How to Choose the Right Weight to Lift (Petite Edition)

purple all cast dumbbells on marble surface

One question that always seems to come up at the start of a client’s training program is “How do I know how much I should be lifting per exercise?

So whether you’re just getting started with weight lifting, recently getting back into it, OR you’ve been lifting for years, at some point, you probably have not been sure what weights to choose per exercises.

You probably also see all the chicks on Instagram doing all types of exercises at all types of weight and you’re wondering… how much is enough for me to lift – without hurting myself – especially as a petite girl!?

I’d like to answer that question so you feel 100% comfortable going into the gym and appropriately choosing the right weight to make progress safely.


When it comes to finding the right weight to use, it’s kind of like a Goldilocks situation. You don’t want it too heavy, you don’t want it too light, you want it just right!!! Reason being: If you choose a weight that’s too heavy, you risk causing an injury (especially if you are new) which could take you out of the gym for a long time. Or if you always choose a weight that’s too light, you’ll likely be wasting your precious time because it won’t be challenging enough to stimulate the muscle.

But the thing is…. If you are new or beginning again, you WILL want to start light so that you don’t overload your body. I much rather you start out too light and then to go too heavy and be stuck and have to go backwards. When you go light at first, you can always add more the next week or the week after that.

Eventually, your body NEEDS a progressively larger and larger stimulus in order to create change and strength so it makes sense to start out easy and then when you feel more capable and more strong to add a little more weight and then when that feels easier, add a little more weight and so on. 

As a beginner lifter or even someone who has just taken a load of time off from physical activity, it’s not about how much you can lift but rather your form is the TOP priority. Starting out light not only reduces the risk of injury but it also allows you to learn & master the form of the exercises you’re doing. Form is like laying the foundation of a house. Adding weight is like putting up the walls. You legit can’t put up the walls until the foundation is set otherwise it’s gonna fall down when the big bad wolf blows it down. (Bet you weren’t expecting a 2nd childhood stories analogy!)

Anyway, I know that lifting light might make you feel…. for lack of a better term… Pathetic. I know you might be looking around at the gym thinking everyone is lifting heavier than you but trust me, they were in your shoes once too. Which means I was in your shoes once! And, if you stick with it, it doesn’t last long. Newbie lifters have a special advantage that all the accomplished lifters envy: You gain strength like crazy. No matter your height, it’s this amazing phenomenon that happens when someone begins lifting and stays consistent. 

Plus, You should never worry about everyone else in the gym is thinking.  Chances are, they are NOT watching every little thing you do. The people who ARE worth caring about in the gym, are the ones who are minding their own business anway. Having been a personal trainer in a gym for 4 years and being on the floor for 12 hours a day, trust me when I say, I don’t remember ever looking at weight someone was lifting and judging them. IF they had good form, I hardly noticed that person. If they had crazy bad form, then you bet everyone was sneaking side eyes and glances. I know you’ve seen some of those memes. So moral of the story… if you’re worried about what people think… focus more on your form than the amount of weight you’re lifting at first.


Once you have the form nailed down, then you can start increasing the weight you use. How much weight depends on the exercise & the size of the muscle being worked. You will feel it’s easier to increase by large amounts for compound exercises (which are exercises that use multiple muscles like squats) and larger muscle groups (like back and legs). Which means you’ll find it harder to add weight to isolation movements (like hamstring curls) and smaller muscle groups (like shoulders). For those smaller movements & muscle groups, you might not be able to jump up to the next level for several weeks — and that’s O-K!

Since we are petite, our muscle size is smaller than people of average height. Just think about the length & width of your quad muscle compared to your partner’s. It’s no wonder he can do heavier weight on the leg extension machine. The good news is, that doesn’t mean you can never catch up.

To do this, you must provide progresive overload. Which means adding weight to increase size and strength. Increasing size doesn’t mean you’ll get bulky thought. Because of our hormonal profile, it’s literally impossible for females to get bulky unless they take drugs that promote that kinda thing. When I say increase in size I mean tone because the more your muscle grows, the more it’s going to eat away at the fat on your body and you’ll start to see that muscle definition poke through. ie: tone. 

So how much weight CAN you add to your lifts?

Well, I think there’s this common misconception in the bodybuilding world that if you’re not adding 5lbs to your lifts every week then you’re not making progress. But 5lbs for us shorties is quite a bit and is sometimes unrealistic – depending on the lift.

Could it happen? Yes! Absolutely, especially if you are a newbie lifter like I was saying earlier, you have a greater chance of increasing strength. But for intermediate & advanced lifters, that rate of acceleration of strength starts to slow. IT doesn’t mean you’re a failure or you’re getting weaker. It just means that you’re body is getting used to the stimulus you’re throwing at it.

You’ll eventually hit a point where you can’t add any more weight. Once you hit that place, then it’s time to change your workouts up by switching up your rep ranges, intensity, frequency, volume and duration – any of those training principles.

And this is exactly why I change up my training and my client’s training every single month. Because after a few weeks, your body will get used to any stimulus you throw at it. By changing at least one of the training principles every few weeks, I’m giving the body another stimulus to adapt to and therefore change constantly. Besides it would be boring as hell to do the same workout over and over for several months. 

Okay, I know what you’re thinking still… You’re like “But Kier, HOW DO I KNOW WHERE TO START? and what’s too light for squats? and what’s too heavy for bench press? Where should I aim to be lifting for shoulder press? Is this considered strong for a short girl?!”

Don’t you worry, girlfriend! I got you! I created a Funsized Female Strength Chart for petite women to find out what’s a safe weight for beginners to use, how much you’ll need to add to be considered intermediate, when to know you’re an advanced lifter AND finally, find out what it takes to be at the elite level. In this chart you’ll find several of the most common lifts so not only will you find the major compound lifts like squats, deadlift, and bench, but you’ll find things like lateral raises, leg curls and one arm rows. Finally, you’ll be able to learn where you stand amongst your petite pals and what it will take to level up!

But FIRST, let’s have some fun! Take my petite strength quiz to get your copy of the Strength Chart. On your results page you’ll see the big button which will take you to the big chart with the most common lifts. It’s a google sheet so be sure to bookmark the page or make a copy so that you can reference it easily!

P.s. I had a ton of fun creating the quiz and I think you’ll enjoy it too!

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