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June 18, 2012 at 12:23 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Breaking Bad Habits Part IV: Lifting Too Heavy

By Cornelius Bounds, CPT More Blogs by This Author

Exercise and fitness, overall, should be an effective, positive, and rewarding experience. Starting out, most beginners are generally over-concerned about looking strong and reaching a certain size. This is not an uncommon approach for anyone, including athletes and trainers. They begin wanting to lift a heavier weight before the body is physically capable. Let’s not put the cart before the horse.

Work The Body Not The EgoThe Real Purpose

Your goals and desires are in reach, the main thing is structuring a solid regimen that works for you. Do a personal evaluation prior to structuring your regimen, to get a complete understanding of your vision and objective. First off, ask yourself a couple of questions: 

Why am I exercising?

What are my goals?

Can I realistically achieve this goal?

Do I want short term or long term results?

A Look In The Mirror

Are you lifting for yourself? A sad reality is that many beginners want to be admired for the amount of weight they can lift. Psychologically, many beginners feel there is a higher level of respect earned in the weight room by the amount of weight they lift. This will cause you to start working out for all the wrong reasons and can effect performance, negating a huge percentage of effectiveness in your exercises and results. Work the body not the ego.

Unstable Foundation

Starting out, lifting too heavy increases the risks of serious injury, like torn or strained muscles and tendons (possibly pulling from the bone). Worn out or broken cartilage can also be associated with lifting too heavy, which can later result in medical treatment. When cartilage fails to protect your bones from rubbing together, medical treatment will definitely be needed in the future. Forcing the body into awkward positions from lifting heavy before the body has adapted will also cause neurological damage.

Guys, there is an old saying “you make waste in a haste.” Don’t be too eager, there are fundamental lifts and exercises needed to insure the body has the proper foundation. Here are other potential injuries from lifting too heavy before the body is ready:

  • Body structure damage: to the neck, back, knees and shoulders (especially with compound lifts), decrease in bone and muscle health, increase chances of injury. During compound lifts weaker muscles are overloaded causing major muscles to overcompensate, leading to injury.
  • Losing control of weights (dropping weights)

     *For certain lifts and exercises your grip has to change whether it’s a close grip or wide grip. Lifting too heavy can potentially cause the weight to slip out of your hands possibly injuring yourself and those spotting you.                    

  • Severe DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)

                    *Theories vary regarding the onset of DOMS and currently none are universally accepted.  Essentially it’s a very painful condition, which can delay your return to normal exercises. This is caused by micro tears in the cell of the muscle.

  • Improper Lifts / Swinging weights: reducing effectiveness of lifts

                     *Uncontrolled range of motion with resistance training compromises technique and form sometimes relying on momentum or swaying to achieve sets, reducing potential gains    

  • Under- developed muscles over compensate, increasing chance of injury (hips, knees, other major joints).

                     *Secondary and smaller muscles are too weak to execute lifts, this causes major muscles to over compensate or over work resulting in injury

Building Your Foundation

One of the best systematic approaches to success in the weight room for a beginner is the Solid Foundationprogressive overload program, which is based on a one rep max (1RM).

Whether you are using a fixed (consistent resistance throughout range of motion), or variable (resistance increases or decreases throughout range of motion) load, systematically adding weight to your lifts will teach the body how to execute and adapt with proper technique, while keeping any fitness goal in reach. Progressive overload also stimulates and teaches the body to handle a heavier load neurologically and physiologically. This technique will launch the body and personal confidence to the next level.

A great way to keep up with your progression is to keep track of your progression. Here is an ideal systematic guideline (Dependent upon your personal desire and goals):

Muscle Strength

Muscle Size

Muscle Endurance

Muscle Tone


85-100% of 1RM

70-85% of 1RM

50-70% of 1RM

60-80% of 1RM


1 to 5

6 to 12

20 to 50

8 to 12


4 to 8

3 to 6 

2 to 4

1 to 3

Rest (Between Sets)

2 to 4 minutes

1 to 2 minutes

30 to 90 seconds

3-60 seconds

While weight training continues to evolve, here are some helpful principles to apply:

  1. Increase one variable (sets, rest, reps, resistance) at a time.
  2. Increase your reps and sets before increasing weight.
  3. Decrease reps when you increase weight.
  4. Decrease your rest period to increase muscle endurance.

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