Common knowledge would tell you that you need to lift relatively heavy to get stronger. In other words, attempt to push as much weight as possible as often as possible with proper form. At least this is what your intuition and ego would tell you, especially when you are highly motivated to attack your lifts in the weight room. But is this approach of maxing out weight often the best road to getting stronger, and staying healthy over the long-term? Of course not! Like everything, there are exceptions to the rule, but they are far and few between.
A select few can get away with lifting heavy often, either because they have adapted to it (i.e. olympic weightlifters), or they have the genetic predisposition to tolerate such workloads. Odds are this isn’t you and there are smarter and more strategic ways to get stronger quickly according to science and how our body truly operates.
Let’s take a quick look at those reasons now…
The 85% of 1RM Rule
For as long as I can remember, many of your high-level coaches have used this guideline to get their athletes stronger. To recruit all of the available motor units in the body you need to be training at your 5rm or 85% effort during your training cycle.
This is the minimum to target maximal strength gains and is oftentimes less than what most athletes or coaches would deem necessary.
Now who better to adopt practices and advice from then the strongest population of men and women on the planet? Haters will automatically discredit powerlifter science and success, but even the best athletic coaches use modified powerlifting templates if they are smart. With that being said, powerlifters utilize the entire intensity and rep spectrum, in which case so should you.
Force Plate Proof
Originally designated to research settings, the rise in force plate utilization has reportedly increased. There is no doubt that having access to this tool would be ideal for any coach or athlete.
The tool determines how much workload is necessary to elicit the most force necessary. Fortunately, you can achieve this without going full bore every time a strength session rolls around.
Motor Unit Nature
Continuing with powerlifters. If you’ve studied their sport then you will notice they pioneered velocity-based methods, contrary to popular belief. Unfortunately, they get very little credit as others piggyback off of giants’ knowledge.
Dynamic effort methods have been used extensively across several weightlifting cultures for decades to jack up speed, power, and strength levels. Moreover, motor units can increase in activity when there are frequent attempts to use them during training. Another reason why every single athlete should be using speed strength, and plyometrics when trying to improve strength and performance.
Another reason you don’t have to train to failure to get stronger is because endurance and size increases can do that for you. Also, keep in mind that novice—intermediate level lifters have a strength “block” in their nervous system. The only way to override this is to improve coordination, get stronger, and more mobile, and earn your body’s trust. Only then can you unlock your true strength potential. Moderate to higher rep ranges are most suitable for these target skills, especially with certain movements and muscle groups.