A client asked me the other day, should I go heavier even if my form is getting worse? How do you know if the weight is heavy enough?
So I'd like to share my answer with you guys in case you had a similar question!
Remember that besides having fun, the only reason we workout is to create something to recover from.
Because of that, we can think of weight as a stimulus, very similar to medicine. How can you get the minimum dosage that you need, while still getting the results you want? Here’s a simple target-practice analogy that helped me understand it.
If you can hit a bullseye every time, you’re probably standing too close to the target. Hitting the bullseye every time is great for competition but during training you don’t want perfection, you want growth. Here you’d want to take a couple of steps back, or make the target move so it’s more difficult to hit.
Let’s say you’re looking to improve your squats. Let’s say 200lbs is the heaviest you can squat. If you came in and did squats at 50lbs every session, it would feel incredibly doable.
Having great form would be easy to maintain. The problem is, there wouldn’t be a stimulus to grow. Even though your technique is great, you aren’t pushing yourself to get stronger.
Never hitting a bullseye. (Too hard)
If you can’t get close to the mark, you’re standing too far! The shots are too spread out and random. There’s no rhyme or reason to your shots. You’d want to get closer here to understand where you’re going wrong.
If 200lbs was your heaviest squat, this would be attempting to squat 200lbs or close to it every session. Because you don’t have the strength for it just yet, you wouldn’t be able to focus on technique. Your knees would cave in everytime, your chest would sink and you’d round your back. Every rep would be a coin flip. This would be too heavy. You don’t want to train this way. Our muscles would need more of a stimulus to grow from.
Tough Enough (Just Right)
Here we're not hitting a bullseye everytime, but pretty close. This is the sweet spot where you grow and push yourself.
What if, for that 200lb squat, we trained at a weight that was tough, but doable. Let’s say week 1 we started with 60% of the squat…120lbs. That would be light enough to do multiple reps of while still being spicy towards the end. This is the sweet spot.
If you’re doing 10 reps, the first 7 might be textbook-good form, but on rep 8, you’ll start to break down slightly. While you should always try to maintain technique, the weight will naturally break you down and this is okay! This is where we make gains!
When it comes to training, our goal is to continue improving. You want just enough load to stimulate improvement, but not too much to where it’ll prevent progress.
I hope you enjoyed that! I got that analogy many years back from a guy from CrossFit named Dave Castro, and it's stuck with me ever since!