by stef bradford, PhD, SSC Starting Strength
A good habit for a lifter to get into is to verify that the bar is loaded correctly and that the plates are tight before starting each set. This helps prevent misloads, where the weight is accidentally too heavy or too light, or where the load is different at each end of the barbell. Since improperly or asymmetrically loaded bars can ruin a meet attempt, throw off your training, or potentially even cause injury, they’re worth avoiding.
Misloads in the gym commonly happen as a result of distraction, miscommunication between lifter and training partners, math errors, or intermixing pound and kilo plates. I’ve even heard a few stories over the years of plates “borrowed” from loaded bars between sets by unscrupulous parties in busy gyms. However the situation may develop, remember: it’s your bar, it’s your training, and you bear the consequences of any error. Fortunately, just a couple extra seconds and two simple rules will catch nearly all problems before you’re under the bar:
Rule #1: Always make sure the ends match.
Rule #2: Double check the math before starting work sets.
Simple? Sure, but it’s still surprisingly easy to make mistakes.
Misloads seem straightforward and uninteresting – somewhere between keeping shoelaces tied and turning off the stove before you leave the house – until the first time you unrack an unevenly loaded bar or start to pull one off the floor. Even just an extra 2.5 lb on one end of the bar feels wildly uneven and a 25 lb difference totally whomperjawed.
Most everyone will immediately notice an unevenly loaded bar and abort the attempt by reracking the bar or returning it to the platform. A quick inspection of the barbell reveals the source of the problem, so it’s just a matter of getting the right plates on the bar and moving on… right?
Except that you’ll discover that this doesn’t work at all. The evenly-loaded bar (you went through Rule #1 and Rule #2 twice this time) feels unbalanced, but flipped from the first go-round – the side that was heavier last time feels lighter and the side that was lighter last time feels heavier now. The asymmetry has taught your proprioceptors the wrong thing, and you have to reset them.
For a squat or a press, correctly load the bar and then unrack it, hold, then rerack it. For a pull, correctly load the bar, pull on it, then set it back down. This extra step allows you to recalibrate your perception of the load so that you are prepared for the next round with a properly loaded and balanced bar.
Stop a moment now and think about your warm-up sets in this context. Maybe warm-ups – even warm-ups! – can seem less straightforward and uninteresting and worthy of full attention for your training after a misadventure with a misload.