Lift light to lift heavy
I have heard it from CrossFitters and lifters alike,”well, its light weight” when referring to making a lazy mistake, or performing a lift imperfectly whilst noticing that I or someone else is watching. We also see it many times, an individual writhing under a bar shakily trying to lock out their last rep to extension only to fail and crumble half way through.
Now what exactly happened here, from a physiological standpoint? Yes, the weight was to heavy for the athlete to move but why was it “to heavy”? Our proprioceptors, in this case muscle spindles, monitor the change in muscle length and tension (as it occurs through the sliding filament theory of muscle contraction). Here, when the spindles process tension that has the potential to damage soft tissue and/or tendons, the GTO (Golgi Tendon Organ) inhibits muscle action and thus we end up stalling and failing underneath a bar or rep.
The next natural question is, “how do we stop this from happening?” The bad news is we cant, however we can learn and train ourselves to limit it as much as possible! All of the above information is being processed through the spinal cord in what we call the “feedback loop”. For us a lifters and athletes, we need to train our bodies and muscles to reduce the muscle inhibition spoken about in the previous paragraph. We do so by learning how to “grind” or basically ignore these signals so our bodies and muscles can endure more tension before our receptors send the signal to halt muscle activity.
We do this, by ALWAYS lifting with maximal tension. How do we do so? By treating a back squat (or any other lift) at 60kg, just like it’s a back squat at 200kg. A well known strength coach Jesse Irizarry put it in the words, “flexing maximally against sub-maximal loads,” essentially meaning lots of muscle tension against light weight. If we do this, we will be tensing as hard as we can, just as we do against a 1RM, thus ignoring the signals our receptors are sending to us (light load - no need) and in turn learning to ignore messages in the “feedback loop” we spoke of. Just as we learn to ignore the signals of light loading, we can ignore, to a degree, the signal of heavy loading. This will translate into heavy lifts as we will be able to grind through the sticking point of a 1RM or max reps at significant load!