Don’t Rush to Heavy: Make “Light” Work for You

In my recent article 15 Years and 15 Observations, I offered the advice, “Don’t rush to heavy,” and, “Don’t set minimums.” So, I decided to look back at a time where I know I implemented light work.

One of the benefits of keeping a blog for twelve years is the ability to look back and find these “gems.” Although, you should also note that it can be a bit painful when you realize you made the same mistake again or you just look at your writing style and think, “Wow.”

Observations on “Light” Work

My writing style back then was far more aggressive. For example, this post from November 29, 2007:

The Sweet Science…

A boxing analogy to the dedication to the basics:

There are only 4 punches (Jab, Cross, Hook, Uppercut) but endless combinations of these punches and a lifetime of refinement in the technique of these punches. Add in footwork and the crafting of specific offense and defense to match to an opponent and you have the “Sweet Science”.

Applied to the fitness world:
There are only a few basic movements (Vertical push/pull, Horizontal push/pull, Lower body push/pull) but a lifetime to learn and refine the technique, address weaknesses, and of course endless combinations of these basic movements. Add in different loads, leverages, speeds etc…and you have “training”.

As the saying the RKC (now StrongFirst) goes – “the elite are just better at the basics”

So – why are you looking for “advanced” exercises and training programs?

If you want to explore basic to advanced – explore your movement skill but remember that even the advanced is based off of the basic.”

“So – why are you looking for….” A bit aggressive, in my opinion these days, and I am glad I have softened my tone.

But the point of this particular blog also highlights a mistake I have made more than once—making things more complicated than they need to be. Keeping track not just of sets and reps, but philosophy and observations can be quite educational when looking back.

Observations on “Light” Work

Revisiting Lighter Kettlebells

The following is a blog post from September 2008:

A question on the forum and my recent training has me using “lighter” KBs and loving it.

I used to be of the mind of heavier and heavier work with the KBs – go heavy with a single bell and then progress on to the double bells and keep going heavier – no wonder Powerlifting appealed to me 😉

But along came Kenneth Jay’s VO2 Max protocol and I was reintroduced to the 16kg KB and learned a lot about what “heavy” means. Actively accelerating the Kettlebell with the Lat and the Hike pass and the very quick “turn-around” after the hike is nothing short of magic. My hips are quicker and more powerful than ever and my conditioning is on the way up.

Now I make it a point to have a regular rotation from the 16kg up to the 32kg (sometimes the 40kg).

Now to put this in some perspective – I have completed the Beast Challenge, won the first Tactical Strength Challenge, have belt only competition bests of 518 in the Squat and 573 in the deadlift, and I am on the RED nail roster (2004) with various other grip feats “under my belt” and I find the 16kg KB to be a very useful tool. The 24kg is what I would call the “sweet spot” for me and the 32 and 40 work my strength just fine.

Light is relative of course and these numbers will need to be adjusted for the individual but don’t be afraid to go “light”.

How Does “Light” Carry Over

The following is a blog post from October 2008:

While at the Hungary RKC I pressed the Beast 3 or 4 times (singles) with my right arm without having picked up a beast in quite a while and without training my MP at all. To what do I attribute this increase in pressing strength without having pressed = GET-UPs!! And light ones too – mainly 16 and 24 kg with occasional 32 or 40 kg sessions but just grooving the Get-ups and bringing my “stabilizers” and coordination up with this one move.

I also have to say that the VO2 Max protocol played a role here as well – Even though I am “leaner” (for those of you who know me – you know I have my own version of “lean”) my weight is still around 188. These results with light KBs are shocking but very pleasing!

