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Heavy Vs. Light


Feb 13, 2008
hi drmarkp here. i have submitted chapter 5 of my book, the negative feedback system. thanks for reading.

Chapter 5
Heavy vs. Light; a misnomer

Many authorities fundamentally maintain that “heavy training” such as that provided primarily by compound movements with free weights, is essentially the most effective means of acquiring muscle mass. As discussed earlier, training heavy for the sake of establishing how many repetitions one can move a designated poundage from point A to point B-does not necessarily affect that goal.

Unless the term “heavy” is properly defined as it applies to its proper applications most conducive for obtaining results, it can be like explaining the color blue to a blind man. It would make things a lot less complicated if “heavy” weights were the only requirement to potentiate muscle growth, but the term "heavy" is often misconstrued.

Power is a deflection of energy, whereby strength is a channeling of it. The goal then should be to focus that energy towards increasing the strength of the individual muscles themselves and not that of their auxiliary components.

Usually at some point in time, all trainees fall into the trap of getting “weight crazy”. As the weights keep going up, their form gets sloppier and progress eventually comes to a complete halt. This usually happens when trainees rely mainly on heavy basic compound barbell exercises as the core of their programs.

This does not mean to imply that barbell exercises are not effective. Heavy compound movements are extremely effective, and are in fact critical for taking your gains over the top in terms of gaining lean muscle mass. But unless properly integrated into ones training protocol, they’re applications can be potentially counterproductive.

A compound exercise is normally defined as a two joint movement whereby a secondary muscle group assists the prime mover in doing its work; hence the term “compound”. An example would be the bench press, whereby the triceps secondarily come into play to assist the pectorals in doing their work; the joints involved in this exercise being the shoulder and elbow. The full squat is another example of a compound exercise whereby the hips, buttocks and low back assist in facilitating the quadriceps; the joints involved in this case being the knee and hip.

Conventional training logic has always promoted the value of heavy compound barbell exercises for the purpose of promoting overall growth. Generally speaking, this assessment is true. But the problem that arises from the emphasis on this kind of training is the potential for an excessive “overload” imposed to the target muscles themselves. When target muscles are exposed to overtly heavy poundage’s, ancillary muscles and auxiliary tissues are recruited into play hence detracting from the direct effects to that muscle. This typically becomes the case when using straight sets with overtly heavy free weight exercises.

This imposed overload causes the target muscle groups to literally “shut down” because they are simply unable to respond to poundage’s that render them momentarily unable to maximally contract. The target muscle itself is now relegated to a secondary role in assuming the workload as the tasks they are now unable to perform on their own are transferred over to auxiliary structures. This is magnified due to the interplay of those same structures from multiple joint areas.

Training with poundage’s that are so heavy that they are incapable of being accommodated properly by the target muscles, causes them to rely on the assistance of otherwise unproductive variables such as auxiliary muscles, connective tissue, and momentum. These are poor substitutes for assuming large portions of the workload from the target muscles themselves. In addition, the tremendous forces imposed on the joint complexes set the stage for the susceptibility to injuries.

Consequently, a lower percentage of muscle fibers are affected by training in this fashion, and the target muscles themselves never reach a point of full “saturation”. This is especially true with smaller muscles such as the biceps and deltoids when they are forced to perform under the momentum of overwhelmingly larger and stronger muscles and auxiliary structures.
To avoid this overloading of the target muscles, they must first be properly prepared or “pre-conditioned” in order to achieve stimulation of the greatest possible percentage of muscle fibers. The following discussion illustrates my point.

Although standing barbell curls are a single joint movement, I consider them to be a “compound like” movement because auxiliary muscle groups such as the pectorals, deltoids and even the momentum of the legs and low back are potentially and invariably brought into play in facilitating the biceps to perform their work during this exercise. This is an example of a situation where the compound exercise performed as a primary exercise could potentially overload the biceps causing them to be less responsive to stimulation.

Let us consider a trainee who is capable of performing standing barbell curls with 120 lbs. in good form for ten repetitions. This same individual might also be capable of performing ten repetitions with lets say only 90 lbs., for Machine curls, a more isolated exercise. Machine curls are performed with the arms, shoulders and torso stabilized to prevent “cheating”. These structures are now rendered relatively immobile to minimize the assistance of auxiliary structures to facilitate movement, as is the tendency with standing curls. The more constant rotary resistance provided by machines, increases the tension to the biceps in this exercise, adding difficulty and placing even more emphasis on them.

