This article is an extension of the age old debate of “overtraining”. That “phenomenon” is a topic for a whole other article, possibly even a series so to sum up my thoughts on it succinctly: it’s really hard to do it and even if you manage to, it won’t kill you. It might even make you stronger in the long run through supercompensation!
Back to the matter in hand though; a phrase I hear a lot on the Internet and in gyms is: “You don’t want to train too heavy.” For a long time I was a big proponent of this as well. I would keep my working weights lighter, keep assistance exercise volume low and reps high and I wouldn’t max out more than once a month. This was primarily during my days on 5/3/1 but also more recently on Westside where I was choosing harder variants of main lifts to keep weights lower; pulling from a deficit instead of the floor for example. Now during this time (over 2 years all told) I got stronger but I often had the same problem when I got to a really heavy session of singles or into a meet: my form would break. Getting out of position meant that I couldn’t display the strength that I had built through all of the training.
Some of you are now sitting and shouting at your screen that my form was toilet and I just needed to fix it. Well yes that is in part correct. Problem is that anyone can have good form with sub-maximal weights. You need to practise having good form under the really heavy loads and that’s the danger of training too light: you can develop weaknesses, imbalances or form problems which will inhibit you in the long run.
“But what if I don’t compete and couldn’t care less what my one rep max is?” Well then the same applies just in a slightly different rep range. If you’re a powerlifter I’m talking about more singles over 90% on main lifts and heavier assistance in sets of 5-8 instead of 10+. If you’re a bodybuilder it would be doing main sets of 5 instead of 10+ once in a while and maybe the same for secondary movements.
The last key ingredient for doing this is analysis. You MUST look at your heavy sets and see where you can improve. If you’re lucky enough to train with strong people who can coach, they can do that one to one in the gym. A lot of people are not that lucky and if you are one of them here’s what I recommend: take video footage of the lifts, upload them to YouTube and then join a quality forum like www.muscleandbrawn.com where you will get honest and intelligent feedback to make you stronger, more technically proficient and a better all-round lifter.