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The Psychology Of Strength.

Why 2.5lb Plates Are Your Best Friend!

Posted by nboleto - May 8th, 2014

To a new gym-goer, the 2.5-pound plates may seem pointless. I, myself, can remember thinking “Pshh, who would ever use these things? I mean sure I guess it could train your ego, but why does it matter between 225 pounds and 230 pounds, especially when you get into the higher weights and rep ranges?” I’m here to tell you that there is a reason that goes well beyond your muscles, but first a quick psychology lesson.

Our lesson today comes from the spectrum of perception and sensation, specifically the art of detection. Every sensation that you experience is produced by a stimulus, but in order for this stimulus to actually produce a reaction, it must first break a “threshold.” Now there are absolute thresholds, which is the minimum amount of energy required to detect a stimulus. For instance, a candle is noticeable on a dark, clear night from 30 miles away, and yes, that actually is the first official recording of the absolute threshold for eyesight.

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The other kind of threshold is called a difference threshold, or a just noticeable difference (JND). This is the extent of difference necessary to distinguish between two stimuli. For instance, during your annual check-up the doctor tests your hearing and he plays signals to ensure that you’re hearing correctly, and he continues to oscillate the volume until you’re just barely able to hear. This difference between being able to hear the beeps and hearing absolutely nothing or fake signals from the machine is the JND.

So what does this all have to do with weight training and strength gains? Well as it turns out a physician named Ernst Weber expanded these two types of thresholds to produce Weber’s Law. This states that at low levels of stimulus there needs to be smaller changers to encounter a JND, but at higher levels there needs to be a larger difference in order to be a JND.

This can apply to weight training for the following reason. Your body will not notice a difference unless the added stimulus triggers a JND; therefore at higher weights, you will need more than just 5 extra pounds for the sensation to take over. This technique of using the JND and Weber’s Law can be applied in the following way.

One fairly common strength training technique is wave loading, which upon explanation makes perfect sense why it works and it’s all because of Weber’s Law. Wave loading works like this: let’s pretend your six-rep max in the back squat is 135 lb. so you would use 135 pounds for your first set of six. The next set you’d use 145 pounds for a set of four, and then 155 pounds for a set of two. The next set you’d use 150 pounds for another set of four and then 160 pounds for another set of two.
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This works because your body adjusted to the 155 pounds so then when you dropped down to 150, you were able to do this for two more reps, but you increased five pounds from your last four-rep set. Almost like magic you’re five pounds stronger, and the next week your six-rep max will almost definitely be 140, or at least you will be able to grind out 135 for seven or eight.

This can be attributed to Weber’s Law, and I strongly recommend incorporating wave loading into your strength training routines. At first, it’s only five pounds per session, but over the course of a month, at twice a week, that could mean a 40-pound increase!

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Yes, you are actually getting stronger, but you can thank your psychology professors and German physician Ernst Weber for discovering the science behind why it works.

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This I will try to incorporate for sure. 


Great article



Yes! It is definitely one way I have built up strength! Although with Bench Pressing, especially for women, adding 5 pounds can still be a lot! But it is still easier than adding 10. I know it's what I have been doing to improve my squat lately. And as soon as I feel comfortable with my form fixes for my deadlift, I'll be doing it with my deadlifts too!