HOW HEAVY SHOULD YOU BE LIFTING?
“How heavy should you be lifting? Like…really?”
Silly question right? You are likely to of heard one of these following sayings:
GO HARD OR GO HOME!
TRAIN INSANE OR REMAIN THE SAME!
AVERAGE EFFORT = AVERAGE RESULTS!
DO IT WITH PASSION OR NOT AT ALL!
HUSTLE BEATS TALENT WHEN TALENT DOESN’T HUSTLE!
ROSES ARE RED, VIOLETS ARE BLUE, GO TO THE GYM!
WORK HARDER THAN YESTERDAY!
NEVER DECREASE THE GOAL, INCREASE THE EFFORT!
NOTHING WORTH HAVING COMES EASY!
THE BEST PROJECT YOU’LL EVER WORK ON IS YOU!
SUCCESS IS NO ACCIDENT!
SWEAT IS FAT CRYING!
Get the picture? This kind of inspiration / motivation can help get people to lift more BUT what if lifting more than what you’re already lifting wouldn’t help you progress in the long term? What if more doesn’t mean better? It may sound silly but if you continually keep lifting heavier and heavier eventually it’ll be too much for your body.
It took me a little while to figure this out. Maxing out at least once or twice every week on top of not addressing my poor movement patterns, lead me to receive injury after injury until I educated myself on better movement and proper weightlifting technique / programming / recovery.
The following article I’ve written to help give you a bit of perspective on things to take into consideration. As always I’ve tried to write this to target as many people as possible so if you would like help with your situation specifically contact me here!
Before we head into the consideration points if you’re reading this & you don’t lift weights or do any kind of resistance training…you should be! That’s right, I don’t know who you are and what your goal is but chances are lifting weights/resistance training will benefit your goal. Young, old, male, female, healthy, unhealthy, disabled, desk worker, injured, blah blah blah! You name it, it would likely benefit you! If you don’t think it will, you simply need to find the right amount/type to benefit you. If you’re unsure CONTACT ME ;)
What to take into consideration when lifting.
The goal, no matter what, is ALWAYS the first thing to consider when training. Different goals = different training styles & different nutrition adaptation, but I won’t get into nutrition this blog post.
A great example of training being different for the goal is Bodybuilders and Powerlifters alike can have a similar goal of getting bigger and stronger, but they would both train slightly differently depending on how far out they are from their competitions. That’s not to say they have no transfer at all, but it depends on how nitty gritty you want to get.
Bodybuilders benefit greatly from having a lighter weight but focusing on the mind-muscle connection, isolating and focusing on the contraction of said muscle during the exercise which will help gain size & bring the muscle out more – in my opinion a technique that isn’t utilised enough in aspiring competitors/those who train for aesthetics.
Whereas for Powerlifters, size doesn’t necessarily mean strength and if anything having more size = more weight which could mean a higher weight category, this could be the difference of you placing lower in a powerlifting competition. So instead of having bigger and heavier muscles, they would benefit more from having more dense muscles by focusing on controlling the weight and increasing time under tension during their lifts through tempo reps or pause reps – this I can definitely vouch for but again… in my opinion a technique that isn’t utilised enough by people who practice compound lifts.
BUT if you are reading this you may not be a Bodybuilder or Powerlifter so how does this help you?
Well here’s some basic suggestions on how you can adapt your training based around a couple of common goals...
If you want to train for strength
You ideally want to be training around 65-85% of your 1 rep max (1RM) most of the time and reps ranging from 1-8. If you’re not sure on what your 1RM is, you can use a 1RM calculator to get a rough estimate; you can also focus on your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) being around 6-9. RPE is a scale of 1-10 on difficulty in relation to your set. 1 being easy, 10 being maxing out. It does take time to develop the awareness in your body on how you are feeling as most people don’t pay attention to this but here is a better example:
10 you’re maxing out, you cannot possibly do anymore reps.
9 you could do 1 more rep
8 you could do 2 more reps
7 you could do 3 more reps
6 you could do 4-5 more reps
1-5 warm up / too light to scale
And accessory work should be a mixture of heavy low rep & light high rep work.
It’s important to remember that as the intensity goes up, volume should go down and vice versa. Intensity is specific to you and your RPE, this will differ from person to person. Working out the total volume you do on a given workout can be very simple. If you’re a bit of a weirdo like me and love a spreadsheet, your programming can be made easier. Here is the calculation for working out your volume:
Lift (Reps x Sets) x Weight lifted = Total Volume
Squat (10reps x 3sets) x 100kg = 3,000kg Total Volume
The idea being that you gradually increase total volume over time through increasing reps, sets or weight lifted.
If you want to train for size
You ideally want to be training in the 8-12 rep range and RPE being around 7-10 depending on where you are in your sets. Just remember to focus on the mind-muscle connection, isolate, focus on the contraction of the muscle(s) and in the words of us PT’s “SQUEEZE!”
If you want to train for fat loss
You want to be doing a mixture of the above and alongside some higher rep ranges, I sometimes get my clients to do 15 to as high as 20 rep sets. Alongside this you can add in supersets (2 exercises back to back with minimal rest in between) or even a circuit of exercises based on reps or time.
