Although an increasing number of women are embracing weight lifting, many still possess a fear of lifting heavy. When I talk about lifting heavy, I mean lifting at your maximum level. This involves pushing your body to the limit and, in many cases, reaching muscle failure.
Many women think they are already lifting as heavy as they possibly can, but in reality they are not truly pushing themselves to the limit. In the first year or so I lifted weights, I lifted heavy but not to my max. I was pushing around a decent amount of weight but I was scared to add more to the bar. I convinced myself I had reached my limit. Whenever I worked out with Rob, he always told me I wasn’t pushing hard enough. I would get so frustrated at him, because in my head I truly thought I was.
A large part of my fear stemmed from the possibility of injuring myself. I don’t have a spotter and the last thing I wanted was a barbell crashing down on me. I also have a history of lower back injury, which always made me particularly weary of heavy squats and deadifts.
It wasn’t until I started Wendler’s 5/3/1 program that I was able to truly give 100% to my workouts and focus solely on increasing strength. There is no guessing whether I am trying hard enough anymore. When I am physically unable to move the bar for more than one rep, I know I have reached that goal.
Many people think that max lifting is only for advanced lifters but it is simply not true. Of course, I’m not going to have someone who has never lifted before attempt a 1RM, but after a few solid months of lifting weights with good form, anyone can work their way up to a max attempt.
Although I had my doubts in the beginning, I was able to move away from a bodybuilding-dominant hypertrophy-based rep range (8-12, but sometimes up to 20 reps) and lift heavy. Here are my tips for doing the same:
- Drop your rep range: Complete five reps or less of the major lifts (squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press). You don’t have to follow this rule for the rest of your life, but just long enough to establish a true one rep max. If the weight felt easy, add more. Keep adding until you can’t anymore. Don’t feel as though you have to do multiple reps, either – when I attempt a PR, I will keep all my preceding sets at one rep only.
- Nail your form first: Do not attempt a 1RM unless you have had your form assessed by someone who knows what they are doing. If your back is rounded and your butt is high in the air, you have no business attempting a max effort deadlift.
- Don’t be afraid to sacrifice form: This may seem to contradict my last point, but let go of having perfect form during a max attempt. Your warm up sets should have perfect form, but it is natural for a 1RM lift to be less than pretty. For a long time, I was scared to lift with anything less than perfect form, and it actually hindered my progress. Now, I can execute a weight which would have once been a real grinder with perfect form.
- Ask for a spot: Whenever I attempt a max bench press, I ask for a spot. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – I have never seen anyone refuse. I have had guys offer to spot me during squats but it was in a totally creepy way. I squat without a spotter and I have fallen on my ass to prove it!
- Be patient: If you have never attempted a max lifting style before, you will whizz through weights very quickly in the beginning. This will, however, slow down and you will have to be patient with increases. For example, I attempt a deadlift PR once a month, but only try for a max squat or bench every 6-8 weeks. There is nothing I hate more in the blogging world than bloggers who claim to hit PRs every damn week. If you are doing that, then none of your workouts are hard enough – so quit bragging!
- Don’t be afraid to fail: In fact, I would encourage you to purposely fail a lift. When you are prepared for the worst that can happen, it’s much easier to deal with. Now that I have royally failed a squat I’m not afraid of it happening again. Do not be embarrassed if you fail a lift – you should feel proud that you are working harder than most other people in the gym!