Light Weights Aren’t Just For Warm-Up!

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I was having a conversation with a good friend and lifter of mine a few years ago. He said something that really resonated with me.

“Never miss an opportunity to practice”

We make thousands of reps in a given period of training. It’s very easy to be overly concerned with the final “working” weights in a training session. What many athletes and coaches ignore are the sets and reps leading up to those working sets. We get through them, use them to continue to warm up, sometimes we skip them and make bigger jumps to our working weights, and sometimes we go about our warm-up reps with a lack of investment and intent.

What we are missing out on is an opportunity to practice. In a previous article, I discussed training with intent. Those intentions should be reinforced at weights that are manipulative. Skill and technique work can be inefficient at heavy loads and not every training session has to include specific motor pattern work. So, in order to maximize your training effectiveness, movement reinforcement should be a part of every repetition.

Although these weights may be light in comparison to your working sets, this is the prime opportunity to complete your movements with speed, aggression, and precision.

If you can’t perform the movement correctly at 70%, you will not perform the movement correctly with 90%+.

The benefits are not all technical. If you reference the Force/Velocity curve, you’ll see that a large majority of exercises are done too heavy to elicit the highest potential power output. Contrary to popular belief, the recommended load for maximal power output is much less than the majority of your reps in training. Training always seems to have a greater emphasis on maximal strength development; most people are always trying to improve their squat or deadlift numbers in hopes that they carry over into the lifts. In doing so, the loads necessary to elicit a strength adaptation are much too high on the force component to have a high velocity. So, emphasizing your lighter loads gives you an opportunity to function at a higher velocity and elicit a higher power output, which has a positive neurological benefit. (Improving your rate of force development, motor unit recruitment, synchronization, etc.)

Lastly, our lighter loads in a specific exercise are not the only opportunities to practice. Back to the conversation I was having with my lifter and friend, we were actually referencing how to properly put the barbell onto the squat rack from the platform. Many times, I have seen lifters spend hours trying to perfect their clean technique, and when they were done, “straight-leg, round back, muscle clean” the barbell onto the rack to squat. The amount of times we pick the barbell up outside of our regular training session add up- Never miss an opportunity to practice!

Phil Sabatini

M.S., C.S.C.S., USAW

Lecturer of Exercise Science
Old Dominion University
Human Movement Sciences

Phil is a former national champion and long time member of East Coast Gold Weightlifting. He is the Head Coach of the Barbell Syndicate at CrossFit Rife