Why Is My Strength Coach Telling Me To Lift Less Weight?

Many people think that lifting heavier weights makes you stronger for the same reason that people think that eating less will allow you to lose weight, because it makes intuitive sense. After all, people who you consider stronger than yourself lift heavier weights than you, so lifting heavier weights must make you stronger. Overall, they are right but there are a few details that have to be in place for you to get the results you expect sustainably. It doesn’t matter how Feng Shui your house is, if your foundation is a few well placed rocks (yes, I’ve had a house with a “foundation” like that), you have termites and your roof leaks, your house is not going to give you long-term protection. While it seems counter-intuitive, there are many times when lifting less weight or, possibly, not lifting any weight, is the right thing to do to build a foundation for long-term strength gains.

There are four pillars that comprise your foundation for strength training. If any or all of these are under-developed, reduce the weight on your lifts and take the time to build your foundation.

  • Mobility, from the ground up, in your ankles, hips, thoracic spine and shoulders
  • Technique or motor control
  • Hormonal happiness
  • Experience

We will cover these in detail in the next post but there is the down and dirty.

Mobility: This one is pretty simple, if you can’t get into the positions required for the lift, e.g. if you can’t get your arms over your head without sticking your chest out, lower the weight and/or the reps and work your mobility. I haven’t been that great about this in the past, but this is one thing we are going to work hard on this year.

Technique: Lift to technique failure not muscle failure. When your knees start caving, your back starts rounding, or your arms start bending prematurely on your Olympic lifts, stop adding weight. Lifting a heavy weight off the ground is not necessarily a dead lift and, more importantly, will not get you the sustained results that dead lifting properly can. Don’t be that guy.

Hormonal happiness: Your hormones are the messengers of your body and tell it when to gain or lose muscle and/or bone mass. Stressors, for example, exercise, food, sleep, relationships, job(s), even mobility and technique can drive the combination and level of hormones in your blood. When any of the stressors are chronic, they will affect your hormonal mixture which in turn affects your strength gains.

Experience: Only time under the bar and training with others will help you understand exactly how your body responds to a training stimulus. You can be coached by the best coaches but if you don’t know at a fundamental level how your body responds to training, i.e. when to push on and when to take a step back, you will be leaving some strength gains on the table.

Check back later this weekend for a more detailed explanation of the above pillars and how you can strength the pillars to support your strength training by actually lifting less weight in some cases.