Shrugged Collective

How to go Heavy

Going heavy is necessary for STRENGTH, unless you don’t understand what you’re doing.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to rush the loading. I get why it’s a problem. Heavy barbells are cool, everybody knows that. It’s awesome to walk into a gym and command attention. That confidence goes a long way, so far that it could change your life. You just have to earn it first.

There’s no better teacher than experience, so here we go. Lately, I’ve been in the mood to bench press heavy again. Mostly I’ve been able to rid myself of chronic shoulder aches and pains that limit the training.

This pain was never due to pressing itself; that’s where people often go wrong with their training. It’s why they can’t shake the tendinitis and plateaus. In my case, the low-bar back squat became too much to recover from. When I switched over to front squats and the Safety Barbell for most of my work, my arms went brand new almost right away. Honestly, I haven’t felt this good since college.

I’ve gotten here in two steps.

First, I was honest with myself when I started pushing heavy again a few months ago. I knew that I wouldn’t be all that impressive, so I got reality out of the way. Then I got to work to rebuilding by base as quickly as possible. That meant tons and tons of light repetitions with specialty barbells and dumbbells at all degrees and ranges of motion.

As Louie Simmons would tell you, “Get in shape to lift first. The records will follow.”

Yes were matching! Stopping into Louie Simmon’s office in a tank top and some shorts while it’s raining cats and dogs in Columbus. Haven’t seen him in a year and he instantly starts lecturing me and takes me to the warehouse to fully outfit me in a Westside tank, Westside shirt, Westside sweatshirt, Westside sweatpants, and an extra shirt just in case. Hands me the new textbook he wrote on Jumping mechanics for athletes. Covered in layers, he’s asking me if I’m still using chains and bands and asking what all my lifts are, …and all I can think about is how generous and caring he is as a coach and mentor. The Westside boys joked with me saying I looked 20 lbs lighter. Sneaking plates and chains on my bars and machines when I wasn’t looking…punks. Sometimes life stops and people get brought together – and it’s like I never left. Thankful and feeling truly blessed with good friends all over the globe.

A photo posted by Andrea Ager (@ager_bomb) on

My second step was to start pressing with a pause. 

I take a close grip, then lower the barbell straight down to the chest. I shove my sternum up into the barbell as I let the load dig into my chest. This is how you make the barbell go dead quickly. I think it also breeds a little aggressiveness that helps the pushing. I count to 2 or 3, then explode with everything I have.

My Rx is usually 2-4 sets of 10, then 5 sets of 3, ramping the load up till things slow down. Lastly, I get serious and grab a few heavy singles to test my limit strength. That’s it. If you do that sort of thing once a week you can effectively train many of the core lifts and assistance moves…And you’ll feel great.

The real reason I like pushing with a pause is that it exposes the weakness better than anything. Work up to something heavy and then let that barbell sink into you. Then, give it all you’ve got on the press! Make sure to video tape yourself. You will quickly take a shape, good or bad. Your feet might be shaky and loose. You but might be off the pad. Your elbows might flare out wide. It’ll happen quick. Take note, and make sure you note where the stopping happens. If you struggle off the chest, then just keep this up. Your pressing strength will increase rapidly. Alternatively, you might be like me. I’ve rebuilt a decent base. I’m able to push the load a little bit. I feel great. But, it’s clear that my arms need work.

Check out this lift. You can see that additional speed work wouldn’t make much sense, right? It’s wouldn’t be a very efficient use of my time and recovery resource. What I need to do is practice locking out heavy weights for a while. I need stronger arms, not a bigger chest. So, the key question anyone would have after making such an observation is, “What should I do?”

I think quick results in the gym depends on creativity. Let me provide some story and an example. I just finished a book called “Science Set Free” by Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, a British Researcher and Author. To put it mildly, it melted my brain a bit. The spine of the story is bold and refreshing. Science has taken us a long way, but we’re now slowing down. Our challenges in this world are enormous and only growing. It’s time we free Scientists from Institutional slavery, careers driven by fundee’s, not curiosity or reverence for nature.

This book will melt your brain. Rupert’s the man.   A photo posted by Chris Moore (@barbellbuddha) on

Rupert’s best points in this book have to do with creativity in nature. Think about it, have you ever found yourself wondering why things are so damn complex? Your body. A tree. How is that possible? Well, the answer is that there’s a sort of curiosity and drive that is built right into nature. Living things have run up against big challenges in nature every day. Food and mates are scarce resources. All you have out there is the present moment, and the unique physical quirks and curious points of view that make you, well, YOU!

