How Heavy is TOO Heavy to Build Muscle??

If you want to build muscle you have to ask yourself how heavy is too heavy when it comes to lifting weights. A lot of people will lift heavy weights in order to build muscle but not pay attention to how they are doing it. I would argue that lifting lighter weights will go a lot further towards adding mass if you are going to lift the heavy weights improperly.

That said, there is a need to first ask yourself what your training goal is. What are you training for? If your goal is to increase strength at any expense then you may think that completing the lift at all is hitting your goal. I would argue that at the expense of good form, this is not true. At the root of all true strength is stability. This is especially so if you want to build muscle and remain injury free for years to come.

If you continue to attempt to add weight to the bar and progressively overload but do so upon a body that is not stabile you will ultimately suffer an injury in almost every case. Instead, look to add weight to the bar as able provided you can maintain the safety through stability by not building around a cracked foundation.

Now, when it comes to hypertrophy or building muscle, there is one easy test that you can do right now on any lift to determine if the weight that you are using is too heavy for you. This is caused the pause test. At any point in time during the lift you are performing you should be able to stop the weight and hold it. I don’t care if this stopping point is at the beginning, middle or end of the rep.

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The reason why is because of muscle physiology and biomechanics we know to be true. Muscles are stronger isometrically than they are concentrically. In other words, the force generating capacity of a muscle is stronger when all it has to do is hold the weight in one place rather than shorten and move the weight in space. With this knowledge however, we know that if we truly have the strength to lift a weight on an exercise that we should always have at least the same capacity to stop its motion.

Take an exercise like the front dumbbell raise. This works the front delts. That said, if you use only momentum to swing the weight up then you will be hard pressed to be able to stop it at some point during the rep as well, especially as we get towards the top of the movement. Instead, if you had chosen a weight that is lighter, and could be lifted under your muscle control then you would have had the ability to do so. The lightening of the weight will not detract from your muscle gains but actually boost them. How? By giving your delts a better chance to incur the load and be responsible for overcoming the resistance – serving as the spark for their overload and ultimate hypertrophy.

Now, is there ever a reason to use a heavier than usual weight and cheat it up through the concentric part of the lift? Definitely. This allows you to train with an eccentric overload focus. Things like cheat curls, or cheat laterals are muscle building exercises that allow you to use some momentum to swing the weight up in order to put the dumbbell or barbell in a position to be forced to lower slowly and overtax the eccentric muscle capabilities of a muscle in order to make it grow bigger.

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If you look at an exercise like the lat pulldown, it gives you the chance to do either. Load it up and lean back as you swing the weight down in order to focus on the eccentric as I am suggesting here and attempt to stop it at different points in the range of motion in order to find your heaviest and most appropriate weight.

So, set the pin in the stack and perform a rep and see if you can stop the pulldown bar from moving at various points in the lift. Be sure to remember to do it at the very end of the rep as well since this will often be the hardest part to do this in. If you can control the weight, don’t assume you have found the right weight. You’ve only ensured that you haven’t found the wrong one! Now, raise the weight a bit and try again. Your goal should be to find the heaviest weight you can that still allows you to control it and stop its motion at any point in the lift. When you’ve found the weight you are unable to control, simply drop back a notch on the stack and that is the weight to train with.

When you are looking to build muscle and get ripped you need to apply muscle building science to your workouts. If you are looking for a complete step by step workout program that includes day by day meal plans, be sure to head to via the link below. Use the program selector tool to find the program that matches your goals the best.


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42 thoughts on “How Heavy is TOO Heavy to Build Muscle??

  1. ATHLEAN-X™ says:

    “FAST ACTION” Q&A* – Leave your most burning question about this video or any other training, PT or nutrition question within the first 2 hours of this video’s release (AS A SEPARATE COMMENT!!) and I will pick 8 to get a detailed reply from me right here in the comments. Answers will be posted within the first 24-48 hours of you leaving the question. Good luck!

