I know the feeling. Getting to the gym, lifting the weights, chasing the bigger numbers and the high that goes with them. Hitting a new PR or a heavy lift in a training day can be an exceptional feeling. It feels like validation of training or a reminder of how strong you are after a layoff. BUT, do this long enough and the value of the training session starts to become intricately linked with the weight on the bar. It discourages us from trying alternative versions of lifts. (IE, why sumo DL when I am stronger conventionally?) It creates poor expectations of progress, and starts to chip away at the reason we train in the first place.
The weight of your lifts only matters if you compete in lifting sports. While there definitely are thresholds for training stimulus, the reality is that if you work 9-5, parent kids, and are trying to be healthy while maintaining some of your favorite hobbies that don’t include lifting, the consistency of your lifts are going to be FAR MORE important than the weight of them. Your body and soul will not care or know the difference between 200lbs and 175lbs. It just won’t. It will care if the stimulus you were after is met, and if the muscles targeted are used.
Using this squat example, we see warm up lifts with air squats, goblet squats, and empty bar squats, and heavier squats. Torso, and knee angles are roughly identical at the start of all lifts. As weight is added, we see a compensation in the heavier lift to lean forward and a drastic change in torso angle. This changes the main movers in the body, it changes where stress is being absorbed by the body, and changes the overall muscular stimulus of the lift.
The lift itself is not necessarily dangerous, but if you warmed up with the more upright posture, then all of a sudden change it at heavier weights, we can see where that can shock and damage the body,
It also changes the training stimulus which will SLOW or HALT progress all together. Consider that the hips raising early preferentially trains the posterior chain. If your squat is held back by quad strength, glute engagement or core strength… IT still will be held back by all those things if you constantly lean into your strengths in favor of greater weight instead of focusing on what you are trying to achieve. Lifting maximally is more a testing stimulus than a training one.
The takeaway is focus on you, what you need to get stronger, and why you are doing it. Most of us can get an amazing training session, make amazing progress, and see consistent, pain free results with sub maximal weights. This doesn’t mean easy, it means consistent and high quality. The problem comes when we start to value our weights over our training. Stay consistent, stay safe, stay strong!