3 Simple Demonstrations Why Light Weights Produce MORE Resistance

May 14, 2018 by VAHVA Fitness

Light weights can actually produce more resistance to your muscles than heavy weights, here's how. Heavy lifting works but it's mostly good for the ego.

here are people who swear by lifting heavy (i.e. powerlifters and strongmen) and also many who do not lift heavy but still produce results (bodybuilders and athletes among many). 

First, you would need to define what is your actual goal in training. Is it to get stronger or to achieve high numbers in different lifts? How much you can lift is not necessarily synonymous with strength.

The goal of an athlete, dancer or a martial artist is not to impress others with how much they can lift or how many pull ups they can do. Their primary goal is to get stronger so that they can better excel in their chosen craft. 

Proper training will make you capable of doing great feats of strength, but the feats of strength are not the focus - getting stronger is the primary focus. 

Lifting heavy is a sport itself. Strength is involved but lifting heavy is a lot about skill where you learn the best body mechanics to produce a certain result. It can be impressive nevertheless, but it's not pure strength training. 

Powerlifters are strong but they are strong in their very narrowly chosen field. Nothing against powerlifters - they are just a great example. 

When you take the powerlifter away from the narrow field and make the person do something else where there are more variables and dimensions involved, they will often fail. 

On the other hand, a well-rounded athlete or a martial artist is adaptable to any environment and has the ability to perform at a relatively high level by default. 

This is because ALL sports, arts and physical activities consist of the same human movement and this human movement consists of the same core elements. In some fields they just focus narrowly in one or two core elements of human movement. 

The most well-rounded athletes and artists have developed all of these core elements of human movement to a high level.

This is why they have the ability to prosper in any physical activity without specifically training for that activity. Once they actually practice for the activity (learn the skill involved), they get extraordinary at it very quickly.

This is why we don't lift heavy anymore and why there is no heavy lifting in Athlete 20XX. Our aim is not to develop the skill of lifting heavy but to develop the core elements of human movement.

Mastering the core elements is one area where Athlete 20XX shines above the rest: we have broken down athleticism to its core elements in Athlete 20XX.  

While typical gym workouts develop only strength and size at a good level, Athlete 20XX does that but also covers stability, balance, mobility, speed and power.

There is only one catch when it comes to using light weights: it's more advanced and requires more focus in the form. There needs to be more awareness and mindfulness.

Using heavy weights works (especially in the beginning when almost anything works), but that style of training is not a precise way of strengthening the body which is why heavy lifters always hit a plateau after plateau. 

To break through plateaus, these people (we used to be like this!) try to increase the weight, repetitions and frequency without realizing maybe the form is the problem. Sometimes this works but in most cases trying to force it just hurts the body.

We no longer believe in plateaus. When your exercise form and training is done correctly, you should be making progress in every workout session. 

We haven't had a plateau in years and not planning to have one because our training methodology is a precise way of strengthening the body. It's science: you do X and you should get the result Y.

In the past, we would lift heavy and hope for the best. Now we do the exercise right and obtain the benefits without wishing for the results.

But as said before, using light weights and doing high level training takes more than lifting heavy. Heavy lifting is the lowest form of training because it doesn't require any understanding of your body or awareness of what you are doing. 

One of the reasons why using lighter weights is also difficult is because people are obsessed with appearing strong to themselves and others. This is all ego - you sacrifice the effectiveness of the workouts for the sake of showing off to others.

Social media is also confusing a lot of people. In social media you get views by showing off - this creates an illusion that the strong guy always lifts heavy and does crazy stunts to make progress.

In reality, the most advanced powerlifters, bodybuilders and artists don't lift heavy to make progress.

Even the best powerlifters only max out during the competition day. Real progress is made with technique and lighter weights - the stunts are an exception, not the rule. 

Another reason is simply the lack of knowledge. In the beginning we had no idea what to do and it took years to figure this out because it's not obvious that LESS (weight) could produce MORE (results). 

Form is everything and quality will always trump quantity. Doing more of garbage doesn't suddenly turn the garbage into gold - the training and the effects remain garbage.

What is the most important thing in training? It's not the quantity but how you do the exercise (form) which means only gold training will produce gold results.

Below you can find 3 demonstrations why light weights actually produce MORE resistance than heavy weights. 

1. Body Stabilization

body stabilization bicep curl lightweight heavyweight

When you perform an exercise such as the bicep curl - which muscles do you want to target? - Obviously the biceps.

Yet, most people when they do bicep curls don't emphasize the biceps as well as they could and instead use every other muscle of the body to do the heavy lifting.

Their biceps may work maybe only at 50% of full capacity. The rest of the force is created by the hips, shoulder joint and manipulating body mechanics. Even wrists can decrease bicep activity if the wrist joint is not properly stabilized.

One of the reasons why the wrong muscles are generating force is because the weight is too much for the biceps alone to handle. To cope with the weight, the person has to use other muscles to lift the weight up.

The solution is simple: learn how to stabilize the hips, core, shoulder joint and wrists so you will 100% emphasize the bicep muscles when you perform the curl.

