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You'll be most motivated to do strength training when you chose the weights yourself

Trainers who want to prevent their female pupils from stopping strength training should let their students choose the weight they use themselves. This is the conclusion you can draw from the human study that sports scientist and trainer Brian Focht at Ohio State University published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

You'll gain most rewards from strength training if you train with 70-85 percent of the weight with which you can just manage 1 rep [the 1RM]. But if women do strength training and are allowed to choose themselves the weights they use, they automatically choose a weight that's 50-60 percent of their 1RM. [J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Jan;22(1):103-11.] That's why sports scientists have been known to tell trainers that they should encourage their female clients to lift heavier weights.

But research on the psychological effects of cardio training has shown that people are less likely to enjoy training if they are not allowed to decide for themselves how intensively they are going to train.

So does this apply to strength training too?

Focht wanted to answer this question so he did an experiment with 20 trained female students, who he got to do 45-minute training sessions on various occasions. The workouts consisted of three sets of leg extensions, chest presses, leg curls and lat pulldowns.

On one occasion the women used weights that were 70 percent of their 1RM, on another occasion they used weights that were 40 percent of their 1RM, and on yet another occasion they were allowed to choose themselves the amount of weight they used. This turned out to be 57 percent of their 1RM.

Results A quarter of an hour after the workout Focht asked his subjects a) how serious they were about continuing training in the next month and b) the extent to which they believed they would manage to do so.

In psychological jargon Focht measured his subjects' intention and self-efficacy. Taken together, intention and self-efficacy determine to a large extent whether someone is likely to keep doing a training programme or not.

To-failure sets more effective for relatively experienced strength athletes

Women who choose the amount weight they train with probably find it easier to continue training than those whose trainers decide on the amount of weight they'll use.

Focht assumes that a weight that is 70 percent of the 1RM or higher will produce optimal results and states that women do not choose this amount of weight of their own accord. He thinks that trainers should encourage their female clients to choose heavier weights themselves, but that they should force them to do this. If the trainers force this on their clients they're likely to lose them.

We, the ignorant compilers of this free webzine, came up with another option after reading Focht's article. Recent studies have shown that you can build muscle even with relatively light weights. Perhaps trainers can encourage their female clients to train with weights they choose themselves and also encourage them to perform to-failure sets with these.

J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Nov;29(11):3067-74.