If you choose to do supersets, always start with the more energy demanding exercise. It’s also not a good idea to have 2 high demand exercises back to back such as squats into deadlifts.
And if you choose to do circuits, I recommend doing simpler exercises. Doing a high demand exercise such as deadlifts as part of a circuit makes it harder to keep form and can often lead to rushing the exercise resulting in an injury which isn’t worth the extra rep(s).
If you want to train for performance
If I’m honest, you can’t beat doing the sport you’re trying to get better at more! (Depending on recovery etc). Obviously athletes need to train outside of the sports specific practice as well but sometimes more practice in the sport may be needed. As this is an article about lifting…doing all the above but catering it based on what sport exactly you are doing (this will be covered in the next point). Performance can be anything from casual running to competitive sports.
This is also a very important component to programming, if there’s no point in doing an exercise in relation to your goal…why do it? Myself as an aspiring powerlifter won’t get much use from doing a programme based around bosu work and 90 year old Doris wanting to move better may not appreciate me getting her doing burpees “because it’s a good exercise” haha.
A better example of getting into the specifics would be if I’m working with an explosive athlete such as a volley ball player or basketballer, lets (for arguments sake) say they are due a heavy session in their programme, I wouldn’t get necessarily get them doing heavy Conventional Deadlifts or heavy Barbell Cleans as Risk vs Reward comes into it. Deadlifts & Barbell Cleans although beneficial, are both quite technical lifts and the risk of injury can be higher than other exercises IF the athlete doesn’t already know how to perform the lifts; if the risk doesn’t need to be high, why should it? If the athlete(s) already know the technique of those lifts, brilliant! And if you have time to take out of your training to focus on learning those lifts then awesome! But if not then you can spend a lot of time trying to learn these lifts when the time could be better utilised elsewhere – as always it depends on the situation.
So what else could I have them do? Well a simple swap with the Conventional Deadlift with a Trap Bar Deadlift would put them in a more athletic position straight away, it’s easier to learn and have more transfer to when they’re doing a jump, I would also consider adding bands to it to help with their acceleration. In regards to the Barbell Cleans, typically with explosive athletes Barbell Cleans are used to challenge triple extension (simultaneous extension of the ankles, knees & hips) so I would swap this with something that still challenges that like variations of Vertical Jumps or Box Jumps if possible with bands, a weighted vest or dumbbells to add load or maybe something like Medicine Ball Overhead Throws or Kettlebell Swings.
Once again refer to your goal thinking Risk vs Reward, if you’re a golfer do you really need to be doing heavy bicep curls?
If you are week 1 in your gym routine, it’s not ideal to just jump into the deep end and start lifting heavy. If your muscles aren’t used to taking load and you then overload them as I’ve already mentioned your risk of injury goes up. Start sub-maximally and increase the more experience you gain. Young and Old…er lifters should also take into consideration how heavy you go because of bone density, start slow to build a support structure so your bone density can increase – I 100% advocate lifting at any age, it’s just being smart about how!
If in doubt? Hire an experienced trainer!
YOUR BIOMECHANICS / PREVIOUS INJURIES
To be fair like all types of exercise you need to be able to adapt around previous injuries and any limitations in your biomechanics in order to reduce the risk of sustaining an injury.
Numero uno is not having pain during movement or if you’re already in pain not making it worse. A simple scale you can follow is a pain scale from 1 to 10 – 1 you are floating on a cloud pain free, 10 you’re in the most intense pain. Ideally you don’t want to do any movement that makes your pain go above a 6 but anything above a 3 you want to be cautious and possibly explore other options.
Secondly you want to address any limitations / weaknesses so you can work on them. This could mean visiting your local Biomechanics Coach *more info*.
When it comes to injuries, more often than not (depending on the injury) it’s better to do some form of light exercise/movement to promote blood flow to the area of injury thus helping with the recovery process.
Lastly when it comes to medication I would always advise being cautious on whether you actually need to take it or not.
*ALWAYS consult with a medical professional and this article shouldn’t be prioritised over medical advice*
The main reason why I would advise really thinking about pain relief is because pain can be a GOOD thing. That’s right, many people think otherwise but it actually can! During my back injury where I wasn’t able to stand up straight / not walk properly I think I had pain medication once initially when it was at its worst. Pain can help us know our movement restrictions of said injury, your body restricts that movement to prevent worsening the injury whilst it heals, sometimes pain relief can numb that restriction and you might (without knowing it) end up doing more damage. As I’ve already highlighted, consult with a medical professional when it comes to medication or better yet consult with an injury practitioner who knows about medication AND works with people that participate in sport – this way you’ll work with a professional that not only knows you want to move pain free, but also you wish to do so in a sport environment that they may have a better understanding of.
No matter what your goal, moving well is always the best place to start. If this means a couple of weeks of doing exercise that doesn’t challenge you so much then so be it!
Secondly make sure you keep track of what you are doing and plan for some kind of progression.
Thirdly understand that progress towards any goal takes time. Be patient & enjoy the process!
And lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sure being able to say you’ve done everything yourself to reach your goal can be a cool bragging right, but if getting in contact with a professional that knows more can get you there quicker & safer…why wouldn’t you?