Are You Really Lifting Heavy?
I have been doing an experiment for the past six weeks. I decided to take two days a week and only lift heavy, no mixing in running or burpees, no conditioning or fitness after or before. I just warm up, work on a single lift, and then work up to something heavy. This is really heavy for me for just a few reps! I am used to lifting something heavy, but it’s usually heavy for something like 100 reps. This is different. This is heavy for 3 reps, followed by 3 or 4 minutes of rest. And this is only doing about 5 sets. For those of you who trained in the gym with us this past Tuesday for our Old School Strength class, it may sound a bit familiar. Personally, I have never really trained like this for a long period of time. I had done this type of heavy, but only once in a while as opposed to scheduled 2 x per week every week. Honestly, I am shocked by the results and surprised by the challenges.
Position is everything! This isn’t something that even I could just start doing. It took a ton of work on position, mechanics, and I had to really dig into movement. One of my lifts was the back squat and it was like learning to walk again. I found that the better my movement became the more load I could handle. This meant nightly mobility and long warm ups with a deep focus on specifics. This really was the driving change in being able to lift heavy.
Be ready… I mean, really be ready! I learned really quickly that moving heavy took a tremendous amount of focus. Each rep was stressful. Again, this didn’t happen right away, only after I worked on position. It took time! I began to talk about squat day a couple days before it happened. What was I going to eat to prepare? How early did I need to get to bed? I would get nervous about the load I was supposed to do. If I prepared well, it turned out great! If I went into it tired or without preparation, it didn’t work at all. It was measurable. When I wasn’t on, it wasn’t just a feeling, it showed up in my load.
Change in body composition: I tracked calories and carbs along with body weight and body fat percentage.
- Start: 168 lb at 15% body fat, eating an average of 3000 calories per day.
- After 6 weeks: 165 lb at 13% body fat, eating an average of 3600 calories per day.
- Translation: more lean muscle and higher metabolism.
Change in hormones: For me, this was the biggest surprise. Really taking my time and lifting heavy has changed my testosterone levels. Over the course of 6 weeks, I have seen a boost of 20% in testosterone. This is pretty surprising for a 45-year-old male. Along with the increase in hormone I have noticed that I have more energy throughout the day and I sleep much better.
Here are your takeaways:
Don’t just start lifting heavy loads. Get a coach to work with you to show you how to begin the process (and it is a process) of learning and understanding how to move before you jump into using heavy loads.
Prepare for your training days and be willing to take your time in order to do this right. It might take a few months before you can start lifting heavy. Once you are there, the benefits are tremendous!
You will have to prioritize position over intensity. Intensity will come. This means proper warm up, working on mobility each day, and working on fixing your faults. Again, get a coach to help you!
Last thing! Heavy is subjective. It has to be heavy for 1-5 reps for these types of changes to take place. What does that look like? Well, it looks like all reps in each set are very, very challenging. It means that it takes a deep level of focus to get the first rep and the last rep completed. It means that you don’t want to do another set right away, you will need at least 2 minutes of rest.