In any case, would the subject have trained any “heavier” by performing a set of standing barbell curls with 120 lbs. rather than a set of machine curls with 90 lbs. respectively? The answer is no. Although the subject is capable of using 120 lbs, in the standing curl vs. only 90 lbs. for machine curls for the same number of repetitions, the amount of effort required to perform either set is the same based on the trainee’s momentary ability to do so.
But if the subject were to instead perform a set of barbell curls as a secondary exercise after machine curls, they would experience a considerable reduction in the amount of weight they could otherwise handle had they performed them first. In this case, the term “heavy” now becomes even more subjective.

I am convinced however, that the “lighter” of the two movements, machine curls, are actually superior on their own merit inasmuch as providing the greatest direct stimulation to the biceps proper. Now we have a situation whereby the technically “lighter” movement, is in fact arguably the more effective one. In effect, the word “heavy” from the context of possessing greater value, now becomes a misnomer relative to the amount of weight that the same subject is otherwise capable of handling for the heavier movement; standing barbell curls, for a set of ten repetitions.

When a trainee properly performs a set of machine curls for a set of ten with 90 lbs., the resistance is certainly “heavy” enough to provide more than adequate stimulation to the biceps, and in fact probably does so more effectively than a set of standing barbell curls. When a more “isolated” exercise (E.g.: machine curls) is performed first, it better prepares the target muscle to accommodate for the heavier more “compound” exercise (E.g.: barbell curls) thus enhancing its value considerably.

When an “isolation” movement is performed first as the initial exercise in a multi-exercise grouping fashion (giant set), it tends to diminish the secondary “overload factor” considerations, as is the tendency when the heavier compound exercise is performed first. In the pre-ceding example, the biceps have been “pre-conditioned” by direct stimulation from the preceding set of machine curls. This happens because machine curls, being more isolated in nature; offset the tendency of auxiliary muscle groups, connective tissues and leverage factors from interfering with and detracting from the direct action of the biceps muscles.

By the time the secondary compound exercise is performed in the above sequence, assistance by auxiliary structures and momentum now become a benefit rather than a liability. These structures will now more effectively drive the biceps to even greater levels of intensity than would otherwise be possible, had the more compound exercise (in this case barbell curls) been performed first. Not only will greater overall benefits now be derived from standing barbell curls, this protocol will further synergistically enhance the value of any subsequent exercises that may performed for the remainder of the sequence.

Like the biceps, the deltoids are also a relatively small muscle group. They too will “rebel” if forced to generate the power necessary to overcome the imposition of workloads greater than what they are otherwise incapable of accommodating by themselves. If the stronger surrounding structures inadvertently force the deltoids to perform beyond their momentary capability, they will override the target muscle fiber’s firing ability as to generate the contractions necessary to provide maximum growth stimulation. A condition is then produced that renders the surrounding structures overworked while leaving the target muscles under trained.

A sample deltoid workout using the new system would be as follows; after a thorough warm-up, begin with cable side laterals performed strictly, for up to twenty five repetitions for the first working set. This exercise will serve to thoroughly warm-up and “pre-condition” the entire shoulder joint complex for what’s to come next. The next exercise is a set of Smith machine presses behind the neck. Finish with a set of negative only side laterals or if you don’t have a partner, cheat the presses up and resist them negatively on the way down. Perform three cycles interspersed with clusters for biceps and triceps. Next, finish up with two sets each of seated dumbbell press and one arm cable laterals. See complete workout breakdown in chapter 14.

The new system emphasizes a controlled protocol for implementing compound exercises, and by “saving the best for last” sequentially incorporates them in a fashion that makes them far more effective. Compound barbell and dumbbell movements such as squats and all varieties of presses, are most effective when performed as the secondary or tertiary exercises during the course of a multi exercise sequence (giant set). When target muscle groups and their associated auxiliary structures are first pre-conditioned in preparation to accommodate high intensity training with heavy compound movements, a vacuum of preparation or “climate” occurs that creates an environment highly conducive to their applications and potential for maximum growth stimulation. By beginning with properly performed isolation exercises or even with compound exercises done in a more isolated fashion; this prevents auxiliary structures from “volunteering” to assist the prime mover in doing its work.

This “pre-conditioning” concept bears some resemblance to the traditional pre-exhaust system. The Jones version of this system advocated the performance of a compound movement preceded only by an isolation movement. The objective was to exhaust the target muscle till failure with the isolation movement, thus creating a “weak link” before moving on to a compound exercise while the secondary muscles were still fresh and strong. These muscles could now push the target muscle to even higher levels of intensity thus recruiting a greater number of muscle fibers. The pre-exhaust method offered an alternative to-or at least added a twist to conventional training methods.

I would like to use an analogy to show how I see the problem with the traditional pre-exhaust method using an adage once used by a music critic. In praise of a song, he laments in disdain that his only complaint about the piece was that it “ended too soon”. Likewise, I believe that the failure with the traditional pre-exhaust system is that it stops short of giving us enough of a good thing. So why stop there? Giant sets consisting of two or more exercises take intensity to even greater levels.

