A concept that many seem to have difficulty with is barbell loading or movement skill and their performance within a workout. I have had many conversations with athletes that go something like this, “The weight seemed light, I just could not catch my breath.” “I just couldn’t get myself back on the bar, breathing was the problem.” “I never seemed out of breath during the workout.” Believe it or not, all of these responses are a result of the same issue. Your loading, or the skill you are using is too great for your current fitness level.
There is a principle in exercise science called the SAID principle. SAID stands for specific adaption to imposed demands. A paragraph from “Therapeutic Exercise, Chapter 6, pg 160” reads as follows, “Whenever possible, exercises incorporated in a program should mimic the anticipated function. For example, if the functional activity requires greater muscular endurance than strength, the intensity and duration of the exercises should be geared to improve muscular endurance.”
To put that last statement into a clearer picture. If we are training to get as heavy a one rep max as possible in our snatch or clean and jerk, then we would train low reps, high loading workouts combined with tons of skill work. This type of training will develop the strength and motor control necessary to develop these lifts at max capacity. However, if we want to increase the ability to cycle 20 snatches or 20 clean and jerks inside of a workout, we would want train with higher reps at lower loadings so that we can train ourselves to hold onto the bar and breathe while doing the required work. If we train like an Olympic lifter all the time, no matter how heavy we lift, we will not be able to perform as well inside of a workout that requires a large number of reps as a person who trains for higher reps, especially if those reps are in conjunction with other movements. Conversely, if you train to cycle the barbell all the time, your 1 rep Olympic lifts will not increase nearly as fast. There is some carry over from one type of training to the other but SAID states that our bodies adapt specifically to the type of training we perform regularly.
So, the next time you are in class and are wondering if the loading is correct for you. Ask yourself, “What am I training today?” If the answer is cardiovascular stamina and muscular endurance then a lower loading with higher reps will be the way to go. If the answer is strength, then higher loadings at lower reps is the way to go. You can see this in our workouts verses our barbell complexes that we do.
Understanding what we are training will help us train better in the future and keep us from training to fail.