To enable the lifter to train more often, light days are included in many lifters’ schedules. For many, benching and squatting hard multiple times per week is too much for their body to recuperate from. Lifting too hard too often could result in negative progress or increased chance of injury. In some activities like learning to play a musical instrument, more practice in most cases is preferable. With weights, this is not so (at lease for the vast majority of lifters). It’s the ‘more-is-better’ mode of thinking that is the number one reason why lifters don’t progress as they expect or many injuries occur, many career ending. When lack of progress occurs, too many lifters react with more training, which in turn stalls progress further.
Many lifters have a guilt complex about the amount of training they do. If they don’t workout their benches or squats so many times per week, they doubt they will progress. To handle this guilt, light days became an integral part of many lifters’ training regimes. Now a person can conquer this guilt and train their bench and squat multiple times per week. The deadlift is left out for now because most people train it no more than once per week because of the stress it puts on the body. If your heavy day top set is 300 x 10, your light day could be 70-80% of that or 225 x 10. You could do the same amount of reps as heavy days with a lighter weight or use a lighter weight with perhaps more reps. That could look like this: Heavy day = 350 x 5; Light day = 250 x 10. The scenarios are endless.
Aside from conquering guilt, lifters can use the light day to develop technique while using lighter weights. A lifter could include single rep attempts with 80% or so of max to get into the groove of the lift, so when heavy weights are used, this technique can be carried over. If a lifter is trying to change his/her technique, like a wider grip in the bench, or change their squat stance, the light day can provide an excellent opportunity to get invaluable practice time in. My example of 80% was only for illustrative purposes. This can vary as long as it is light enough to not stress the lifter and heavy enough to be a reasonable challenge to the lifter.
Light days can also be used to include exercises in your routine other than the big three. To save wear and tear on the back yet still work the quads, a lifter could perform leg presses. Instead of regular benches, try feet off the floor benches, close grips, dumbbells, or some pec deck machine. This can inject variety in a routine and also enable a lifter to target a weak area of the lift with an assistance move. Bodybuilding type workouts can be done on light days as long as the workout is indeed light, or the purpose of the light day is defeated. Here you could work the lats, triceps, traps, etc.
Since light days by definition are light and not intense, do they really do any good? Are we basically wasting our time having light days? To some extent, yes. I believe that a lifter can gain on one workout per week per lift. Mega-bencher, Chris Confessore, is a classic example of this. Chris benches once per week, the other days he does assistance work for the bench. Witness his long list of world records and triple bodyweight benches. Many lifters just feel a need to train each lift multiple times per week. When results don’t come, they workout more. Very seldom does a lifter dare to explore the opposite end of the spectrum, that is, workout less. Back to the deadlift for a moment. If most lifters train deadlifts only once per week and gain sufficiently, why can’t the same strategy be used for the bench and squat? Maybe we’re on to something here! To an extent, light days are a way of working out less. They can provide time to develop technique and work weak areas of a lift and help a lifter recuperate from his workouts. Less is more in powerlifting! Having only one heavy or intense weight session per week necessitates the lifter works hard on that one session. Without hard work, little will be accomplished and you cannot make it up with more training.
For lifters who don’t include light days in their routines and are not progressing as they feel they should, try some of my suggestions. If you are using light days and still are not progressing up to your expectations, try eliminating light days all together. For younger lifters, recuperation is not as big a concern. For older lifters and particularly the increasing amount of drug-free lifters, recuperation is a bigger concern. The concept of light days is in widespread use in powerlifting. Try some of my suggestions in your routine if you’re not gaining as well as you would like before adding more training. Also, don’t let a more-is-better guilt complex stop you from exploring a method that can help you reap more results with less work.
By: Doug Daniels
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