The other muscles are still getting trained (stabilization is serious strength work), but they are not interfering with the force production.

This same principle applies to every single other exercise out there. 

For example, when you do overhead press or handstand push ups, your focus should be on the shoulders, triceps and upper back - NOT on learning how to flex and extend the spine by leaning backwards.

To reach the highest level in fitness, your form needs to be developed to the highest level. In the beginning, stabilization is a serious skill to master. 

This is why in Athlete 20XX (PHASE 1) body stabilization is first created with external support: walls, benches and the floor. Once that is mastered, you start to practice self-generated stabilization without any support in PHASE 2.

2. Leverage

leverage lightweights work better

In bodyweight training not many understand the concept of stabilization, but what most people do understand is the concept of leverage. 

Leverage is obvious when you are dealing with exercises where your body is the lever and you are controlling the lever with your arms. However, the same concept can be applied to free weights and leg training as well.

When you use leverage, you don't need to use heavy weights to produce force because the light weight combined with leverage will produce the same amount of force or more.

For example, one of the oblique exercises of Athlete 20XX is the side bend. It's a common exercise but almost everyone uses weights too heavy without utilizing the leverage or stabilization of the shoulder.

When they bend to the side, the weight leans to the hips and most of the resistance is lost. As a result, there is not much resistance applied to the targeted area (opposite side's obliques).

When you pick a lighter weight, raise it above the hip and keep it there by stabilizing the shoulder and then do the side bend, you will not only keep constant tension in the obliques but you will also generate more resistance. See the video for the exact demonstration.

This may sound more complicated than it is. This is very simple in practice and will make your obliques burn better than ever before. 

In Athlete 20XX we have in depth tutorial videos for each exercise and common mistakes to avoid to make sure you get the form right and reap the benefits of the exercise. 

3. Control and Constant Tension

momentum control tension why lightweights are better than heavy

In order to develop the muscles of the targeted area to their full potential, you have to train the muscles in their entire muscle lengths. This is achieved by control and keeping constant tension in the muscles.

It's typical to explosively lift the weight up with most exercises. With pressing exercises it's common to snap the arms at the end.

Explosive training is good for power production but it's not as effective as it could be and not safe to do unless the necessary attributes of mobility and stability have been developed first. 

The many problems of using momentum and having no control:

  • Mostly the prime movers are developed (the muscles that generate the initial force).
  • Stabilizer muscles are neglected (very bad for both performance and longevity).
  • The muscles are not developed in their full muscle length.
  • Can negatively affect the joints if the right muscles are not working.

To combat this problem, you have to learn how to control the weight that you are using. This applies to bodyweight training as well (control your body).

The weight cannot just travel with the momentum - you should be in control and be able to keep constant tension in the targeted muscles.

It's not necessarily about speed, but slower tempo will make this easier to manage. 

This is why it's good to learn how to separate explosive training (power and speed) and regular training (strength, mobility and stability). Most people lift somewhere in the middle and as a result get mediocre results. 

A muscle that is developed properly is not only more capable but it also has the athletic 3D dense structure.

I hope this helped to understand why training is more than just lifting heavy and trying to reach the highest amount of weight. This is by no means obvious and took a long time for us to understand as well. 

If you want to see more about Athlete 20XX, there is a quick tour at the end of this video (at 12:05).

With Athlete 20XX we made sure the videos are demonstrative and easy to understand. There is also a muscle diagram below every exercise to understand which muscles you are supposed to target.

To get the best results it's not enough to mindlessly just go through the workouts - you should have at least a basic understanding of how the exercise works and which part it is supposed to target.

Once you see the quick tour, you will see Athlete20XX.com is far from a typical workout program. It's a whole new method of training designed to take an ordinary person #fromzerotohero.

Train hard, stay safe.

samuli jyrkinen

About the author 

Samuli Jyrkinen

Samuli is the ninja behind the scenes (photography, videography, websites, program platforms and more). He has been training religiously for over a decade and has a firm grasp of physical and mental fitness. You will find our story here.

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  • This is confusing. What is your definition of “lifting heavy” especially as it pertains to bodyweight exercises? Clearly you need to challenge your nervous system in order for it to gain strength and, yes, there are a bunch of meatheads out there jerking the weights around like a bunch of morons. Other articles you provide show bodyweight progressions (e.g., inverted rows). I would argue that I am “lifting heavy” when I perform 4 sets of 6 reps with an RPE of 8-10. Science has shown that you won’t be building any strength or muscle unless you are going to near-max-effort for 15+ total reps. You can certainly do that with light weights — you just need to do way more reps until you get to that RPE — and there is a trade-off there since you get into repetitive-type injuries with high rep workouts that go to near-failure. It seems like you wanted to write an article about doing exercises through through the full motion and with proper stability but confused it with this arbitrary “light” versus “heavy” argument. I recommend that people pick up a copy of Overcoming Gravity by Steven Low rather than trying to read through an under-edited blog post like this.

