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Are we lifting heavy enough? Self-selected loads in resistance exercise

A scoping review and exploratory meta-analysis


  • James Steele Solent University
  • Tomer Malleron
  • Itai Har-Nir
  • Patroklos Androulakis-Korakakis
  • Milo Wolf
  • James Fisher
  • Israel Halperin



weight, load, strength, effort, autonomy


Background: Traditionally, the loads in resistance training are prescribed as a percentage of the heaviest load that can be lifted once (i.e., 1 Repetitions Maximum [1RM]). An alternative approach is to allow trainees to self-select training loads. The latter approach has benefits, such as allowing trainees to exercise according to their preferences and negating the need for periodic 1RM tests. However, in order to better understand the utility of the self-selected load prescription approach, there is a need to examine what loads trainees select when given the option to do so. Objective: Examine what loads trainees select in resistance training sessions as a percentage of their 1RM. Design: Scoping review and exploratory meta-analysis. Search and Inclusion: We conducted a systematic literature search with PubMed, Web of Science and Google Scholar in September 2021. We included studies that 1) were published in English in a peer-reviewed journal or as a MSc or PhD thesis; 2) had trainees complete at least one resistance-training session composed of at least one set of one exercise in which they selected the loads; 3) trainees completed a 1RM test for the exercises that they selected the loads for. Eighteen studies were included in our main meta-analysis model with 359 participants. Results: Our main model indicated that on average participants select loads equal to 53% of their 1RM (95% Credible Interval [CI]: 49% to 58%). There was little moderating effect of training experience, age, sex, timing of the 1RM test (before or after the self-selected load RT session), number of sets, number of repetitions, and lower vs. upper body exercises. Participants did tend to select heavier loads when prescribed lower repetitions, and vice versa (logit(yi) = -0.12 [95%CI: -0.21 to -0.04]). Conclusions: Participants selected loads equal to an average of 53% of 1RM across exercises. Such loads are suitable for hypertrophic gains assuming that trainees approach or reach the point of task-failure, but may be too light for optimal strength development (as measured with 1RM). The self-selected loads prescribing approach shows promise given that it bypasses certain limitations of the traditional load prescription approach, but requires thought and further research regarding how and with whom it should be implemented.


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