You will leverage those gifts as hard as you can because this gives you an edge. You’ll reproduce. You’ll express yourself fully and will create a competitive edge over the other beings. You will score that chick over in the corner with the bright feathers. You will have kids that will go on to kick everyone’s ass, etc, etc.

Life is a series of creative solutions to everyday problems, using only what you’ve got. With that steady daily approach you can build amazing things. You just need a little time. How would a great skill for programming for strength evolve and develop any differently?

I’d like to offer a few more steps for how you can best go heavy. For repetitions sake, build your base first, then utilize great exercises like presses with pauses to expose the weakness in your movement. Instead of doing what you want, or whatever random WOD that’s up on your boxes whiteboard, try doing what you need.

Here are a few steps for getting creative with your training:

1. Commit to trying just one thing at first.

You’ll want to try all kinds of things. Cool shit you see in the gym, something that Klokov did earlier that day. But come on, that’s no way to program. You can never tell what works from what doesn’t if you’re always doing silly stuff randomly.

Start with what works best for most. Is your back weak in the snatch, causing you to rush your second pull? Do some good mornings or straight legged pulls. Practice having the weight out there, and you’ll rapidly improve. If you struggle to get heavy weight moving from the ground, or from the bottom, then you should try pausing in the squat as well. And if you’re like me and your lockout sucks, well, maybe you should do what most powerlifters do – Practice locking out heavy things more often. Use the arms more!

2. Load like you’re a beginner

I love Klokov as much as the next heterosexual Weightlifting fan. But that said, I don’t plan on trying slow motion snatches from a deficit for max weights, you now? For my weaknesses, I just need more work. It’s simple.

Do the same. Before you build up, simplify. Train heavy sets of five because it works like a charm. Start lighter than you first guess, working the load up incrementally week to week, and month to month. Add weight in small chunks when you can. If progress starts to slow, unload for a week or two, or switch movements if stalling persists.

Biting off too much at one time is a novice mistake. I know you could add ten more pounds right now, but you’ll also blow your chances of lifting better a few months down the line. So, make a better decision.

I hope this advice is helpful. Build your base, test yourself very carefully with heavy loads, then attack your weaknesses in an honest way. You’ll grow strong very quickly.

Train hard,

Chris Moore

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Chris Moore is a writer, recovering meathead, fledgling raconteur and rabid imbiber. He's also cohost and resident potty mouth on Barbell Shrugged, a weekly podcast devoted to Crossfit, strength, fitness and all things brash. His experience is drawn from over twenty-years spent training for and competing in American Football, Powerlifting, a bit of strongman and a dash of mixed martial arts. Also, it's possible that he's had one too many cups of coffee. A caffeine fever is a hell of a thing, you know?


  • Damn, I read this, and I KNOW it’s right, and I KNOW it’s great advice, Now I just have to commit to doing it. Either I get myself too busy (or find a way to be too busy) to do it consistently, and/or I push too heavy too soon for the sake of what I like to call “Microwave Progress” – It’s quicker, but never as good, and in the end, becomes worse than when you started if you keep doing it.

  • Damn Chris, dropping some knowledge bombs. Gonna implement breathing paused squats to try and get that bar off the floor more explosively. Thanks man, loving barbell daily

  • Chris, love seeing you write more – your writing is cerebral, approachable, and digestable. Keep it up!

    One thought: Depending upon reader interest, there might be demand for one-off virtual technique coaching via YouTube videos. It’s easy for us to videotape ourselves, and often, I think we can spot the errors, but the challenging part is often knowing: A) The cause of those errors, and B) How to fix them. But then we show them to our buddies at the gym or friends and get…lots of conflicting advice. I’m sure some of us out there would rather have you guys weigh-in, even with just a few comments, than the legion of YouTube trolls. Just a thought.

  • Rupert sheldrake, seems like I hear that name resonate more frequently. I’ve heard him speak and it blows my mind in a sensible way. I don’t know why it would make sense but I would still love to hear an interview with him and the shrug crew.

  • Good article, I agree with Louie Simmons about getting into shape first before you start heavy lifting. Most guys in the gym focus to much on impressing the others by lifting heavy but there again all you see is bad techniques that can really end up hurting them. I believe in long term progress and developing your techniques along with your strength. Sometimes you have to take a step backwards to take two steps forward. The advice that I give to all my friends is to focus on themselves and swallow their egos. At the end we will all be lifting some serious weights.

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