Does How Much Weight You're Lifting Matter?
How much ya bench?… Is a question anyone who has picked up a weight has probably been asked.
But, does how much weight you’re lifting matter?
Well, it depends on what your training goal is...
If you’re training to win a powerlifting competition, then how much weight you’re lifting is pretty important...
If you’re training to improve your sports performance, how much weight you’re lifting matters, but it’s not what matters most…
If you’re training to improve your general health then you could argue that how much you’re lifting matters not!
To Strengthen You Must First Be Stable
Before loading an exercise with weight, it’s important to be stable in the movement.
Too often people try to skip to advanced variations and/or add heavy loads to a movement before they can do the basic versions with light or moderate weights.
For example, many people try to back squat heavy weights before they can bodyweight squat or goblet squat.
If you can’t do a movement unloaded (with no weight) or with light weights then you’re probably going to have a hard time doing it with heavy weights.
Once you’re stable and are stimulating the right muscles in the right way, adding more weight will help you safely increase your strength — good move and most likely the goal.
If you try to add strength to an unstable movement, you’re going to make the instability even worse and do yourself damage — bad move and most likely not the goal.
Basically, the number one priority is movement quality.
What does movement quality mean? Basically, it means having good technique and the ability to move freely, smoothly and powerfully in a given movement pattern. Once you have the technique, you can then challenge your technique by adding load.
Challenge Your Quality
When exercises and training programs are viewed from a movement quality perspective, the amount of weight you’re lifting (the load) is simply a challenge to the movement quality.
The weight is trying to change your good technique into sloppy technique. If you're strong enough, you won't let that happen.
When training with weights, the aim is to maintain your movement quality with progressively heavier loads and doing so is a sign that you are becoming stronger.
In other words, strength training is about more than just how much weight is being lifted, it’s about how the weight is being lifted.
Reps 1 and 100 Should Look the Same
Compound exercises such as squats and deadlifts should look the same whether you're warming up or lifting heavy.
Sure, the tempo will vary (you won’t be as explosive with a 3RM weight as you are with a 15RM and repetition 3 of a sort of 5 might be the best repetition) but the basic pattern should remain the same.
If your knees are shaking and spine is bending, the weight is too heavy or you've done too many reps. Remember, we want to stimulate muscles, not vertebrae.
Your technique shouldn’t change from rep one to one hundred. Grinding your way through the reps just to complete the task is a bad decision. Aim to be in control of each and every movement.
But I Want to Lift Heavier
The movement quality approach doesn’t mean you don’t lift heavy weights, it means you lift as heavily as you are capable of and you train your body strictly and progressively.
Strength training programs are designed to make you more capable over a period of time. This approach keeps you strong, stable and safe and allows for continual progression.
Whether lifting a heavy weight for one repetition or a lighter weight for fifteen repetitions, an easy way to assess whether you’re ready to increase the weight is to assess the movement quality.
Am I strong enough to handle this weight with good technique? Am I lifting the weight as powerfully as I’d like.
If the answer is yes, then increase the weight or go for more reps.
If the answer is no, either reduce the weight or do less reps until you develop the necessary strength and control.
Can Technique Ever Go Out the Window?
If you’re competing in a strength-sport such as powerlifting or Olympic lifting, there will be times in the heat of competition, or when pushing yourself to new limits in training, when your technique may get a little shaky.
This can be acceptable for highly experienced and advanced strength-sport athletes, whose goal is to lift as much weight as possible and who are consciously aware that they are sacrificing safe positions to try to win a competition. But, even for strength-sport athletes, the majority of their lifts and training time will be in safe ranges of the technique continuum.
For the general population or non strength-sport athletes, good technique shouldn’t be sacrificed.
Prioritise movement quality over how much weight you are lifting.
No one is going to move perfectly all the time but there are safe ranges of technique that should be worked within.
Taking a movement quality approach will lead to long term progress and you becoming stronger and more athletic.
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