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How heavy and how much should you lift to make progress?

Human bodies have evolved to be able to adapt to any triggers. Progress looks different on everyone. Some people are looking for absolute strength. On the other hand, some people are looking to maximize muscle size. In Powerlifting, we are focusing on absolute strength.

What is strength ?

Strength is the product of muscular action initiated and orchestrated by electrical processes in the nervous system of the body or ability of a given group of muscles to generate muscular force under specific conditions. Nervous stimulation produces two basic adaptive and interrelated effects in the body; functional muscular action (the neurofunctional effect) and muscular hypertrophy (the structural effect). The idea is building and teaching muscles to efficiently create force for the movement patterns.

The Nature of strength

Strength is proportional to the cross-sectional area of a muscle. Larger muscles have potential to develop greater strength, if large numbers of its fibres contract simultaneously, which depends on how efficiently the nerve fibres can send impulses to the muscle fibres. Moreover, the maximum strength is produced for an optimum, not maximum, frequency of nerve firing and the optimal frequency changes with level of muscle fatigue.


Training is a process where the body and mind are constantly exposed to the training stimulus of varied volume and intensity. The ability of a person to adapt and adjust to the workloads is important. An inability to adapt to the workloads will result in critical levels of fatigue, overreaching or even overtraining and will be unable to achieve training goals.

Selye’s general adaptive syndrome (GAS) theory is the basis of progressive overloading. Supercompensation is a relationship between workloads and recovery that leads to superior physical adaptation. To make progress you need to balance workloads and recovery.

Powerlifting training

In Powerlifting training, we sometimes focus on the preparatory stage or general preparations since the structural effects or hypertrophy is required for strength to build more muscle size which basically prefers high volume and compensates the stress with low intensity. Then we shift to the strength stage which prefers high intensity and low volume. Powerlifting program will use the training block to give workloads to lead us to specific goals each block.

Take note

In general, it is not about how heavy and how much you should lift to make progress. It is about preparations towards the goals and the ability to regenerate from the training stimulus to make progress. Learning the right pattern of movements is also important to teach your body to recognize the patterns correctly. As long as you keep doing the right things and balance workload recovery and the stressors, you can make progress.



Opor Kasem is a TPF level 2 coach, who specializes in powerlifting, strength and functional training. He works with an extremely diverse group of clients from high-level athletes to your everyday professional. He enjoys spending his free time learning, tweaking and testing training methodologies to make sure you get the results you are after. He has also established himself as a top contender in the sport of powerlifting.

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