Learning How To Lift Heavy

Strength Requires Lifting Heavy Weights

Strength is a skill. It’s one thing to get stronger. It’s another thing to be able to display strength.

Often, we’ll see a lifter do two easy reps of a set of five, do another mostly easy rep, and then rack the barbell and mark the reps as missed. Why?

At this point, we’ll have to have “The Talk”.

“Dude, you quit that pretty easy! What’s going on?” “It was too heavy, so I stopped.” “It was fast! You had 4 more reps in the tank. You’ve got to try for five seconds before you quit.”

This happens all the time.

Why? It takes time for a muscle to generate maximal force. Some of us are very good at getting all of our motor units to turn on right away. This is why some people can jump 36”. Most of us are not able to do that. For most of us it takes more time to generate force. This is why we can’t jump as high.

Henneman’s size principle is important, too. Henneman theorized that motor units would be recruited in order, from the lowest force (Type I) to the highest force (Type II) production. This also takes time. This means, when you lift light weights, you are only using part of the muscle. When it gets heavy, you’ve got to recruit more and more powerful motor units.

You may not be in the habit of pushing or pulling on a weight that feels too heavy to lift. This is a skill that comes with practice. Self-perception, especially for a novice lifter, is not reliable.

Self-preservation also plays a role. Squats are SCARY. They feel like they’re going to crush you, when they’re actually not going to. In fact, none of these lifts are going to kill you, if you’ve set your safeties correctly.

This is especially evident on the deadlift: You take your position, get set, and start pulling. Nothing happens! You quit. Then, you have The Talk. You go back to the barbell, get set, take a deep breath, and pull: “One. . . two. . . three . . . (nothing happens). . . four. . .” Finally, the bar comes off the floor. Then, you do 4 more reps, finish the assigned set, and life is beautiful.

Why do you have to do this? To get strong, you have to learn how to lift when it’s actually heavy. Strength requires lifting heavy weights. There’s no way around it.

It will probably have beneficial effects for the rest of your life, because you’ve learned to stick with and finish hard things. After a session of heavy squats, the rest of your day will seem easy!




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