Franco Columbu and Heavy Deadlift

What Is ‘Heavy’?

You can often hear such phrases: “To get big you need to lift heavy!” or “Lift heavy stuff to get strong!”. Many personal coaches preach this approach nowadays. Arguments are hard to beat:

  • Heavy lifting strengthens tendons and ligaments
  • Heavy lifting ends with more muscle growth response
  • Heavy lifting even brings more metabolic cost
  • Heavy lifting is badass
  • Oldtimers lifted heavy
  • Etc

They say: “Bust your ass off in the gym!” or “Train heavy as hell!” You name it. It’s all cool but average trainee can become little confused. He starts to add weight every workout, he ‘busts his ass off’ every workout, he adds as much reps or sets as he can, he feels exhausted and beaten after every workout. And his progress stalls in matter of weeks. He tries new program but after couple of weeks he becomes even weaker. And on and on.

What’s the Problem?

I don’t know how it’s done in other countries but here in Ukraine if you not lifting so hard that your eyes explode it is not considered lifting heavy. When we say that we ‘busted our asses off in the gym’ we mean that we trained so hard that we can barely get up from our beds next morning. If we train heavy as hell we literally fight every inch of the movement. Probably it is our mentality. Playing rough in our country is critical for survival. Look at Franco at the beginning of the post. In Ukraine if we go heavy that would be just warm-up (:

Heavy As A Dinosaur

I think it was Brooks Kubik’s “Dinosaur Training” that made a boom in the way how people worked out. Brooks and his book attained an army of followers around the world. It was like a beam of hope and motivation for drug-free strength athletes in the kingdom of useless bodybuilding magazines. It was a revolution.

Brooks’ message was clear: “Train heavy and hard! Add weight to the bar anytime possible!” And I definitely agree with him. But there is one nuance.

What Is ‘Heavy’?

I’m very interested and excited about oldtime strongmen training. Those guys made such lifts that can’t be replicated today even with steroids. They definitely knew the deal. It is better for everyone to learn about strength training from that guys than from today’s bodybuilding magazines.

So what we can learn from them? They were ultimately strong overall and especially in bodyweight training. They trained almost every day. They trained heavy (often with low reps). They mixed training implements. How did they manage to train heavy every day and get so strong?

Coaches when prescribe to lift heavy with low reps referring to oldtimers often miss the main point. Oldtime strongmen became so brutally strong because they treated their training as a practice. Perfect practice makes perfect, remember? You can’t learn awesome guitar solo overnight so why do you think you can lift very heavy so soon.John Grimek Cleans and Presses

John Grimek once said that he never strained himself when he was training. He wasn’t using too heavy weights if he didn’t master the lighter ones. He was squatting over 600 lbs in his 70s.

Yes, they lifted heavy. But it was rather heavy for us not for them. They actually meant BIG weights. “Train, don’t strain!” as they said. Too much intensity isn’t good. The more rarely you max out the better it will be in the long run. If you train heavy all the time you will need more rest between workouts otherwise you will burn your CNS. And with time you will need more and more rest. And it isn’t good no matter what your goal is. The recipe of success: “Train as often as possible while staying as fresh as possible”. Take an advice from Pyotr Kryloff. He was called The King of the Kettlebells. He said that when he was training for personal records he was training heavy once a week and the rest of the week he practiced with lighter weights. Arthur Saxon once said that if you want to become good in some lift you need to practice it more often with lighter weights in addition to your training. But it doesn’t mean that if you press 80 kg sandbag then you will press 20 kg as a lighter weight. It’s ridiculous. For example, if your training for 3 rep PRs than you can practice with any weight from 6 to 10 RM for sets of 3 reps. Going too light is like going too heavy. It’s useless.

Rough Strength Tips on Lifting Heavy

Awesome technique to help you in your training is to treat exercise by the weight. Imagine that you’re not just performing an exercise but that you’re performing an exercise a fixed weight. For example, not just a military press but a military press with 200 lbs barbell. You need to earn the right to use heavier barbell by mastering 200 lbs. It’s easier to understand on kettlebell example. Kettlebells are all go in fixed weight and you need to master lighter kettlebell to move to heavier. The same technique you can use with barbell training. Treat a barbell as a fixed weight and earn your right to move to heavier one.

Another awesome technique, that I picked up from Chad Waterbury, is to stop the set when your rep speed slows down assuming that you move the weight as fast as possible (while using perfect technique, of course). Implementing this technique will assume that you always leave a rep or two in the bank. Why? Your recovery abilities will improve right away. And it will be easier to know when you have mastered the weight.

The third and the most important tip I picked up from Mike Mahler. It says that after a workout you MUST feel great and energized otherwise you’re doing something wrong. Remember, train, don’t strain. Learn the gift of auto-regulation. Listen to your body. It won’t lie.

In conclusion I can say that going too heavy too soon is a destructive mistake. It can lead to injury, burn your CNS and many more. Don’t be a moron. You can’t become strong overnight. It will take decades to become strong. Don’t rush things. You have all the time in the world. What’s better than learning on mistakes? Not making mistakes! It’s better to be cautious than to get an injury and to hate yourself for that. Train smart.

Stay tuned for more on rough training.

Play rough!

Alex Zinchenko

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6 thoughts on “What Is ‘Heavy’?

  1. Nathan - Nathan Strength Fitness

    Good points…

    There was a period in time where I was constantly maxing out on the hardest lifts – especially dead lifts.

    Although I noticed my strength increase for a while, eventually my body started to break down. I felt exhausted and sick after my work outs and beyond, and didn’t feel good in general.

    Since I’ve cut down on the maxing out I’ve been feeling much better.


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