It’s very common for us to get sucked into the downward spiral of always adding more weight.
Obviously the goal is to ultimately lift more weight, so it’s understandable that we have a tendency to want to put on more weight. I think this is linked to our American culture. We always want things bigger, faster and better. Weight on the bar seems to be no exception. Combine our culture with the lack of a nationwide systematic approach to training and we start to see people seemingly thinking ‘’Hey, I made the lift. I’m going up.’’
During the week-long training camp at the OEC, at which I went through 11 training sessions in 6 days, there was only one max out day. Now there are more factors here than just them saying, ‘’You shouldn’t be maxing out often,’’ but the level of the athletes at the camp warranted only one max out day, in which a lot of athletes were told to just continue working on technique.
This brings me to an athlete’s mentality in training and how they should be choosing the weights they do in training, assuming the weight isn’t prescribed.
Obviously the overwhelming majority of lifters in this country are beginner or intermediate lifters.
Knowing this, they probably won’t be using a Bulgarian-style program the majority of the time with prescribed percentages, most of which are 90% or higher. This means that they will be deciding which weights to use in their programs.
As I mentioned before, there was only one max out session during the whole week-long training camp. I think this was more as a fun way to finish out the camp rather than something that would be necessarily needed if this were part of a long term program.
The majority of the week, we performed lots of drills, most of which were new to us, so the weights we used were fairly light. When we did the full lifts or variations of them, everyone was adamant about not adding weight if the lift was sloppy, even if the athlete technically made the lift.
Sometimes percentages were also given. They were always at reasonable numbers for the group; 70, 80, 85 percent.
When percentages weren’t prescribed, the coach would even go as far as to tell an athlete to go down in weight. This is something that I have been working at being more comfortable telling my athletes.
While it wasn’t explicitly stated at the camp, this is what led me to the title of this part of the series. A big thing that I took away from the camp is that training at weights that are neither super heavy nor super light is extremely valuable. I find this to be around 80% of a 1RM Snatch or Clean and Jerk.
Training around this percentage seems to help the athlete ‘’feel’’ how heavier weights are going to feel and behave, while not being so heavy that the athlete has to revert back to poor technique just to make the lift. Weights at or around this percentage also are light enough that the athlete can really focus on any technique flaws that need to be fixed. While the weights are somewhat lighter, they aren’t just ‘gimme’ lifts. The athlete still needs to really focus on what they’re doing.
This is always something that was in the back of my mind, but like so many other people, sometimes I lost sight of the long-term goal of improving technique. Never lifting super heavy weights unless we were ready to at the camp really solidified in my mind that we don’t absolutely need to constantly add weight just because we made a lift. It helped me keep in mind the goal of training in the long term: better technique.
With this being said, we need to keep in mind that all athletes aren’t the same nor are they at the same level. Some athletes might do better working at a higher or lower percentage than 80. We also don’t need to have athletes doing reps at only 80 percent. Even with intermediate athletes, different rep ranges and percentages are good. Higher level athletes who are more consistent or athletes that are prepping for competition might be consistently hitting 90 percent or higher. This is where a good coach comes into play.
It seems that the typical American mentality of ‘’More is better’’ can sometimes creep into a weightlifters training. A big takeaway that I took home was that you only should be adding weight if you’re ready. Working at moderate weights and accumulating reps at these weights can help an athlete focus on and fix technique flaws. Most of us know this is what we should be doing for success in the long-term, but it’s easy to lose sight of the goal of improved technique and start piling on the weight. Of course, lifting more weight is the ultimate goal, but to reach an extremely high level, we need to do it right. The short-term fix of just muscling more weight with poor technique might bring immediate satisfaction, but we need to remember that consistent focus on technique is what will bring us the big numbers.