You’ve been lifting weights for some time now, you’re feeling confident in your form, you know which weight to grab for each type of move… what’s next? It might be time to grab a heavier weight!
If my only goal is to maintain, do I need to lift heavier?
To become a muscle-bound bodybuilder takes an incredible amount of dedication. Increasing your weight by 5-10# is not going to radically transform your physique. But it will make your body burn more calories, your clothes fit better, your toned muscles show more, and your workouts will be more satisfying. This last point is probably the most important one - do your workouts seem as challenging as they always have? Or are you finishing with some extra energy left over? A desire for a greater challenge is probably the best reason to lift heavier.
In leading our sessions I look at three main criteria to determine if I should encourage you to lift a heavier weight: Form, Feel, and Fatigue. It’s worth self-evaluating yourself on these points.
Form comes down to generating force in the most efficient way possible. When I evaluate your form, I’m verifying that your body is in proper alignment, and you’re using the correct muscles for the movement at hand. Are the joints and muscles “stacked” so they work as a whole system? Or are you having to compensate your movements due to mobility or strength issues?
We design our workouts to gradually strengthen all your stabilizers and supporting muscles, so as a new participant expect to need time to become proportionately strong. A great example of this is when people first start deadlifting, they often find their back is the limiting factor. When your body is proportionately strong, you’ll know if you are being challenged from the feel of each exercise.
Feel is a loose term I’m using to describe your comfort level. As a trainer, I’m looking to see if you’re grimacing, wobbling, or struggling in any way to accomplish your reps. Or are you coasting through at a perfectly controlled pace? I love when I get to say “you look so smooth doing that, might consider a bigger challenge!”
Feel and fatigue are related - the main question we’re trying to answer at the end of a workout is “could you actually do another rep?” At Progress, most of our movements are performed for three sets. We want that final rep of the final set to be DIFFICULT, because the only way to change our body is to challenge it. This is how I know you’re lifting the right weight.
How should I go up in weight?
If you search this topic on the internet you’ll find endless charts and mathematical formulas designed to periodize the growth of your lifts. The fact is, considering the type of functional lifting we perform at Progress, it’s may not be feasible or easy to increase your lifts by 2-5%. Instead I have a few approaches for you to consider, and your trainer would be happy to help:
Just go for it
I’m gonna tell you now, the first time you grab that bigger weight it’s going to be a little shocking. But trust me that after a few reps, you’ll adjust quickly. And after one week, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. I can’t say this more enthusiastically, YOU GOT THIS, and we got you! Remind yourself that you will need an adjustment period, you will be much more fatigued, and you may not even be able to finish each set. This is normal.
If just going for the bigger weight feels intimidating, try my next recommendation:
Grab multiple weights
We have plenty of equipment at Progress, don’t be shy about grabbing your normal weight, plus the next size up! Here are some possible ways to approach it:
Start each set with the heavier weight, and then switch when you fatigue
Start small/medium and choose a bigger weight each set
First and second set heavier, third back to normal
The greater the challenge you put on your body, the greater the results will be.
Work the negative and isometric
Our bodies build more muscle when we spend more time in the down-phase or “eccentric” segment of the lift. In the Eccentric phase, you are resisting the force of gravity. Think: slowly lowering into a squat, not buckling at the knees and crashing down at top speed. An Isometric exercise is when we hold a position, such as a plank.
If you’re not ready to try a bigger weight yet, stick with your normal size and attempt some of these patterns:
3 counts in the down-phase, 1 count up
Add some pulses at the most difficult part of the movement
Add a 1-3 second hold at the most difficult part of the movement
If your workouts don’t feel as challenging as they used to, congratulations, your body has gotten stronger and it’s ready for the next level! This is a natural progression and you should be proud of your accomplishments rather than resist changing. We would love to help design the perfect program for increasing your lifts, but ultimately it really does come down to feeling confident enough and then going for it!