Representative Training Days from 2008

Sample Training day:

  • Prep work: Brettzel, ASLR
  • Weight Ladder:
    16kg get-up x 4+4 and 16kg x 20 alternating swings
    20kg get-up x 4+4 and 20kg x 20 alternating swings
    24kg get-up x 4+4 and 24kg x 20 alternating swings
    28kg get-up x 4+4 and 28kg x 20 alternating swings
    32kg get-up x 4+4 and 32kg x 20 alternating swings

Sample training day:

  • Prep work: Brettzel, ASLR
  • 40kg get-up x 10 singles R+L
  • 40kg alternating swing, 10 reps x 10 sets
  • Stretch

Sample training day:

  • Prep work: Brettzel, ASLR
  • 16kg get-ups x 5+5, 5+5, 5+5, 5+5
  • 16kg goblet squat x 10
  • Hip flexor stretch
  • Performed a variety of get-up variations: high bridge, overhead squat, 3/4 get-up with a half-kneeling press, etc. Feeling good.

Sample training day:

  • 24kg get-up x 5+5
  • 28kg get-up x 5+5
  • 32kg get-up x 5+5
  • 24kg one-arm swings (20+20-15+15-10+10-5+5)

Sample training day:

  • 24kg kettlebell get-up x 5 + 5
  • 24kg one-arm swings x 20 + 20 – 15 + 15 – 10 + 10 – 5 + 5 (continuous)

Sample training day:

  • Prep work: Lots of Brettzel, ASLR, and mobility work
  • 24kg get-ups x 6 singles each side, more Brettzel, then 4+4 continuous
  • 24kg alternating swings x 30, 30 (concentrating on overspeed eccentric)
  • Hip flexor stretching, etc.

Sample training day:

  • Prep work: ASLR, T-spine rotation
  • 40kg get-up x 5 singles each side
  • 40kg alternating swings x 5 sets of 10 reps

Sample training day:

  • Prep work: thoracic rotation, ASLR
  • 40kg get-up x 5 singles each arm
  • 40kg goblet squat x 5, 5
  • 40kg single-leg deadlift x 5+5, 5+5
  • 40kg military press x 5 singles each arm

Sample training day:

  • Prep work: ASLR, T-spine
  • 50 sets of 8 reps per 15 seconds VO2 max
  • Alternating between 20kg and 16kg
  • 26 sets of 8 reps per 15 seconds with 20kg
  • 24 sets of 8 reps per 15 seconds with 16kg
  • Stretch
  • 20kg right and left, then the 16kg right and left, and keep going for 50 sets—feels good to alternate the weights, etc.

Sample training day:

  • Prep work: ASLR, Brettzel
  • 24kg get-ups x 20 minutes
  • Various styles alternating left and right
  • ASLR stretch

Sample training day:

  • Prep work: ASLR, Brettzel
  • 20kg KB x 80 sets of 7 reps per 15 seconds
  • Quick stretch
  • This felt pretty good—sets of 7 at the 20kg felt easier than 8 reps at 16kg

Sample training day:

  • 16kg get-ups x 5 singles each arm (various styles)
  • 16kg VO2 max 8 reps per 15 seconds x 80 sets
  • Stretch
  • A BIG PR—80 sets of 8 reps per 15 seconds for the VO2 max, hit a “kick over” point around 65-70 sets where it all got pretty “easy”

Observations on Light Work

Hindsight: They Say It’s 20/20

Looking at these blog posts and the sample training days, a few things jump out at me:

  1. “Higher” rep sets of get-ups: My focus of late has been lower volume sets and total volume work for get-ups (accumulating 2-5 sets of 1 rep on each side), but after looking at my old training, I am going back to including some higher-rep sets, meaning continuous sets of 3-5 reps on each side and a total volume of 10-20 get-ups. For example, today I hit 24kg x 4+4 and 32 kg x 3+3 before snatch work with the 24kg.
  2. Light snatches and heavier swings: It seems light snatches and heavier swings might be a good combo hitting both ends of speed and power.
  3. Keep it simple: Some mobility work, get-ups, and a ballistic formed the core of these old routines.
  4. Volume: The lesson I see is, “If lighter, go higher and if heavier, go lower.” And it’s good to work a bit more volume on get-ups.