    • maxmax3311 says:

      Hi Jeff, can you please make video(s) about workouts for people with tennis elbow? Many standard exercises are either very hard to do or they just make the problem worse. Thank you.

    • Bob Bills says:

      Hey Jeff, is training many sets with long rest periods through the full day any good, or should I stick with 1 training session and give it all I got?
      Something like wakeup do 10 pullups, eat… do another 10 pullups… work… do another 10 and so on.

    • Ιουλιανός ο Παραβάτης II says:

      If I train for muscles as you say I shod train “light” but how am I going to progressively overload?

  2. Jared Jordan says:

    This is exactly the type of content that puts Jeff Cavaliere on a whole other level. There’s ‘fitness youtubers’ and then there’s Jeff. Looking peeled and happy belated birthday! Thanks for always leading the way for us all man.

  3. Adam Tassone says:

    Hey Jeff. I was wondering if you could do a video on how to recover from proximal hamstring tendinopathy. I’ve been suffering from this injury for months. Every time I do any leg exercise involving hip extension, the pain in the following days is unbearable. Your videos have helped me a lot over the years so I thought you would probably know an optimal way to recover from this injury.

    • Ajaybhai Shah says:

      not much, but gold bonds foot cream with electric exfoliator (hard) would sure help. I have the Arial version.

    • Garrett says:

      Start with isometric exercises for the hamstrings and slowly progress to doing concentric and eccentric. I’m a physical therapist and that’s how I would start my patients.

    • Jul y says:

      I have Pec tendon issues aswell due to a small tear. My physical therapist has said basically slow eccentric exercises that challenge the tendon enough to adapt but not enough to cause damage. Something like an over 5 in pain is too much or if the next day it’s in extreme pain you’ve done something wrong.

  4. Gage Collins says:

    Hey Jeff I have a question that been bugging me for years! I’m a big stickler for form and technique. But with me being double jointed in my arms/elbows. I’ve noticed it’s harder for me to do curls and pull ups because I have a huge bow in my arm at the elbow cus i can bend further than most. Which I think makes curles harder. Is there a way to work around this or or will I just have to deal with it?

  5. Paul M says:

    Hey Jeff,

    I am 25 years old and as far as I can remember I’ve had always some problems with the stability in my left shoulder and my scapula (I have a scapula alata as well) due to a paralysis of my left serratus anterior. I was wondering if there are any specific muscles/muscle groups I could train to stabilize the instability and to substitute the “missing” serratus.

    If you have any thoughts Id be really grateful!

    Kind regards, Paul

    • Henry Bonette says:

      If your serratus anterior is paralyzed, that generally means that you’ll be experiencing winged scapula. When the scapula wings, it will turn off the serratus anterior and rely on the other upward rotators of the scapula to perform that motion. This means that your trap will be taking over and will become tight. To fix the problem, the traps have to be stretched and the serratus anterior has to be “turned back on”. To turn it back on, you have to go through exercises that demand its usage.
      Dumbbell punches are a great way to work the SA concentrically so you can feel the scapula moving in protraction. Scap pushups or push up pluses are great too, but if the SA is truly frozen and unwilling to move correctly, then isolating the side that doesn’t work with DB punches is the way to go. I would recommend 5 sets 3x per week of these, then moving on to working it isometrically through the use of waiter walks with your elbow at 90 degrees and fully extended overhead. While doing these, you aren’t focusing so much on protraction as you are on upward rotation. Remember, the SA upwardly rotates the scap as well as protracting it. Adding resistance to both movements is the best way to truly unlock the frozen scap as much as you can. After doing both of those exercies, taking a very light dumbbell (3-5 pounds, 2-3 kg) and doing standing Y’s and T’s will work the SA in upward rotation. For the T’s, make sure the dumbbell is starting at the side of the leg, not in from like you would for a regular lateral raise for the deltoid. Try to develop mind-muscle connection with the scapula. Good luck.

