7 Ways to Prepare Your Body (and Your Nervous System) to Lift Heavy Again

Get ready for a return to the weights, but be smart about it.

The name of the game in CrossFit circles in recent weeks has been high-rep bodyweight workouts.

They have allowed people to continue to workout from home, get their heart rates up, possibly improve their endurance, and feel better emotionally that they got a good sweat on.

But, but, but, they have their limits, and possible downsides.

By nature, bodyweight workouts are closed-chain activities that mostly work on relative strength—aka bodyweight strength—as opposed to absolute strength. In other words, tens of thousands of CrossFit athletes around the world have abandoned strength training in recent weeks in favoor of performing lots of repetitions completed at submaximal loads.

While some people might be feeling some pain in their joints creeping in because of the sheer volume they have been putting in, others might find working out unloaded for so long has actually helped their lingering aches and pains finally recover. Either way, most of us are raring to go, to get back the squat squat rack at the gym.

Shoulder Press

Regardless of whether we’re feeling beaten down from all the lunges, or fresh from having an intensity break from the heavy weights, all of us have likely lost some strength. Hence, we probably shouldn’t go back to the gym and toss 90 percent of our 1RM on the bar.

Here’s the hitch: Many of us might be able to lift 90 percent of our 1RM because our body will remember how to do it. But, it’s not just about our muscular ability to lift a weight. We must also factor in our nervous system: Lifting heavy weights creates neurological fatigue, meaning we need to give our nervous systems time to adjust to lifting heavy again.

What can I do now?

There are some effective ways to start preparing your body now for the more strength-based movements, such as squats and deadlifts, and power-based movements, such as cleans and snatches, you’re likely to get back into when your gym opens again.

1. Practice Bracing Through Deadbugs Variations

Deadbug Variations

It’s important to remind our body how to build tension and brace while lifting heavy, something we probably haven’t been focusing on during all those burpee reps. Deadbugs are a great way to practice this.

Option 1: Add 3 sets of 1 minutes deadbugs to your warm-up. Focus on bracing hard and breathing the way you would during a heavy set of five squats. Remind your body how to hold tension while continuing to breathe.

Option 2: If deadbugs feel too easy, try three sets of the same with straight-leg deadbugs.

Option 3: If you need an even bigger challenge, hold a deadbug with one leg hovering two inches from the ground. Make sure you continue to keep both legs completely straight. Hang out for 30 seconds per leg. Repeat three times.

2. Spend Time Under Tension with Farmer Carry Holds

If you don’t have any heavy weights, load up a suitcase, or find something around the house that’s heavy to hold onto. Stand with perfect posture, feet shoulder width apart and squeeze your butt cheeks together. This will help prepare your nervous system by logging prepping it to log some time under tension with a heavy load.

  • 3 sets of 1 minute to 90 farmer carry hold (30-45 seconds per arm if you only have one heavy item to hold).

3. Work on Speed With Jumping Squats and Lunges

It’s also important to get yourself focusing on speed and power again, especially for the Olympic lifts. Jumping squats and lunges are a great way to do this. Focus not on jumping high, but on fully extending your hips and then pulling yourself into the squat or lunge as quickly as possible.

  • 5 rounds of: 10 jumping lunges, 10 jumping squats, 30 seconds rest.

4. Prime Your Power With Max Height Box Jumps

Find a 12-24 inch box or a bench to jump onto. Keep the reps low and focus on full hip extension and jumping as high as you can before landing as tall as you can on the box. One big mistake people make on box jumps for height is bringing their knees to their chest. Focus instead on getting your head and hips as high in the air as you can, keeping your body long the whole time. Treat these like individual max efforts vertical jumps.

  • 5 sets of 3-5 reps of max height box jumps with 10 seconds rest between reps. Rest one minute between sets.

5. Improve Explosiveness with Knee Jumps

Knee jumps are a relatively challenging exercise for most and are often used as a drill to improve explosive power by weightlifters.

Begin in a kneeling position. Sit back into your heels, brace hard and explode with the intention of getting your hips as high as you can in the air. Land on your feet as tall as possible—hopefully in a power position, as opposed to a deep squat.

  • 5 sets of 3 to 5 knee jumps. Rest one minute between sets.

6. Wake Your Body Up with Rebounding Tuck Jumps

Jump and bring your knees to your chest. Rebound right away into another tuck jump. Focus on jumping high and spending the least amount of time on the ground as possible, like you’re cycling box jumps. Try to keep your breathing consistent and your shoulders relaxed.

  • 5 sets of 10-15 seconds of rebounding tuck jumps, or until you lose the ability to rebound, or you can no longer get your knees to your chest during your jump. Rest 1 minute between sets.

7. Improve Hip Extension Through Triple Broad Jumps

Similar to the above, only now you’re trying to jump as far as you can before rebounding into a second and then third broad jump. Remember to jump high as well as long, as height will help you gain more distance. Focus on full hip extension.

  • 5 sets of 3 rebounding broad jumps. Rest 30 seconds between sets.