We are in the middle of a new program with an emphasis on heavier weights, lower reps and an all out, maximum effort. I love this style of lifting. My thought process has evolved and the goal of this cycle is to choose a weight that I think I can do for 6-8 reps and then start a little heavier. Now it becomes an all out fight to get that weight into the 6-8 rep range. Over the course of this entire cycle the weights may not increase that much, unless the reps on each set in any given exercise are in or exceed the rep range. Every rep is uncomfortable and takes every ounce of effort to complete. It is absolutely fantastic. The key that makes this style even more intense is that I will only use a weight that I can complete each rep with consistent form and through a full range of reps. I am in complete control of every part of every rep – both the positive and the negative. There is no dropping the weight through the negative or bouncing a weight up. It is pure effort and control.
This is where the quality of the movement becomes more important than the quantity of the movement (either number of reps or the amount of weight used). It is possible to use heavier weights with looser form, or a shortened range of motion, but in this cycle form and control dictate the amount of weight used. I have learned a long time ago it is not always about how much you can lift, but how well you can lift it. I have never done a 1 rep max on any exercise and have no desire to do so. Weight is merely a resistance and not a determining factor. For example someone who is curling 25lb. dumbbells with proper form, controlling each rep, and pushing themselves to the point when they can no longer lift the weight will have a more productive workout then someone using 65lb. dumbbells who is doing a few with good form, but the last half or more of the set with sloppy form, swinging the weight up and leaning every which way to complete a rep, just to let the dumbbell drop back down. If they both do the same amount of reps, the person using the lighter weight, but maximum effort will get the most out of that workout and make the most gains.
It is the quality of each rep and set, the ability to maintain control and form throughout a full range of movement that will bring about the best results and make each workout count the most. This takes a great deal of concentration and focus. Part of what I love about this program is while my muscles are screaming, the weight is heavy, every ounce of me is feeling the urgency with which to move the weight, there is within me a total sense of calm. It’s a bizarre experience and maybe I am just strange for having this feeling, but it is a paradox that I have grown more comfortable with through time. My best example of this is in the squat rack. When we squat the goal is to use a heavy weight that will let us lower the weight as far below parallel as possible and then stand it back up. Squatting takes every ounce of energy to get through a set both physically and mentally. From the minute I lift the bar off the rack, my mind is going through a checklist of pointers about form, motivation, and to me it is loud inside my head. The pressure of the weight and the physical demands of each rep makes for a raging battle from start to finish. Yet, amidst this roaring battle I find I have a complete calmness somewhere in me – almost like a surreal slow motion film where this is nothing but silence and solitude. I hear nothing but a calm voice telling me you got this stand it up. There is no panic, there is no urgency, just a complete calm and confidence throughout the set. Surrounding that calm is a whole whirlwind of chaos, as the adrenaline pumps, the muscles rage and my music is pumping full blast through my earphones. When I squat, often times the transition from bottoming out to beginning to stand back up is very slow. At least in my mind it seems slow, but I never get that “uh oh..am I going to get back up?” feeling. It is just calm and confident and it will and does happen that I stand back up and reset my mind to do it again. I am pretty sure that in those moments the lights could go out, all of the plates in the weight room could drop on the floor and the walls could start to fall around us, but as long as they didn’t interfere with my set I wouldn’t notice a thing. This probably all seems silly, but I love that feeling and have been working on understanding and getting in touch with that inner calm to make it work for me every time.