For those that have attended weightlifting class on a regular basis, chances are pretty good that you have heard this phrase more than once. There is nothing wrong with this statement and in many cases, it applies perfectly. However, if you hear that and feel that means you are always taking every single lift to a max, then we should probably sit down and go over a few things here.
The Purpose of Weight Increases
One of my favorite coaches to listen to is Sean Waxman. In an interview a few years back, he said, “Weight increases are only used to identify the next inconsistency in movement.” This is paraphrased a bit, but the foundation of that message is still there, and I love how effective and simple it is.
As a lifter works up to a heavy or 1RM, the weight increases are going to identify where consistent and efficient movement begins to break down. Let’s say for example that your max snatch is 100lbs and that all of your lifts look very consistent, even starting with your setup. However, as you near 100lbs, there are certain parts of your lift that begin to break down. Maybe you try to sneak under the bar quicker and shorten your pull. Perhaps you leave the bar out front and miss the lift forward. Whatever the case may be, there are inefficiencies toward your 1RM and those can usually only be identified as the load increases.
To continue the example, let’s say that every time you load the bar with 90lbs, it is a weight that is instantly “in your head”. Then your muscle memory takes over and starts to move different than you have moved every single lift. At that point, it still might feel good, but it certainly is not a time to increase the weight. That is where the weight increase has been used to specifically identify the breaking point. What is happening when the bar is loaded at 90lbs for you? Have you really broken down the lift to see what is going on? Have you taken that information and started to work on specific ways to address the issue?
When to Increase and How
There are also certain scenarios in which we, as coaches, will program specific increases. And there are times when you are merely told to increase loading with each set. Also, there are times when we utilize percentages. All of these have unique purposes apart from the other.
When I was preparing for my last meet, I remember having a few rough weeks of training. I had some lifts prescribed at 85%, and higher, and if I missed any of those lifts, doubt about my overall ability would begin to creep in. Looking back, I realize that a few missed lifts mid-training cycle was not a fair indication of my overall ability, but that was how I saw it then. Keeping that in mind, there are occasions when lifters will see “8×1, increasing” listed in Wodify. This is obviously meant to work up to heavier loading, however, there is nothing written in stone that states you absolutely must go up.
You might be coming back from an injury, or just had an extremely terrible day, but seeing “8×1, increasing” instills a bit of dread because today might not be the day you feel like you can increase, much less go heavy. There is nothing wrong with that. Maybe those 8 singles will all be 75% and nothing that you would even remotely call heavy. Even with that scenario, we can still focus on improving the quality of your movement and consistency.
Here is a handy way to approach what you see in the programming:
Increasing: When you see increasing, yes, the goal here is to end with a heavier weight than you started. The goal is not to continue loading the bar until you fail a lift or until your movement becomes inefficient. Always work toward building good reps, not just building reps.
Heavy: Working up to a “heavy” is very different than working up to a max. Working to a “heavy” might take some practice, and as you get more experience, you will have a better grasp on where this is for you in terms of the loading. One simple way to look at this is if you just lifted 100lbs, but know that if you add any more weight that you will most likely fail the lift, or worse, barely make the lift with compromised form, then you should not add any weight.
1RM: Working up to a 1RM is where we will expect to see some failed lifts. The goal here would be a new PR but that the movement in that new PR will look the same as every other lift working up.
Percentages: When you see percentages programmed, the coaches are looking for some specific stimulus. The stimulus from an EMOM 10×1 @ 85% is very different than working up to a heavy single in a complex. Percentages can also force lifters to work at a specific weight which helps identify where improvements are needed.
While the “If the lift feels good, increase the weight” has many applications, in general, it certainly has its limitations and should always be applied within the parameters and goal of the class.
Yes, we want you to lift heavy. Yes, we want you to continually hit PRs. But we want both of those to happen with continually improved quality of movement.
Just as one of our coaches, Liza, used to say, “Do it right. Do it fast. Do it heavy. And in that order.”