Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Quick Tip: Respect but don't fear the weights

If there is one thing I try to teach lifters, especially younger lifters, it's this:

Respect the weight, but don't fear the weight.

You can't be casual with weights. You should handle even the empty bar like it's a sizeable percentage of your best one-rep lift. Treat it with respect. Set up correctly, grip it correctly, brace correctly. It's better to brace your abs, squeeze your grip, and lift an empty bar with your best technique and have it be too light then to get hurt taking it casually.

Young kids really have a hard time with this, which is the main reason I'm reluctant to have them handle weights - they'll throw them around, pick up heavy weights and try to shove them overhead but lack control, do 10 reps 10 different ways, etc. They just don't have the appropriate respect for the weight and what I can do for and too them. Teaching them that it's not a toy is the first step.

But at the same time you can't be afraid of the weight. If you've ever seen a lifter unrack a heavy barbell for a bench press, or set up for a squat, and lower the weight s-l-o-w-l-y and carefully and then struggle to come back up, you know what I mean. If you've seen someone who's set for an easy pullup hang for ten seconds then try to wiggle up, yet can lower themselves under control over 30 seconds, you've seen it too. If you let that weight - the numbers, the feel, whatever - get on top of you, you'll struggle to lift it.

If you give it just the right amount of respect, you'll be fine. I've seen kids get pinned under a weight, re-rack it and try again five minutes later, and knock off five easy reps. You have to treat that weight like it's heavy when it's light, and the heavy weights just the same way you'd treat the light ones.

I personally struggle with this with deadlifts. I feel like if things go badly, I'm going to bow under the weight and get hurt. Ironically, it's probably the safest lift for me because if things go badly I can just let go. And if it's too heavy, it just won't budge. I should be more nervous under a back or front squat, or lowering a too-heavy bench press. I'm not. I know the power rack has me safe from real harm, and I just don't have that concern that I bring to heavy deadlifts.

It's a hurdle that can move as the weights come up - you might fear 135 as a beginner but then fear 225 or 315 as a more experienced lifter. The trick is to acknowledge that, trust your process, and use every light rep as practice for the heavy ones. Respect, not fear.

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