I get this question a lot, especially with my personal training clients: “Should I grab heavier weights?” My answer is MAYBE. While we all want to get stronger, lifting heavier isn’t always the right answer.
I want all my clients to progress, to get stronger and to feel accomplished at the end of a session but safety is my number one focus. Lifting a heavier weight is not always the safest or smartest way to make progress. And, the truth is, if I let my client experiment with the heavier weight, 9 times out of 10, they realize on their own that they should scale back down. Why?
Because -depending on the exercise -your form can begin to break down when you use a weight that is too heavy for you. You start to engage the wrong muscles- pull with your neck or arch your back in ways that don’t benefit you and may actually be unsafe.
Muscle growth happens when muscles are pushed towards fatigue. That can happen with 20-pound weights or 8-pound weights. The difference is in the number of repetitions and, more importantly, the mind-body connection while performing the exercise. Think about it… you might be able to do 5 shoulder presses using 20-pound weights but you may start to use your back too much or scrunch your shoulders or lose control on the descent. Alternatively, you could do the same exercise with 8-pound weights and do 15 repetitions smoothly, focused on the muscles you are working. You will stay safer and feel more successful in your workout.
Now…this is not to say that you should never try to increase your weight…just that you have to know when to try and how to do it safely. So, taking our same shoulder press example: if you have been using 8-pound weights and consistently doing 3 sets of 15 presses for a period of time, it could be time to test out a set of 10-pound weights. Start slowly by doing the first set with the 10s and then switching back down to the 8s for the second two rounds. Over time, keep increasing the number of reps with the heavier weights and reducing the number of reps with the lighter weights. As long as you do this slowly and safely and listen to your body, you will successfully increase your load.
And, as always, if it hurts…STOP! If you are performing an exercise and it is painful, uncomfortable or just feels wrong, don’t do it! There is always another exercise!!!