A common issue people of all training levels seem to run into in the gym is weight handling.
Bad weight handling can go in both ends of the spectrum: either stacking on too much weight to a point of risking serious injury (mostly common among men), or stacking too little weight to the point of turning the workout relatively useless (mostly common among women).
Gender phobics - don't get angry (yet). Let's dive into the article to clarify.
In this article, I will first try to get into your head and see if I can lay out the more common reasons for improper weight handling, as they are possibly perceived by you (whether you are an over-lifting dude or an under-lifting duddette) and will lay out the cons and risks involved in such behaviors, and second - I will offer you an easy formula you can use to holistically determine what is your optimal workload that will get you the result you want, with minimum risk and maximum capacity!
So let’s start with the reasons you might possibly have for over-lifting to a point your eyes might pop out of your skull, or a disk might pop out of your spine:
First, a general rule:
If you finish a set with something other than your muscles that is in pain – something is off.
1. Wanting To Get Results Faster:
A common error among lifters, veterans and newbies alike, is to think that some things can “Speed up” their result gaining in the gym.
Well, actually, this is not an error, as some things do in fact get you faster results.
The error lies not in thinking there is a way to speed things us, but in the perception of what that way actually is.
Hint: it is often not the way you might think.
Here are some factors that will get you faster results: Having a balanced, whole-food diet, Sleeping 8 hours a night, drinking a lot of water, meditating, smiling, resting sufficiently between workouts, loving yourself, etc.
Lifting heavier weights will not necessarily give you better or faster results.
As a matter of fact, if you do it incorrectly, you might slow results down!
As you probably know, training is a matter of repetition, which means that in order to succeed, you need to play the long game.
Playing the long game implies getting as many repetitions as possible, so assuming you want to get good and long lasting results, you need to able to give your body repetition for an elongated period of time.
Lifting to a point that endangers your health and might cause injury, which can potentially cause a partial to complete halt of your training, and will be thus, counterproductive to getting the results you want.
So remember – faster results can be achieved, but they are dependent on your daily habits and lifestyle, and not on the weight you lift.
2. Not understanding what “success” of an exercise is:
For some people, getting the bar from point A to point B means they have succeeded in the exercise.
For some people, if you managed to lift the bar from the floor and stand up with it, you successfully completed a deadlift.
Unfortunately, that is not the only criterion to the success of an exercise.
Even in a powerlifting competition, where the main idea is to get the bar from point A to point B, there are rules. For example, if you lift your butt or head or from the bench, or if you detach your feet from the ground while bench pressing – you are disqualified.
There is a reason for most rules. Most of the time, rules are there to keep you safe.
There is a reason why I spend at least a month with clients going over basic movement patterns before starting any kind of loading. That reason is LONGEVITY.
Again, you want to play the long game. Before every training session, don’t think of successfully completing the session, or successfully completing a year of training, or even four years – think of how you can successfully train for the rest of your life.
My point this: take the holistic approach – it won’t help you in any way if you break your back with poor technique, or destroy your knees with bad posture.
Lift heavy, but lift straight, and accurate!
Now that we have covered the reasons for over-lifting, let’s see if I can hit home with the reasons for under-lifting:
Here is our general rule: If your last rep was as easy as your first – something is off.
1. Thinking you will get “Bulky”:
This reason is actually the other end of the spectrum for reason 1 of lifting too heavy.
Many people (women and men) tend to think that if they lift "too heavy weights" they will end up looking like bodybuilders, or end up looking too bulky for their taste.
In another article I wrote entitled “Afraid of Starting to Lift Weights? 3 Weightlifting Myths You Must Debunk!” I explain why this absolutely cannot happen, and I add a picture of how you might actually look like when you lift weights.
Any workout must be a challenge. It doesn’t have to be an overwhelming, ass kicking challenge, but it must challenge your body to some extent.
In reality, if the set is too easy for you, there will be little to no return from the workout. You won’t see results in the performance or aesthetic department, and it will just frustrate you further, and cause you to waste your already valuable time.
I know that you are probably busy, and that you have much stuff on your plate, so why not make the 1 hour a day you train into a productive one, challenge your body and get the best results you can?
2. Afraid of Post Workout Muscle Pain:
We’ve all been there.
It’s a day or two after leg day, and it’s time to sit on the toilet. Jesus.
For many people, the fear of post workout muscle pain is real, and is completely justified.
It’s not pleasant to walk around with tense muscles all day, and for some of us it might hinder with work, or spending time with our kids or friends.
In regards to muscle pain, I have good news and bad news: Bad news is, that muscle pain is a part of the life of an athlete – not matter the level of the athlete (Like I keep saying – for me, you are ALL athletes, even the most amateur among you), and that no amounts of stretching can help to make it better.
The Good news is, that the longer and more consecutive your training is, the less likely your will get any muscle pain! If you do, it wont be such a big deal.
So don’t fear it, embrace it – make it your little internal indicator to know which muscles worked hard, and are now thanking you, and telling you they need rest.
So finally, here is the formula to make your weightlifting sessions both successful, and safe:
Proper Technique – (Workload + Sufficient Fatigue) = A Good Set.
What Workload + Fatigue means, is that a set should have a workload that is tough to a level it causes certain fatigue in the muscle or the Central Nervous System.
The “certain” part is up to you – whether you want to train extra hard, or if you want to have a relatively light training session, both are OK – but at least SOME fatigue has to occur in order for the workout to be somewhat effective.
So you don’t have to kill yourself in each workout, as a matter of fact, you don'y have to kill yourself in any workout. Nonetheless, make that last rep at least somewhat difficult. Feel like you put in some work.
Workload + Fatigue is subtracted from Proper Technique, because no matter how hard your set is, IT SHOULD NEVER TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR POSTURE, OR TECHNIQUE.
This is so important, it’s worth rephrasing: No matter how hard the set is, if it takes away from your technique – it’s no good.
So even if you want to work on those strength gains, and you are about to perform a heavy, 3 repetition set – those 3 repetitions must be executed in proper technique.
A good way to remember it is following this guideline - not matter how hard the set is, your posture in the last rep should look exactly like your posture in the first rep.
If you can’t perform a certain weight in proper technique, it’s time to set your ego aside, take off 10 or 15 kg off of the bar, and work on your technique.
Finally, to summaries my points in this article in a few sentences:
Training is both a gift you give to your body as well as a celebration of your skill and ability. A good understanding of that sentence comes to reality by constantly challenging your body in ways that are healthy and responsible.
If you want your workouts to produce a good return, handling your workload in the workout requires playing the long game, both in terms of health and of goal setting. You don't want to work too heavy up to the point your technique goes to the toilet, but you also don't want to work too light to a point you felt like you just hit a bicep curl with a pencil.
What you DO want is to be challenged by your exercises, and dynamically read the signs the body is giving you.
One final tip when it comes to playing the long game - know your aim. Envision what is it you want to achieve by training, what is your goal - and act according to that idea. You need to know where it is you need to go so you can know where you are right now.
After all, who is it you are training for other than yourself? If you damage yourself while training, or if your training is too light to work, what good is the training anyway?