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Why is it such a struggle to lift heavier in the gym?

Obvious answer: more weight is heavier, and you’re probably not strong enough!

But, within that, there’s a LOT more at play.

Here’s some factors:

Movements involving lots of small muscles

Let’s use a barbell shoulder press as an example. There’s a myriad of muscle involved, but let’s for ease concentrate on 6 of them. The three muscles that form your triceps, and the three main muscles that form your shoulder. Six muscles, all working flat out, helping each other lift something above your head.

So what happens when the weakest of those muscles says “that’s it folks, I’m knackered, I’m out”? Well, the load gets spread out amongst the survivors, now just 5 muscles. That’s too much for the next weakest muscle, so that drops out too…and so on.

You’re only as strong as the weakest link, and on movements that rely on the co-operation of lots of smaller muscles, it doesn’t take much weight increase to turn something from very do-able, into “it won’t bloody move”.

You’re focusing on numbers to lift heavier in the gym, not percentages.

Putting up a deadlift from 200kg to 202.5kg isn’t terribly dramatic. It’s around a 1% increase. For most people, it’s the psychology of the weight being higher that causes a failure, rather than the extra 2.5g.

But going from a 20kg dumbbell bench press to 22.5kg dumbbells? Now we’re looking at just over a 10% increase, despite the actual weight increase not *seeming” to be very much more.

If the weight you’re using is smaller, the percentage increases to go up in weight are often large. Don’t worry about the actual number so much on smaller weights – think in terms of percentage increase instead.

Your brain is holding you back from lifting heavier in the gym

There’s a reason that a lot of people get PBs accidentally (like from loading a bar incorrectly) or in competition. It’s your brain being fooled into letting you try harder.

Made a mistake loading the bar? Got 100 on there when it should have been 90, and just kept pushing because, well, maybe it’s just a bad day? That’s an accidental PB. Your brain believed it could do it, so you did. Same for some people in a competition. The adrenalin and the knowledge of people watching you, simply makes you try harder.

There’s a million and one influences on your lifting, but when the bar gets heavy, your mindset is *everything*. And no, you won’t conquer it easily.

So, next time you can’t understand why the next weight up feels so, well, heavy – you’ve now got an idea why.


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