps), you simply reverse the formula:

appropriate resistance (AR) - 1RM  ÷ {1 + (0.03 x desired number of repetitions)}

Continuing with the example above, lets say my goal is hypertrophy so I want to have 12 reps of my bench press to maximise TUT. I just plug this in to the formula above:

AR = 80.5 ÷ {1 + (0.03 x 12)}

AR = 80.5 ÷1.36

AR = 59.2 but round up to 60kg

This would mean that if there is 60kg on the bar, I should be able to do 12 reps. Next step is to test this and adjust as needed. You can use the list below to help you determine if your intensity/rep range fit into your desired goal.

Repetition to Percentage of 1 RM Predictions

  • 2 reps = 95%
  • 3 reps = 92.5%
  • 4 reps = 90%
  • 5 reps = 87.5%
  • 6 reps = 85%
  • 7 reps = 82.5%
  • 8 reps = 80%
  • 9 reps = 77.5%
  • 10 reps = 75%
  • 12 reps = 70 %

Why would you bother to do this? The answer is simple. When you go to the gym, you want to maximise your results. For weight training, your goals should dictate your intensity. This is science baby. 

Did you like this article? Want to get in touch with me? I am a certified personal trainer and looking for clients like you. Drop me a line.

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The difference between motivation and discipline


Let's get a bit more philosophical in this post. After all, if you are serious about getting healthy then you are going to run onto some road blocks. I think that in order to change, you need to have a clear understanding of the underlying psychology and the science of change. The journey is a long one and it's easy to fail, or at least have a st back or three.  One thing I found was that some serious self reflection and self understanding and especially self compassion really help. 


Motivation is literally the desire to do things. We are motivated to do things every day. It's what get's us out of bed in the morning, it can make the difference between success and failure, after all, if we aren't motivated to do something we just won't do it. There are two types of motivation, internal and external, both with implications on our lives.

External motivation is related to factors outside ourselves. This could be things like a visit to the doctor and being diagnosed with high blood pressure. This could be our friends and family telling us they are concerned about our weight gain. The key here is that the motivational cues come from outside of ourselves, it comes from our environment. These factors often form the start of our journey and hopefully become internalised. 

Internal motivation, therefore, is from inside ourselves. It could be a disastisfaction with our bodies, a desire to recapture our waning youth or many other things. The point is until we internalise our motivation we won’t see results. After all, as well meaning as people in our lives may be, it’s us who actually have to get off our asses and sweat it out. And it’s hard to change. That’s where discipline comes in.


So if motivation is the desire to do something, then discipline is the resolve to get it done.  In your journey this will count for a lot. There are days when you don’t feel like going to the gym or eating your broccoli. It happens. Discipline is what make you force yourself to do it anyway. Discipline is a behaviour. You either do something or you don’t. There is no grey area. The funny thing is, when it comes to your health, it’s consistency that counts more than anything. So if you exercise more than you don’t you will see results. If you eat healthy, whole foods more than you choose to binge on Ben and Jerry’s, you will begin to look and feel better. Simple right? That word "if" is a very big word.

What do I do if I fail?

First of all, don’t panic. Setbacks are bound to happen. All the time. A busy hectic schedule (hey it's called life), an unexpected injury or illness, a moment of weakness (or 5)  at the buffet line, or 5 days of binge drinking and next thing you know you feel like you have derailed your whole plan. I know. It's happened to me. Remember what I said at the beginning about self compassion. The mistake I made and I am sure many of you do too, is to be too hard on yourself. Don't. Permanent, life altering change is a journey not a destination. You will get there. Think back to your underlying motivations and get back your reslove. Pick up where you left off. It's OK to fail. What truly matters is what happens after you fail. You have a choice either to give up, or start again. Choose the later. 

Remember good health comes at a cost: time, energy, money sacfrifice and hard work. The cost can be even higher later if you don't commit and accept setbacks as they really are. Just set backs. 

Like this article? Hit me up if you want to get in touch with me. 

Millet tabboleh


Time for another recipe. The secret to eating well is to prepare in advance, so I always like to cook a big batch healthy carb/protein mix on a Sunday and eat it for the next few days. What's even better is I can calculate the amount of calories per ingredient during prep and have an accurate estimation for my calorie count. It's a win win. 

If you think weighing and measuring every ingredient is a pain, just remember chef's do this too for every dish they create at a restaurant, but they do it to estimate cost, while we will do it to help us lose weight. The first few times you do this it will take a bit to get used to, but the effort is worth it if you are serious about your weight loss goals.  If you write the recipe down, the next time you make it, you will already know how many calories are in the dish. so I think this is win win win! All you need are some measuring cups, measuring spoons and a kitchen scale.

This recipe is made with millet, another grain that fits nicely in The Good Carb Diet. Here are the nutritional stats for 1 cup of cooked millet (174 grams):

  • Calories: 207
  • Protein: 6.1 grams
  • Carbs: 41.2 grams
  • Fat: 3.9 grams
  • Fiber: 2.3 grams
  • Manganese: 24% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 19% of the RDI
  • Phosphorus: 17% of the RDI

Let's see how this works with today's recipe. We will make one batch which yields around 5-6 cups total.

Millet Tabboleh

For the Millet:

  • 1 cup millet
  • 2 cups homemade vegetable stock or water

Method: Add millet and stock to saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Yield is about 3 cups or a total of 621 calories.

For the Mise en Place:

  • 1 medium green capsicum -  24 calories
  • spring onion - 50 grams - 16 calories
  • chopped celery - 120 grams - 17 calories
  • chopped parsley - 60 grams - 21 calories
  • diced cherry tomatoes - 150 grams - 27 calories

For the dressing:

  • juice of one lemon - 12 calories
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil - 477 calories
  • salt and pepper to taste - don't count this but be easy on the salt

To prepare toss all ingredients together in a large bowl with the dressing. Allow to marinate for 20-30 minutes before eating.

So now we can see that this recipe contains 1215 calories in total. Now if we split this into 5 portions we would get 243 calories per serving.

Next up is to go ahead and put the portions in individual containers and keep in the fridge. That way you can just grab and go. Remember the biggest secret to eating healthy is to prepare in advance so that it is convenient when you need it,

Got a comment or some feedback? I would love to hear from you.

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