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I'm not looking to be a competitive weightlifter. Should I bother training heavy? —Chip O., via Facebook
I've always preached the importance of making the mind-muscle connection in your training focusing on how a weight makes your muscles feel rather than how much you’re actually lifting. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give some consideration to the poundages you use. After all, weight training is about progressive overload, and if you don’t eventually increase the load, your body won’t have reason to progress.
Every great bodybuilder I know started out with basic movements and trained them very heavy. Franco Columbu was a world-class powerlifter; Sergio Oliva was on Cuba’s Olympic weightlifting team. I competed in both of these sports while bodybuilding. For one thing, it feels great to be strong and it gives you a psychological edge (in any competition, and in life), but heavy training develops muscles to a degree that you can’t get exclusively from light, pumping workouts. The spinal erectors respond to deadlifts like nothing else, and shoulders that are built with clean and presses are almost always more impressive than those weaned on lateral raises.
I suggest you devote one day a week to heavy lifting. Pick a movement like a squat, bench press, or deadlift and work up to a few heavy sets of one to six reps. Then do a back-off set of 10 or more reps. Not only will this make you look strong, but you’ll be able to prove that you actually are if anyone ever questions you on what big muscles are good for.