Hey coach, why are you taking the weight off my bar?
In pretty much all strength sports, one of the main goals is moving heavier and heavier weights in various ways. In Olympic lifting, it’s the snatch and clean and jerk, in powerlifting it’s the squat bench and deadlift and in CrossFit, it’s all the above and then some.
If that’s the goal, why don’t we always just move the heaviest loads possible? Why is some annoying coach telling you to stay at that weight or worse still, coming and asking you to take the weight off? If the bar ain’t bendin’, you’re just pretending right?
There are a few reasons why lighter weights are useful…
To make technical changes
Everybody knows that there are more efficient and less efficient ways of doing things. To be effective and make the correct changes to your movement patterns, the weight needs to be light enough that you can make those changes without your body just doing what it already knows in a fight or flight response. This is why Olympic lifting works in cycles, where we go from high rep, lower weight, technique-based work, to high weight, low rep heavy work and then finally maxing out. This is how all professional strength athletes train; right after the Olympics or any big competition, they will de-load and bring their weights back down. Bad habits have started to form with those heavier weights, so they have to take a step back to take more steps forward in the future.
To ensure efficient and safe technique
Poor movement patterns limit long-term strength development. The body is aware that an imbalance is forming, and the wrong areas are being stressed and so will try and stop you putting yourself in those positions. This comes in the form of pain and missed lifts, where your body is literally telling you that something is wrong. We are often very stubborn and let our ego get in the way and so try and carry on anyway, which isn’t good. With lighter weights, we will generally move better, which means we are able to strengthen ourselves in the right way.
To control speed
Depending on the movement and training stimulus intended, as coaches we may want you to be moving quickly, or very slowly. In Olympic lifting, once you have mastered basic technique developing speed under the bar is very important and will be progressed using lighter weights first. On the other end of the spectrum, slow lowering (eccentric) phases on movements like squats and presses develop control and target weaknesses within movements, as well as help to build muscle.
To vary training
If you do heavy 1 reps for a week or 2 you will improve, if you do it for 2 months you will likely get worse. This is because very heavy weights (90% and above) are exponentially more stressful on your body than weights below this. We can perform a lot more volume at lower percentages, which allows to perform more reps and hence practice, to be trained.
So, the next time your coach tells you to go lighter, understand it’s because they are looking for better movement or a different speed in your lifts. Training should stimulate, not annihilate your body.
If you would like to find out more or have a specific question regarding your own training, please speak with one of our coaches who will be more than happy to help.