I have had many learning experiences throughout my training career. One of the most eye opening moments I had lifting was learning what heavy actually meant.
I had 200+ pounds on the bar and it was the first time I had ever used such a weight (I understand that this is not that heavy in the grand scheme of things). I stared at the bar and was conceiving a strategy for how it was going to get off of the ground.
Attempting to deadlift a weight that was twice as heavy as anything I had lifted just 10 weeks earlier was not going to be easy. Let me promise you that it was not.
I thought my eyes were going to pop out of my head and had serious concerns that my technique was going to fail. This is what a max effort is like.
Now I am not trying to be a big tough guy saying I’m awesome for hitting that deadlift. The point I am trying to make is that lifting for strength should not be easy. The weight needs to be heavy and challenging.
So lifting the same weights over and over does not count as heavy. You need to increase the weight. If your program is comfortable and casual, you need to try harder.
The bar does not need to bend when you go to use it, but the weight should be hard for you.
How can you tell if you’re lifting heavy?
1. The weight should feel hard to move
This is a little bit of a gray area because perceived effort may not always relate to actual effort. That being said, the weight cannot be heavy if you do not find it hard.
2. Your form should feel like it is about to breakdown
Lifting to technical failure is not a good idea. Getting right before that point is very effective for building strength. If you are struggling to keep your back set in a deadlift, for example, you are lifting heavy.
3. The fear of getting stuck
Those last reps of your exercise should make you wonder if you are going to get it up. Rep number 6 on the bench should be questionable as to whether or not your spotter has to come in. You should be concerned that you might not get out of the bottom of that squat.
Being strong is powerful. Strong people are happy and confident. In order to be strong, the effort needs to be there. If you have not had any close to maximal efforts, you need to add some weight.
It can really surprise people what they are capable of when they realize what heavy actually is. Discomfort is essential, but it must go much more beyond that for the weight to be heavy enough for strength training.
So now I challenge you, grab a spotter and load up on an exercise you are comfortable with. Pick a weight that you think will be hard while maintaining perfect technique. If you do not think your organs are ready to burst during the effort, it is probably not heavy enough.
This should not be done every time you train but it is always good to measure where you are in your progress.