October 17, 2005
The fundamentals of heavy lifting
Question: Why are you so fundamentalist in your training philosophy? 'Never do more than five reps', 'never go to failure', etc. There are people who got big and strong without following them, aren’t there?
I will restate my 'iron communist' views:
1. You must lift heavy.
2. You must limit your reps to five.
3. You must avoid muscle failure.
4. You must cycle your loads.
5. You must stay tight. Tension is power.
6. You must treat your strength as a skill and ‘practice’ with iron rather than ‘work out’.
7. You must strive to do fewer things better.
My ‘fundamentalism’ is meant to give you the safest and most foolproof path to your goals – size and strength. Why overcomplicate your life with multiple choices if you can get the job done simply?
At a recent RKC seminar one of my senior instructors Rob Lawrence made an excellent point that all training 'laws' are reversible under the right circumstances. Take 'the law of staying tight' as an example. Extreme full body tension is an absolute must for one-rep strength that impresses; I dare you to find a good powerlifter who does not practice it! Yet gireviks, athletes who compete in kettlebell lifting, stay as loose as they can when pressing. Tension accelerates fatigue, which is unacceptable in the brutal Russian strength-endurance sport.
Yet I never recommend this approach to those who do not plan on competing. My shoulders feel just fine when they are braced with tension, even with the heaviest kettlebells. But whenever I demo a ‘stay loose’ press for the guys and gals who will wear red, white, and blue at the Worlds in a couple of years, I immediately get a twinge where I took a bad fall once. The ‘law of staying tight' has been broken, but at a price – compromised safety.
All training laws and guidelines are reversible in the right context. The caveat: it takes knowledge and experience to reverse them properly and sometimes you must be willing to pay the price. Until you have been in the iron game for a decade and accomplished something, break these 'laws' at your risk.