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How to Know When It’s Time to Add Weight to the Bar

  Apr 2nd, 2013

When-to-Add-More-WeightIn my last posting I explained the importance of lifting explosively. If you didn’t read it yet, you’ll want to click here to catch up before you continue reading on.


All caught up? Good.


Now that you know about my paradigm shift away from training to complete failure – and understand the reasons why I’ve changed my philosophies – I’d like to address a logical question that people who’re accustomed to lifting to failure inevitably ask.


When lifting to failure, determining when it’s time to add a little more weight to the bar is fairly easy.


As soon as you can perform more than your targeted number of reps you know it’s time to slide another couple plates on the bar.


When lifting sub-maximally with explosive movements, however, this isn’t as straightforward and there’s a certain amount of subjective conjecture involved.


Determining Set Completion and the Need to Add Resistance

Since you’ll be ending your set before you reach failure, your sets will naturally come to an end when you still have another rep or two in the tank. This is where the subjectivity comes in.


The weight you’re using should allow you to initiate the lift with an explosive movement where the acceleration with which you’re moving the load should be faster at the beginning of the rep than at the end of the rep (i.e. the speed of the lift should slow as the rep progresses).


If it isn’t, you’re not lifting explosively and will need to reduce the weight to allow for more explosiveness.


As soon as you can no longer initiate a rep with an explosive movement, or are grinding and struggling to complete a rep, it’s time to end the set.


Again, there’s a lot of subjectivity involved. If you have any doubt about your ability to be explosive on your final rep it’s best to put off adding weight until you’re sure.


Lifting explosively is just as important as increasing the resistance you’re lifting. If either of these elements are lacking you’ll no longer be training optimally and will be sacrificing gains in muscle and strength.


When it comes to knowing when it’s time to add 5lbs to any lift, the rules are the same: When you can hit your target number of reps, it’s time to add 5lbs.


The real differentiating factor when training in an explosive, sub-maximal manner is how you determine the completion of a set, which I’ve covered above.


Other Proponents of Explosive Training

When Its Time to Add Weight to the BarWhile scientific studies surrounding the superiority of explosive lifting are inconclusive, with proponents for and against it, it was only after personally experiencing the difference that I was converted.


Also, there are too many prominent, world-class trainers that confirm what I’ve found in my personal experiences to simply ignore.


Chad Waterbury is a trainer of professional athletes who notes on his T Nation blog:


“Years ago, when I started training my clients to lift loads as fast as possible, I observed three things: They got stronger, they got bigger and they lost fat more quickly than they did lifting with slower tempos.”


In another article, Chad notes the following:


“Quicker high-threshold motor unit recruitment occurs with super-fast tempos since you improve the recruitment of the motor units that have the most potential for growth. What I’m referring to are the fast-fatigable (FF) fast-twitch motor units that possess Type IIB muscle fibers. These motor units are capable of inducing huge amounts of strength and hypertrophy increases… If you want strength and size, you better learn to start lifting fast. How fast? As fast as humanly possible without compromising form!”


I get that some of you reading this are probably shaking your head, because this goes against the popular notion that lifting should be done with uniform speed, placing an emphasis on the eccentric (negative) portion of the movement.


I remember when Jason Ferruggia was explaining the effectiveness of lifting explosively and sub-maximally at his last workshop I just couldn’t bring myself to listen. My old way of thinking was too engrained into my psyche.


This was a world-renowned strength and conditioning coach that I looked up to perhaps more than any other and I was still too stubborn to listen!


You’re free to click away from here and ignore everything you’ve just read, but I hope that you’ll be smarter than I was.


Try lifting explosively (using a 5RM level of resistance) for a couple of weeks and I’m confident you’ll never go back!



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