But more importantly, if there was ever a “weak” link created by Jones Pre-exhaust system, then the “rush factor” was it. Jones advocated that each exercise be done in succession with a “rush factor” meaning that there should be literally no rest interval in between exercises. The buildup of lactic acid is still way too high immediately after completing a set to immediately go on to another. This sabotages the trainee’s ability to perform to a point where proper muscle stimulation can even be achieved.

This aerobic application to weight training literally circumvents the potential for achieving adequate muscle stimulation. For best results there should be around a thirty-second rest period in-between sets; more for legs. The only exception would be a “drop set” when only about a ten second pause is in order. I suppose that the “rush factor” does have its place however; if you’re a swimmer or a track athlete!

I don’t know which system caused me to waste more time and produce the least results in my own training, “Heavy duty” or Jones’s Pre-exhaust system. Further, I do not believe that a cycle of exercises should always necessarily begin with a pure isolation movement. Whether they are done sooner or later, it is not the order in which exercises are performed that matters so much as that they are performed properly and with the greatest possible degree intensity. While isolation exercises are certainly a great way to target a muscle, I do not believe that there value lies so much by always doing them preceding a compound exercise. At the end of the day so to speak, everything comes out in the wash. The value of an individual exercise is incidental compared to how it enhances the value of others.

Pre-conditioning rather than pre-exhausting, prevents injuries and is much more conducive to producing results. In fact, when synchronized properly, it is the very nature of compound exercises and their combined functionality with associated muscle groups that are the very catalysts to growth. It is when “heavy” free weight compound exercises are focused on as entities upon themselves that their value becomes diminished. Never should any one exercise be looked upon for its value in of itself. Virtually all exercises are good exercises. It is the proper application of these exercises that produce results.

I advocate the performance of what I prefer to call “compound isolation movements”. These movements are best performed on machines whereby the movement is fixed thus reducing the tendency for surrounding connective tissues to come into play thereby overwhelming the target muscles. Machine work is ideal for pre-conditioning a muscle group because it provides controlled movement for multiple joint exercises. This enables a more gradual response to the involved tissues and joint structures in preparation for successive compound barbell and dumbbell exercises. This protocol allows the muscles to do their work properly while increasing the value of all other exercises involved.

Compound isolation movements serve to “prime the pump” for the free weight exercises yet to come. These movements serve not only to prepare the target muscles involved, but also the associated connective tissues and joint structures. They literally set the tone for the entire pressing complex and its associated structures to engage “synergistically”, thus creating an environment that is most conducive for stimulating muscle growth. Muscles simply cannot be stimulated properly unless this is accomplished first.
This method of training literally creates a wave of momentum, which magnifies the individual value of each component exercise within a giant set.

A true “weak link” is then created when the surrounding tissues and structures have been completely “disarmed” whereby now the target muscles are fully primed and prepared to experience uninhibited contractions and the deepest possible threshold of direct growth stimulation.
Am I advocating against heavy weights? No, on the contrary I am saying, train as heavy as possible, always striving to gradually increase strength levels for the performances of all exercises; but not until the muscles and their associated structures are thoroughly prepared to do so. In fact, part of the reason why heavy conventional training is less effective is because it literally prevents an individual from being able to train heavy, or hard enough! This may sound contradictory until you read the chapter on negative resistance.

The original pre-exhaust system had value not so much because of the so called “weak link” supposedly created by preceding a compound exercise with an isolated one, but rather due to the momentum generated by multiple exercises performed sequentially as part of a giant set. Exercise protocol is better served by performing several exercises in giant set fashion with about thirty seconds rest between sets. These should be integrated with as many other methods to increase intensity as possible, negative only resistance being chief.

The following chapters will further explain the implications of heavy verses light training, and explore their applications while also giving new meaning to the terms “heavy” and “high intensity”.


Feb 13, 2008
i call it "pre-conditioning". that is, performing a group of two or three exercises followed by a set of negative only resistance exercise.


Mecca V.I.P.
Apr 13, 2007
it would be nice to see a sample workout for the entire body just to understand what your training system looks like in its application

personally i think your making nuclear science out of Chinese checkers, i totally understand you bicep curl example, but the problem is the form which can be improved, as long as a trainer makes a conscious effort to use sound form which puts the load on the target muscle then the rest is progressive overload over time, which will happen with good eating and adequate rest. Training on a machine is not a good idea for long term joint health.

As for giant sets, post some actual examples of exercises/sets/reps and rest times so we can see the theory in play! but so far i can't see how you idea is contributing to efficient effective training principles!