    • damon mlinaric says:

      Focus on movements that help with scapula stability and also work on your upper back and rear deltoids.Its not a bad idea to keep the volume you do with all pushing movements the same as your pulling movements but don’t overcomplicate it and stay consistent.(Dealt with the same exact issue myself)

    • SAGAR MODAK says:

      @Fernando Desjardines I have pain in my right upper trapezius muscle. Normally I can’t feel the pain. But if I lay in the right side or I try to bench press or any kind of exercise which involves that muscle it feels hell lot of pain. It’s like this since 5 days. What should I do to fix this? For the last 5 days, I am not able to do any kind of training because of this pain. Any advices? Thanks in advance

    • 1 truth be getting told says:

      Focus on the whole area associated with it. Weight on its full range of motion, could be 4 pounds, could be 10 pounds. You want rotation externally. Remember you are rehabilitating it. Too much volume will damage it, too much weight will damage it. If you notice muscle is not building ensure you aren’t over doing it or under doing it. Stretch after your exercise cause your body will want to contract your muscles to make them shorter which will set you back especially in your situation.

  6. MMbaseball 28 says:

    Hey Jeff, I was wondering if you could explain how you go about creating your own personal training phases? Do you change them up every 4 weeks or so? I’m so curious about how you choose to constantly mix things up in your training. Thanks

  7. Ethan Byrne says:

    I just got injured a few months ago in the gym. It’s been a while since the last time I worked out. Do you have any advice as far as how to get back into training once I’ve completely healed up? Also, would u recommend that I start doing some very mild training before I’m fully recovered?

  8. Ladymusicc says:

    I love these videos. It either confirms I’m doing stuff correctly, or corrects me so I can fix what I’m doing wrong. Thanks so much for this!!

  9. G Brown says:

    Great info as usual… lifting heavy and wrong as a kid caused me 60% range of motion (and strength) in my left arm/shoulder (severely shredded labrum). 3 pins and shaved bone-spur later and almost all overhead work is null and void for me…

    • Cr0okKid says:

      Have you ever tried using Indian Clubs? I feel like they were amazing for my injured shoulders. I had a hillsacks fracture and a labrum tear.

  10. Via Domus says:

    Question: different body types extract equally the same amount of energy from food? If not, how does that influence the way we estimate our daily caloric intake. (Asking out of mere interest in the topic)

  11. Daniel Mulero says:

    Very useful advice! These kinds of tips have opened my mind towards a much more efficient and enjoyable training experience! Thank you, Jeff.

    Could you talk about the correlation between strength and hypertrophy? I mean, how strong do you have to be in order to see hypertrophy gains? Or, working on hypertrophy, don’t you become also stronger? Aren’t both components (hypertrophy and strength) to some degree always present?

    • theR0nin says:

      That’s a good question! From what I understand, both components may be present to some degree regardless of which type of training you do, but they aren’t necessarily present to the same degree. That’s because one component of strength is neurological– not just mechanical. The ability to move heavier loads doesn’t necessarily rely upon larger muscles, but can be achieved in part by training your nervous system to be able to more efficiently contract the muscles to move the heavier load. Also, heavier loads can be moved through training yourself to more efficiently go through the movement pattern of lifting the weight, even though your muscles didn’t get larger. And part of that is what Jeff is saying we should avoid when we’re training for hypertrophy (swinging the weights takes advantage of momentum rather than relying on the muscles doing more work, for example).

      Similarly, training for hypertrophy doesn’t necessarily increase your strength (at least not to the amount it increases muscle size). That’s because, as I pointed out above, there are other components needed for strength beyond just muscle size).

      So training for strength doesn’t necessarily yield the same results for hypertrophy, and vice-versa. There’ll be _some_ crossover, but the gains aren’t parallel across both strength and hypertrophy. They may complement each other but they don’t produce the same results in parallel. That’s why you need to focus on programming your workouts according to your specific goals.

      I hope that answers your question to some extent.

