By: Coach Wyatt
You hear it all the time.
"Aren't you afraid you'll get hurt?"
"You're gonna pay for that when you get older."
"You shouldn't be lifting that heavy."
"Only strength athletes should do heavy barbell lifts."
Lifting is an activity where you can get hurt, but so is every other sport or form of physical activity. But lifting is also protective. It creates adaptations such as increased muscle mass and strength, improved speed and balance, and greater bone density. Each of these contributes to being more able bodied and injury resistant.
But to be completely transparent, there are diminishing returns. If you continue to pursue strength sports, you'll find that higher performance ≠ better health. Deadlifting 500 vs 315, likely doesn't make you healthier. In fact pursuing heavier and heavier weights comes with bigger risks. You'd be insane to think that Julius Maddox trying to bench 800 was as safe as the average Joe benching 200.
That said, powerlifting and strength sports are still generally safer compared to dynamic sports.
Personally, my favorite argument for heavy lifting is how "functional" it is.
In 10 years of lifting I've had my share of injuries, and seen others injured as well. And because of what I've seen and experienced, I'll make this statement.
Those that train HEAVY, are more able bodied while injured, than most Americans uninjured. They have an awareness of what their bodies can do. Many of them don't shy away from pain & discomfort. And they know how to move and load their bodies.
Of course not every powerlifter is this way. But, I would rather be strong and injured than untrained and injury free.
"But X Population Shouldn't Lift Heavy"
Based on what?
What research has shown that a 50 year old woman with osteoporosis shouldn't lift heavy? What evidence is there that a special needs child can't lift with a barbell? What evidence is there that we need to caudal certain populations?
No one needs to perform a heavy 1 rep max. From a physiological standpoint there is no additional benefit. But from a psychological standpoint there is. Those that fight against heavy lifting probably haven't seen what it does.
I remember the first time a 60 year old client of mine picked up 100 lbs. She was stunned and amazed. I remember when my father tested his 1 rep maxes. He, a very unemotional man, gave me a double bicep pose after squatting 205 for the first time. He was proud and felt accomplished with what he did. And I saw excitement when an athlete of mine went 9/9 and 3/3 on PRs just 15 days after a back tweak. No other training modality carries that kind of weight (pun absolutely intended).
It's like climbing a mountain or running a marathon. We seek challenges. And when we overcome it, we feel accomplished, and a sense of pride in our bodies. That is something no easy set of 10 on a leg press will do.
Strength Over Potential Safety
So maybe hitting heavy rep maxes with barbells isn't as safe as leaving 5+ in the tank and using machines. Maybe it doesn't provide any extra physical health benefits. But it does have mental health benefits. And those will carry over into the rest of your life. The barbell teaches you the value of hard work. It teaches you lessons when you do too much. And it won't reward you when you do too little.
So I'll finish with this. No one needs to lift heavy. But anyone who wants to should. And no coach or clinician should stand in their way.