    • Someone doesn’t get it. Instead of learning STRENGTH TRAINING from some random gymnastics trainer, study from the best strength and conditioning coaches. Many people like Steve Maxwell and other top S&C coaches who train elite athletes share this view but not all. Instead people think they know “better” and make fun of their light weights, stability balls and whatnot.

      I can see where you are coming from. We used to believe exactly the same nonsense, which is why our OLDEST videos/articles can be contradicting to our new videos and articles. We keep evolving (like all coaches should) and our newest articles are always the most accurate reflection of our methods.

      I recommend checking out our interview with Steve Maxwell: https://vahvafitness.com/steve-maxwell-fear-of-death/

      And Skill vs. Strength Training (this will make a lot more sense): https://vahvafitness.com/skill-vs-strength-training/

      Best wishes,

      VAHVA Fitness

  • “On the other hand, a well-rounded athlete or a martial artist is adaptable to any environment and has the ability to perform at a relatively high level by default. ”
    Vahva Fitness

    Are we going to just ignore the S.A.I.D Principle???

    I’ve read quite a few of your articles, the comments & your rebuttals. Interesting that you many times reference “ego xxx” & then delve into how your method & knowledge is superior.
    Rhetorical rant over.

    Lifting heavy, lifting for long duration, running for long distances, etc. by definition are applicable environments & they require very different types of training & physical adaptation. I do have a tendency to agree with you on the benefits of light training but find your argument is flawed in at least one respect; training sinews (ligaments, tendons) absolutely requires heavy loading. Old-time strongmen understood the need for strong sinews & recognized its importance as equal (or superior) to a strong muscular system. Sadly, their art is largely forgotten in the ego-driven culture of today.
    I applaud your vision & I see your attempt to challenge people to move in new directions but please keep in mind, you, as we all, have a lot to learn. It begins by being humble & recognizing your method is still somewhat narrow. I shall leave alone (which by definition means I am not) other posts where you bash calisthenics suggesting it only improves skill, not ability or athletic (which always involves movement) function. I would respond all land animals in nature engage (solely?) in body weight training to great effect & this absolutely prepares them to adapt to their environment.

    Have a good day & keep learning!

    • Using light weights doesn’t mean light resistance, the common misunderstanding is to think intensity is the same as heaviness of the weight. Using light weights properly is simply targeted and precise resistance and the intensity can be higher than with heavier weights as demonstrated in this video.

      You will actually strengthen the tendons and ligaments more thoroughly with light weights + proper form than with heavy weights alone. What the heavy weights will do however is cause real wear and tear on your joints because people rarely have sufficient levels of controls over the weight. Athletes, fighters, martial artists etc. are already causing tremendous wear and tear on their body in their sport/art, the last thing they should do is to add unnecessary wear and tear that will further increase the chance of injury which is the very thing proper strength training should prevent.

      Moreover, many old school strongmen and bodybuilders such as Max Sick actually invented the use of light weights and mind-muscle connection for better results. If you look at our older articles/videos, we have done numerous pieces on these old school strongmen/bodybuilders. But let’s not forget that these strongmen were all about their sport and focused on lifting as heavy as possible – they were not concerned of improving performance outside the heavy lifts such as other sports like football or wrestling. That’s why it’s actually a mistake to look into strength sports like this for proper strength training except for some specific principles and exercises. We are all about transferable, universal, rehabilitative strength training.

      About the calisthenics, it seems that you only read the title and skimmed only the last paragraphs of the article. If you read the very first paragraphs of the article you will notice that the whole piece talks about “modern calisthenics”, i.e. street workout, urban gymnastics, etc, not “calisthenics” or bodyweight in general. We love bodyweight training and use it dominantly.

      Next time, if you need clarification you can just ask nicely instead of writing a wall of passive-aggressive nonsense.

      Best wishes,

      VAHVA Fitness

  • Hi Samuli,

    I’ve read your article and watched the video of Eero on youtube. It is great that you are bringing to attention such things as good technique, conscious tension of the muscle, mind-muscle connection, achieving higher resistance by increasing the leverage etc.
    One thing I am unable to find in your article and that is what you define as “heavy weight”. Where does it start? 60% of RM? 80%?

    I do completely agree that the training mentioned above has its place in creating a better functioning, athletic body, but in my 20 years of experience with differrent training systems (ranging from martial arts specific, bodyweight, bodybuilding, oldtime strongman and powerlifting) I can assure you that just light weight will be not enough to make you competitive in any sport where strength is required.

    For sure the training you are promoting here will be beneficial for most of the people which most of the time are sitting in the office. This training is also great for an off-load week, which I am doing also by myself.

    Here a study that confronts heavy vs light training:

    Another question to you guys:
    can you please supply us with the scintific background of the claims above, that as far as I understand states:
    “lifting light weights with great control, perfect form and proper muscle tension will give you more results than any other kind of heavy weight lifting” (even lifting heavy with proper form, control and muscle tension?)

    Please don’t feel offended, I am also not passive agressive. I have just a lot of years of training behind me, training other people, lots of studying and scientific background behind my questions.

    It would be nice to see some science behind this article.

    Best regards,


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