As an athlete, strength training is often secondary to the sport. We certainly want to use strength training to get stronger and help better prepare the athlete for sport, but at the same time, it can’t be the top priority over the sport itself.
So, how hard should an athlete push in the weight room?
Generally, athletes (along with almost everyone else) shouldn’t be failing lifts when strength training. By definition, we are pushing the body beyond what it can do.
That is a big stress the body will have to recover from, often on top of the stress of intense sports practices. This recipe for going backward really fast is not what we want.
At the same time, we don’t want the movements to be so easy that an athlete could have pumped out 8 more reps on everything they do – we haven’t pushed the body to the point that it needs to adapt and get stronger. Therefore, we have to use the Goldilocks principle.
We must find a middle ground – it has to be hard enough to force the body to get stronger but not so hard that it can’t recover from it.
How does that look in practice?
An athlete will maintain the movement's technique throughout the set. Although the movement may slow down during the last few reps (and even “grind” when we’re pushing), it should never stall or fail.
The athlete may describe the set as medium to hard, getting heavy, or “burning,” but not super heavy or impossible to complete.
Remember – we want to get stronger, so we must push ourselves. But we can’t let training interfere with competition.
Fuel the flame – don’t blow it up and put it out!