Written By: Kevin Cann
One of the things that has been ingrained into me since day 1 of my brief powerlifting career is that every rep should look the same. That means that when I squat with 50% of my 1RM it should be executed at the same speed as 100% of my 1RM.
This can run counterintuitive to the old adage that you should “move light weights as if they are heavy and heavy weights as if they are light.” The idea behind this saying is to encourage you to move fast with lighter weights because that is your intention with heavier weights, to move fast.
Moving fast with lighter weights has been shown to develop favorable motor unit recruitment, and also muscle fiber development for lifting heavy weights. This is why speed work is so popular in Westside Barbell templates. This is also why you see lighter and more explosive lifts in programs written for field and court athletes. Exercises like the Olympic lifts and medicine ball work are used to develop these qualities.
I am not saying that this thinking is wrong. If I did I would be an idiot, as there are many elite lifters who utilize this thinking. Research is pretty clear that it works as well. I am just going to introduce a different way of thinking. The focus in the above way of thinking is strength. When we are focusing on technique first, some things need to change.
I am not saying that we put getting stronger on the backburner. That would not work well for a strength athlete since the name of the game is lifting more weight. Moving light weights fast is not the only way to develop beneficial motor unit recruitment and muscle fiber type. Moving weights with maximal intent also provides us with the same outcomes.
As long as we do enough work with heavier weights we will develop the appropriate motor unit recruitment and muscle fiber type to put our best efforts out there on the platform. The problem we can run into when we treat light weights as if they are heavy is with our technique.
When we move light weights fast, our bar path can change drastically. With lighter weights on the squat, the bar will pop off of our back as we accelerate the bar to lockout. This will not happen with heavier weights, and over time may even lead to injury. On the deadlift, the bar can end up bouncing off of our thighs and getting pushed away from us. This also will not happen under heavier weights, and can increase injury risk. On the bench press, lifters tend to lose shoulder position in an attempt to accelerate the weight.
We want to prepare ourselves for that max effort attempt. This means we should be training the same motor pattern that we will use under maximal loads. This doesn’t mean that we do not want to practice accelerating weight. This is an important aspect to lifting heavier. The faster we can get that bar moving, the better chance we have of getting it past that sticking point in the lift.
One way we can work on accelerating weight while not sacrificing changes in technique is with accommodating resistance such as bands and chains. The accommodating resistance deloads at the bottom portion of the lift and increases in tension or weight through the concentric action. This increase in weight or tension requires the lifter to keep accelerating the weight to lockout. This is one way we can train maximal intent without crushing the athlete.
We can’t just lift heavy all of the time because we would not be able to fully recover. Bands…