lift light weights and put up big numbers

Lift Light Weights And Put Up Big Numbers 

I once read a book from Pavel about how a guy only lifted nothing heavier than a 24kg kettlebell but could still deadlift 600lbs.  I wondered how is this possible?  Everything I had ever been taught about to get stronger was to lift heavier.  When it comes to building strength most people think that doing heavy reps on the big 3 squat, deadlift, and bench is the way to go.  This is a proven method to build some serious raw strength.  


Still, I wondered how was that guy able to lift so much with only training with light weights?  It made me ask myself another question and that was, “what if you could increase your absolute strength by lifting lighter weights?”  With some help from my friend and a little research, this is what I set out to find if it was possible.


Meet Denis Vasilev he has been doing high volume training with light weights for 13 years.  He has not lifted anything heavier than 220lbs in that time.  We decided to test and see what his 3 rep max would be on the big 3 squat, deadlift, and bench without any preparation.  We wanted to see what his absolute strength was from his current training of high volume with light weights.


Just a heads up Denis is not your average human being.  This Russian girevik has earned 11 Kettlebell Sport World Championships.  He has lifted two 32kg kettlebells for 101 reps consecutively in long cycle.  He can do 100 push-ups in a row with no problem.  He also has done 100 dips in a row and 100 squats in a row with 220lb.  As you can see high volume is nothing more than childish games for him. 

Here are a couple of videos of Denis in action.

Long Cycle 60 reps with 32kg kettlebells in 5 min

Snatch 270 reps with 24kg kettlebell in 10 min

The last time he tested his 1 rep max in the bench, squat, and deadlift was back in 2007 his results at the time were 330lb for the bench, 440lb for squat, and 450lb for the deadlift.  His weight at that time was 200lb.  This was after two years of consistent heavy training with the big 3.


Here are his results from his recent testing in 2020 using a 3 rep max.  In bench he did 225lb, in squat he did 345lb, in deadlift he did 355lb.  This is the result after doing no heavy training in any of these lifts for 13 years.  Plus he weighs 15lbs lighter now with a current weight of 185lb.  


For not training heavily in any of these lifts for 13 years I would say his results are pretty impressive.  If we convert his 3 rep max on his lifts to a 1 rep max using a standard strength percentage chart this is what we get his bench would be 245lb, his squat would be 375lb, and his deadlift would be 385lb.  For being 15 lbs lighter he is still pretty close to his original numbers back in 2007.  


We can break the numbers down even more by looking at the coefficient of each lift.  The coefficient tells us pound for pound who is stronger.  The way you get the coefficient is to divide total volume lifted by the person’s actual weight.  To figure the coefficient here we are going to use the 1 rep max numbers.


First, let’s start with the bench press in 2007 he did 330lb his coefficient for that lift is 1.65 and in 2020 his projected 1 rep max is 245lb his coefficient for that lift is 1.33.  Making a difference of 0.32 in his bench.  For squat in 2007, he did 440lb his coefficient for that lift is 2.2 and in 2020 his projected 1 rep max is 375lb his coefficient for that lift is 2.03.  Making a difference of 0.17 in his squat.  For deadlift in 2007, he did 450lb his coefficient for that lift is 2.25 and in 2020 his projected 1 rep max is 385lb his coefficient for that lift is 2.08.  Making a difference of 0.17 in his deadlift.  


As you can see he was overall stronger in 2007 but not by much as the coefficients show you how close he is in lifts.  Also in 2007 he was stiffer and would occasionally get muscle spasms.  In 2020 he is more flexible, explosive, and faster.  In his case, the benefits far outweigh being as strong as he was in 2007.  I am sure if he started to incorporate heavy lifting into his programming he could surpass his old numbers in no time. 


Now, this is only one athlete what about other examples of athletes doing big numbers with high volume training?  This is where my research led me to a powerlifter named Steve Wilson who deadlifted 865lb back in the 1980s.  He would deadlift only 225-275lbs for 2 to 3 sets of 20 reps and he would do that 2 to 3 times a week.  He would only pull heavy once a month.  He was only training with 26-32% of his max weight and could still put up big numbers come competition day.  Now I know what you’re going to say and that is, “if I just train with 225lb in the deadlift then I will be able to deadlift 800lbs?  I train with heavier weights than that all the time and I am nowhere near deadlifting 800lbs.”


Well, it comes down to consistency and volume.  Steve Wilson was deadlifting 3 times a week doing 60 reps per training session.  A typical powerlifter only deadlifts once a week and maybe does only 10 reps.  Steve was doing more volume than most of his competitors which led him to produce big numbers. 


Look at this example let’s say your max deadlift is 800lb and you train with 225lb which is 28% of your max.  A normal routine of let’s say 85% of your max which is 680lb would be your training for 10 reps one day a week.  Your total volume of training with 680lb for that week would be 6,800lbs.  Now let’s see what your volume would be like training with 225lb for 60 reps 3 days per week.  Your total volume of training with 225lb for that week would be 40,500lbs.  Just a slight difference.  Now multiple those weekly volumes for 4 weeks and you can see how quickly the high volume reps add ups.  


You see doing high volume with light weights on a consistent basis helped prepared Steve for when it was time to go heavy.  He was basically greasing the groove and if any of you have read anything from Pavel about greasing the groove you know how well it works.  Doing a movement over and over again in a fresh state is how you get better at the movement.  Heavy lifting all the time does take a toll on your body especially if you are lifting at around 80% or more.  By only lifting heavy once a month Steve was not constantly wearing himself into the ground. 


Back to Denis, while training high volume with lighter weights he has never had any injuries. Denis does a very good of taking care of his body with a proper warm-up and cool down.  He is very good at mastering the technique of any lift he focuses on and very smart with his programming.  He only trains 3 days per week allowing his body the proper recovery it needs. He will do anywhere from 100 to 200 reps in a training session of a single movement.  For reps, he never does anything less than 20 per set.


Denis and Steve are just two examples of how you can lift light weights with high volume and can still be able to put up some big numbers.  Am I saying this is the best and only way to get stronger?  No, of course not.  This just shows that there is more than one way to increase your max strength.  I think Denis says it best about the difference between training with heavy weights and light weights and I will go ahead end this article on his words.  


 “I believe that the heavy barbell training is good, but developing a quite narrow sector of abilities (dynamic, static max strength, accuracy, balance), where High volume developing a very wide sector of abilities (strength, endurance, strength-endurance, accuracy, balance, requires mobility and flexibility). High volume kettlebells trainings are minimizing the risks of injuries due to the medium loads and multi-abilities targets (lifting fairly light weights for time with a specific technique).”


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