Heavy Lifting: Is It Always The Best Strength Training Strategy?

by: Pat McCloskey, Director of Training and Education

Heavy resistance training is a clear path to muscle growth and strength gains — but there are enormous risks to favoring heavy lifting as it relates to tissue tolerance.

A client recently asked me, “Why aren’t I doing more heavy weight training in my program? More squatting, more dead lifting, more benching?” And it brought to mind for me the emphasis that all of the health magazines and fitness websites put on the scientific basis of heavy resistance training. And the science behind it is very real. Heavy weight lifting, for all populations, serves a good purpose. It stimulates hormonal numbers. And the reason the big three lifts — squatting, dead lifting, and bench pressing — are go-to exercises is because they’re very stable. You’re able to work against a lot of load, and the science shows that when you do that effectively, it stimulates a big testosterone release that serves muscle growth and strength gain.

But the risks with it, particularly in people who haven’t done it a lot, is tissue tolerance. Do we begin to write checks that our body might not be able to handle, for a number of reasons? Perhaps your shoulder, because of the way you slept the night before, cannot perform as usual. Or individuals with postural deviations already — now that we’re adding a lot of weight in an exercise, are we exacerbating the problem?

So I said to my client, “We will do some heavy resistance training in your program as we get you into better alignment. And we have to make sure that we dose it carefully, because it is a strategy. But we have to make sure that it’s not a strategy that leads to heavier and heavier, and eventually, an end game that is simply, “Wow, I can’t do that anymore because I got hurt.” I want his exercise — everybody’s exercise — to make him feel better outside the gym, not worse. We never want to do anything in a gym setting that makes life harder outside.