Heavy Lifting: How To Get Started
I love lifting heavy.
The sense of accomplishment I get from heavy lifting is unlike that of any other style of training I have tried. As motivating as that is for me, for many people, the idea of lifting a heavy weight can feel out of reach. I don’t want anyone to feel that they are missing out because they aren’t sure how to get stronger and how to work up to lifting heavy weights.
When creating my powerbuilding program, BUILD, I made sure it allowed for progression and encouraged gradual increases in strength through progressive overload. Having a foundation is always important, so understanding what it takes can help you to hit the ground running. To help you get started on your heavy lifting journey, I’ve explained some of the initial steps you can take to put you on the right path.
No matter what your starting point is, I believe lifting heavy is something that you can work up to if you set your mind to it. Keep reading to find out how to make it happen.
How to get stronger if you are a beginner
There are a number of different ways to include strength training in your routine, depending on whether you want to increase your strength or actively build muscle mass. If mastering heavy lifting is your goal, a structured training program like BUILD can help you to understand where to begin and how to work up to a strong lift safely.
If you are completely new to this style of training, then you need to build a solid foundation first. You can do this by slowly getting your body used to resistance training, then increasing the volume of your training once you begin to adapt physiologically and mentally. Starting out as a weight lifting beginner means planning for gradual strength development before attempting heavy squatting or deadlifts. Starting with lighter weights and ensuring you understand the correct technique are steps that will serve you well as a beginner.
When the goal of training is to become stronger, remember to eat to help you reach this goal. What I mean by that is weight-loss meal plans may not provide you with adequate nutrition to support muscle recovery and growth. The nutrition plan you follow can have a huge impact on your training success and on your ability to recover and continue training. I’ve written about this topic before, so you can read my blog on powerbuilding and nutrition for more details.
How to lift heavy weights
Heavy lifting takes preparation, it isn’t something you can start to do overnight. Bodybuilders and powerlifters spend months, sometimes even years, learning how to lift heavy and preparing their bodies. It is a challenging way to train and it takes commitment.
For anyone who has been lifting weights for some time and wants to change their training style to powerbuilding, there are some important steps to follow. The points I have outlined below can help you to get started.
Follow a training program
Do your research and find an appropriate training program and structure that you can follow consistently. There is much more to consider than just lifting the weight — it is important to understand what makes a good program. Some of the things to consider include what training frequency to aim for, how to combine compound and isolated movements, how to organise your training split and how much rest you need.
Following a powerbuilding program like BUILD can help you to manage your workload appropriately and to ensure you aren’t burning yourself out. While training progression requires you to push yourself out of your comfort zone, overtraining can have a negative effect on your nervous system.
Each BUILD workout has been carefully designed to help you work up to heavy lifting through a balanced training schedule. The way my program is laid out in the Sweat app makes it easy to see which workouts need to be completed within a week — while still allowing time for recovery.
Warm-ups are critical
Walking into a gym and loading up the bar without warming up properly is not a safe way to train, particularly if you plan to lift heavier weights. It is hugely important to warm your body up in an effective way to prepare your muscles and joints for the heavy loads they are about to carry.
For this reason, a regular cardio-only warm-up may not be enough to prepare your body for heavy lifting. Instead, try incorporating some warm-up sets of the exercise prior to completing the heavy sets. An example of this is with a squat, you might include a few sets of 6-10 repetitions at a lower RPE (rate of perceived exertion). You can then move on to completing the reps at a higher RPE. Doing this can help to fire up the target area and recruit the correct muscle fibres.
Pick the right weight
Above I talked about RPE and warming up with lighter weights but a crucial part of understanding how to lift weights is choosing the right weight. Selecting which weight to train with, and when to increase that weight, is generally knowledge that comes with time and training experience.
The weight should feel challenging for the rep range, but what you consider heavy lifting is dependant on your ability and strength. It’s important to figure out how to lift weights that are appropriate for you and for the exercise you are doing. For example, the weight you select for a deadlift will vary from the weight you select for a hip thrust exercise. This can take some self-assessment and paying attention to your body’s limits.
When creating my BUILD program, I wanted to make it simple for you to select a weight to use. To help with this, there is a 1 Rep Max (1RM) assessment that can help you to calculate the weight to be used for key compound movements such as a sumo deadlift, bench press and low-bar squat.
The best way to get results from powerbuilding is to focus on the weight that encourages you to challenge yourself. Don’t worry about what anyone else is lifting, it’s about your personal progress.
Focus on your breathing
It is often underestimated, but a key component of any strength training program is your breathing. Each inhale and exhale changes the volume of your lungs, as well as the position of your ribs, thoracic spine and many other parts of your body, which can affect movements when lifting heavy weights. When you exhale, it increases the engagement of your core and provides greater stability for the lift. That’s why you should be breathing out as you lift the weight.
Controlled breathing can help you to lift greater weights, but it can also help to get more oxygen into your body, reducing the chance of a sudden spike in blood pressure. Take slow, deep breaths in through your nose and you should find it easier to dig deep on big lifts.
Master your technique
Poor form can be misleading if you are too focused on the amount of weight lifted because you may be utilising unwanted musculature to assist with the movement. This can not only increase the risk of injury but it also means you aren’t targeting the muscle groups you intend to. Spending time learning the proper technique and becoming comfortable with the movements can potentially save you from an injury later on. Remember that core strength plays into every form of heavy lifting, so don’t become complacent about the muscle groups you are targeting.
Make sure you understand the correct technique before loading up the bar and doing any heavy squatting or lifting. You should also try to either have a spotter or make use of the safety features in your gym to keep yourself safe while lifting heavy weights.
Follow the exercise videos and instructions in the app to help you build a solid base for lifting weights. It can help you to progress while minimising the risk of injury and improper technique.
Allow for adequate rest
Training frequently and pushing the intensity might seem like the best approach if you want to lift some serious weights. Unfortunately, it can put your body at risk of injury due to overuse and stress. Lifting heavy requires longer rest periods to help you recover prior to the next set. In my program, BUILD, I’ve included suggested rest times within the app to ensure that you are taking breaks while you are training. This is only a guide though, you may need extended rest periods to ensure sufficient recovery between sets. On top of that, there is also recovery sessions and rest days as part of the program planner.
Many people underestimate the demand heavy lifting places on the nervous system. Remember to listen to your body, sometimes if your performance has dropped off it could be a sign from your nervous system that you need to decrease the volume of your training to allow for adequate recovery before you ramp it back up again. Not every week of training can be super heavy lifting, it has to be balanced with rest time and lighter training days as well. You also need to allow time for your muscles to rebuild after training, so sleep should be a major priority in your recovery plan.
Don’t neglect your nutrition
Heavy lifting demands a lot of energy from your body, so it is important to fuel your body with the required macronutrients before and after training. The balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat that you need is going to depend on your specific goals. Keeping this balanced across your meals and snacks can be difficult, so if you are serious about your training, consider tracking your macronutrients.
You want to be sure you are consuming enough calories to surpass your energy expenditure if you want to build muscle, and your diet should also be supporting your recovery.
Lifting heavy weights? You can do this!
Are you feeling confident about how to get stronger now?
For anyone starting out who wants to know how to lift heavy, my advice is to try a powerbuilding routine! Following a well-designed training program can help ensure you get the best results. I created my BUILD program with techniques from powerlifting and bodybuilding, which include strategic increases in volume so that you can work up to heavy lifting, safely.
Putting effort into your training is how you get results, so make sure you plan and commit to your training. I’ve also just released 12 extra weeks of my program in the Sweat app to help you progress even further — so come train with me and let’s go on this journey together.
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.