This is a common question we ALL get as coaches, but the answer is never as easy as YES/NO, as there’s nuances, science and real world applicability to consider. However when it comes to getting into the details with clients, “it depends” is never an acceptable response to give someone. Of course it depends, but in what way? Lets simply break this down.
We know that STRENGTH is the #1 physical characteristic that can positively influence almost ALL other physical characteristics (including health, longevity and mortality rates).
So yes, no matter who your client is, getting STRONG is never wrong (you like that rhyming)! But what’s the “best” way to get strong, and does it need to include going ham with heavy loading? That’s the question we should be looking at.
Improving load capacity over time is the easiest and most effective way to build (and track) strength gains. So the guy who’s been repping 135lbs on the bench for 3 sets of 10 for the last 25 years – yeah its unlikely he is packing on some serious strength. Straight up, it’s the cornerstone of strength progression. But it’s not the ONLY way to progress in strength.
In my experience, clients ranging from beginners to Olympic medalists only truly have the ability to perform with FULL effort, intensity and focus on ONE single exercise per day when loading is the #1 factor that we look to challenge and progress.
It’s not that people can’t also train 2-3 other movements with load that day, but the load in that case becomes SECONDARY to a desired training effect that is likely focused on a different physical characteristic being developed (think power, hypertrophy, endurance, etc).
But the most important lift of the day (also known as the Key Performance Indicator – KPI) should be loaded heavy and trained hard, no matter if you’re a bridge client of a sports performance athlete getting ready to be strong AF in-season.
But that being said, here’s where coaches go wrong with programming for their clients. They make “strength” a black and white conversation.
Either you train to get strong AKA squat/bench/deadlift in the 1-5 range every workout forever until you set a world record or end up in the hospital, OR specialist in muscular sculpting, lengthening and pliability because strength is the enemy.
Lets kick the dogma, and instead, program with a more well rounded approach. Now that we’ve covered that, lets get back to the question at hand. Should people be lifting heavy?
HELL YES they should. But near maximal loading should be SPRINKLED into programming, not consume an entire program.
A general recommendation for your clients LIFT HEAVY AF type movements should be:
1) ONE EXERCISE PER DAY
2) NO MORE THAN 10% OF TRAINING VOLUME
This IMO allows the heavy stimulus of progressive load capacity and building while also not being a dumb fuck and pushing past one’s limits and risking pain, injuries or overtraining (or under recovering leading to over training).
A little goes a long way. And yes, this is the exact method and recommendation blueprint that I’ve used for 14 years with my clients and athletes.
And the last time I checked, we get people strong (of course my clients are sexy!!! You know who you are hah) and stay healthy.
That is the name of the game. Look, feel, and function your best.
And heavy loading is absolutely a part of this.