The Conclusion on Light Work

The Conclusion on Light Work

There is a saying I heard from the cross-country skiing community (from my original training with Pavel back in February 2002): “Only the mediocre are at their best all the time.”

So, my advice of “Don’t set minimums” is a perfect way to apply not being “mediocre.” And “don’t rush to heavy” means you should keep in mind the benefit of cycling your weights, volume, and intensity.

Keep it simple and enjoy the basics!

Brett Jones
Brett Jones is StrongFirst’s Director of Education. He is also a Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist based in Pittsburgh, PA. Mr. Jones holds a Bachelor of Science in Sports Medicine from High Point University, a Master of Science in Rehabilitative Sciences from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, and is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

With over twenty years of experience, Brett has been sought out to consult with professional teams and athletes, as well as present throughout the United States and internationally.

As an athletic trainer who has transitioned into the fitness industry, Brett has taught kettlebell techniques and principles since 2003. He has taught for Functional Movement Systems (FMS) since 2006, and has created multiple DVDs and manuals with world-renowned physical therapist Gray Cook, including the widely-praised “Secrets of…” series.

Brett continues to evolve his approach to training and teaching, and is passionate about improving the quality of education for the fitness industry. He is available for consultations and distance coaching—e-mail him for more info.

Brett is the author of Iron Cardio.

Follow him on Twitter at @BrettEJones.
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13 thoughts on “Don’t Rush to Heavy: Make “Light” Work for You

  • I recently started using the 16kg again and I am very glad I did! Thank you for this excellent piece of advice here!

  • Brett,
    You’re like Jason Bourne with kettlebells. Always efficient. I’ve been around since 2003 and I remember one of the gems I learned was when you were hurt and shifted focus to grip work. I didn’t understand at first but then you bent the Red nail. I immediately got it!! Very solid perspective here! Thanks for sharing.

  • Very educational article as always, Brett, with good reminders and information. Thank you for continuing to share helpful and applicable content.

  • Thanks Brett.
    I read every article here since StrongFirst exists and its really amazing to make progress following the advices and protocols of this brilliant coach team!
    Since January 2017 I train only S&S protocol. The actual goal is to hit the testing standards with a 28 kg KB, although I’m able to swing a 32 and 36 kg for 100 reps in 10×10 or 5×20 mode, but double handed and my TGU PR was until yesterday the 36 kg KB with one rep a side. But in S&S we are talking about testing standards one day, so I’m practicing to own the 28 kg KB really. On my easier days I practice with the 24 kg KB. On the heavier days I go up to 32-36kg (every 3d to 4th week).
    4 weeks ago I bought a 40 kg KB. Just for the future.
    Yesterday I decided to try a TGU with it. At the end of my practice. I did it. Safe and with proper technique. It was not easy, but I was absolutely sure to dominate the KB at every moment. Without ever to practice with it, except the dh swings and dh DL. One more WTH experience in my KB practice. A new PR (my weight – 79 kg, 44 years old) without working especially for it at all.
    No soreness today nowhere.

  • Hey there you 18 to 45 year olds. I’m out here winging it at 72. I have a routine that I have put together from 3 different RKC sites. I do warm ups. Followed by a circuit of focused, full body and complex lifts, swings, etc.
    But I have found nothing that is close to fitting my needs.
    But I have been doing my routine for about a year now. My BMI is no longer out of whack, I have lost 60 lbs. but very little increase in muscle mass although I now have some visible definition.
    Any thoughts that go beyond what I need to know from this point.
    My heaviest bell is 25 lbs. and I even use a set of 2 pounders (rortator cuff repair) that fit a specific need.
    I also walk 3.5 to 4.5 miles on my days off of my KB routines.
    Any advice on what I seem to be doing right or wrong would be appreciated.
    Thank you

  • “Light snatches and heavier swings: It seems light snatches and heavier swings might be a good combo hitting both ends of speed and power.”

    This is solid advice.

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