    • Daniel Mulero says:

      @theR0nin Thank you. That has been a very thorough explanation. It really makes sense to me.
      In my case I tend to avoid very heavy weights because I fear injuries and, being 48 years old, neither I nor my ego need to break PRs …
      I guess, although I have gained muscle and strength in the last 6 years, starting from scratch, I have been training mainly for hypertrophy, without really knowing it …
      I tend to associate hypertrophy with bodybuilding and not necessarily with athletic training.

    • sports x says:

      Rotator cuff muscle injuries. Upper body training: as strong as this muscle feels ok and since it mostly lacks the nerve tissue to “notify” you accordingly and you “won’t notice” until the injury has occured, the specific advice on “how much weight” analysed in this video worth its weight in gold. Also “symmetry” in training is very important like he always says. Left side weak, right side stronger will produce mostly left body side muscle injuries.

  12. Rob Seale says:

    REALLY helpful, Jeff! I’ve been doing Mentzer’s 1 set exercises to failure and controlling the load is critical. What do you think of his approach? I think it’s my favorite ever.

  13. Jonathan Godinez says:

    Hey Jeff, does age have an effect on the weights that can be lifted? i’m feeling that i’m getting weaker bec of my age

  14. Prateek Banerjee says:

    Hi Jeff, I have two questions. First is on the perfect back workout recommended by you. It has been a part of my training ever since you put the entire series out. In my recent experience, while doing the weighted pull up I might have cricked my neck. I suspect there is weakness as it felt sore the day before while doing barbell shoulder press (from your perfect shoulder workout) series. So the question, how to avoid stress on the neck while performing heavy lifts? Some tip to strengthen neck muscles would definitely be a life saver. My second question is on including exercises from the perfect workout series for 9to5 professionals. Earlier I used to have time to go through one or two muscles group per day but now as the work load has increased overall I would prefer to have a compressed format of the perfect series. I am not a fan of push pull leg and do enjoy the work and idea behind the perfect workout. Plus I made a lot of gains doing it. So looking forward to your videos addressing these topics. Thanks a lot and wish you a belated happy birthday!!!

  15. Ales Kubik says:

    Hi Jeff. Good topic. Isn’t it also important how many repetitions you are able to do under muscle control you describe? Cause if you are able to do say max 2-3 reps in the first series I think it’s still too heavy. Even if you try to build muscle volume and strength you should always be able to do at least say 4,5,6.. controlled reps at the beginning of your workout. Thanx for your videos!

  16. asanyal902 says:

    Hey Jeff, do you recommend doing this test on the last rep of a set? I find I might be more fatigued towards to the end of a set rather than the beginning for the same weight.

    • Ivan Buncic says:

      I’d do it at the beginning. Whatever exercise you’re doing you will start to get fatigued and lose form near the end of the set. Then you could do some cheat reps to go beyond failure as well. But to pick a weight to begin with I think it’s best when you’re fully rested and strongest.

  17. Logan Kipfmiller says:

    Hey Jeff been watching for a while and maybe you’ve said it before, but what kind of stretches should you do before working out, such as legs, shoulders, etc. There’s so much that goes into lifting and I appreciate you simplifying it.

  18. VanAnon51 says:

    A question I must ask that perhaps others have thought as well is this: Jeff, have you ever considered competing in bodybuilding?…you have one of the best, muscular, symmetrical, and ripped physiques I’ve ever seen.

  19. Pakitorocker says:

    What happens if you find a weight that you can control at any point in the range of motion but only for a very few reps? Let’s say that I can do 4 reps like that but then I’m losing form and control of motion range at the 5th rep. Is that still too heavy? Should I find a weight that allows me at least 8-12 reps with full control or should I continue to workout with those 4-5 reps and try to work my way up?

  20. SolaceAndBane says:

    Jeff, could we have a video on how to build strength+power+speed WITHOUT excess hypertrophy? I know the main audience of the channel is dudes who wanna get big and look good—but with your athletic training background, it would be really helpful to summarize the factors that help the athletes out there to get the most function out of each pound of body weight. So nutrition, set ranges, total load, isometrics, and everything else I missed.

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