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 general health and fitness or sports performance, how much weight you’re lifting matters, but it’s not what matters most…
Stable to Stimulate and Strengthen
Before loading an exercise with weight, it’s important to be stable in the movement. Too often people try to skip to advanced variations of movements and loading up the weight before they can do the basic versions with light weight.
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. 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.
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…
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.
In other words, can you handle the weight without losing the quality of your movement? 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, doing so is a sign that you are becoming stronger.
Reps 1 and 100 Should Look the Same
Sure the tempo may vary (you might not be as explosive with heavier weights or after 15 reps), 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. Weight 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 ask the question:
Am I strong enough to handle this weight with good technique?
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 (good technique) to try to win a competition. But, even for strength-sport athletes, the majority of their lifts and training time will be spent 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 this approach will lead to long term progress and you becoming stronger and more athletic.
If you’d like a technique session then get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
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