Unconventional Weight Loading For PR's
Both bars are loaded with 500 pounds (227 kg). Which one looks less intimidating?
The first time I squatted 500 pounds was with my first weightlifting coach Richard Sorin. It was around my junior year in high school and I had delusions of becoming an Olympic champion weightlifter. The magic 500 was my goal. Hitting this amount of weight is a watershed moment in high school. After all, before I clean & jerked it I had to squat it.
The testing day came after completing Richards squat program. I was initially supposed to squat 475 pounds which I did with easily. I was going to do 2 reps but when I heard Richard say, “Rack it” I complied. As was often the case Richard knew what I was capable of doing before I did. He said I could do more and I agreed. “How much more do you think I can do?” I asked. Go take a break and come back in 6-7 minutes. Don’t bother counting what’s loaded just get ready to do it!” I left the area as Richard and one of his training buddies began loading the bar with whatever was my next attempt.
When break was over I sauntered back to find the bar loaded in a strange way. 2 45’s and 3 25’s on each side and I don’t know how many 10’s. Richard stepped in front of me to psych me up and also to keep me from thinking what was actually loaded. I got under the weight, took a quick deep breath went down and stood back up. It felt easier than 475. The bar shot up off my back I came up so fast. “Now go ahead and count it!” Richard bellowed. When I did I was elated. 500pounds was now done.
“Good job Mongo!” (my given nickname inspired by Alex Karras’ character in Blazing Saddles). After unloading the bar, Richard then asked me an important question. “If 500 were loaded conventionally (with 5 45’s and a 2 and a half pound plates on each side) would you have done it?” I thought for a bit and answered, “Yes, but it would have been harder. I would have been more intimidated if it were loaded the way I’m used to seeing bars loaded.”
This was a valuable lesson in so many ways. I can’t count how many lifters and athletes I’ve coached fail to do weights they are capable of because they get in their own head. I have used this trick many times for squat, snatch and clean PR’s. A weight doesn’t have to look as intimidating when it’s loaded with smaller change plates. How many times have I begun to doubt because a weight "looks" heavy? Thanks to Richards lesson there are many ways to load weights that make it look less intimidating and average rather than heavy. Vasily Alexeev, and many Chinese weightlifters use this method when training.
Achieving goals and hitting PR’s isn’t just an issue of physical preparedness. It’s as much mental as anything else. A 500 pound squat or 300 pound clean can be within your means if you find ways to get out of your own head. Find an unconventional way to load the bar (or have someone you trust and knows how to add load it for you) so it doesn’t look heavy or intimidating and watch how many more PR’s you set.