Heavy Weights Are Bad For You

The gossip exchanged in weight room conversations makes The National Enquirer and TMZ seem like the most reputable sources of information you can find.  People pass on well intended but biased info from The Doctors or Fox News, but they also exaggerate their own tales of woe and misinformation when it comes to exercise; it’s the world’s most twisted game of ‘Telephone’ possible!  I’m still waiting for someone to ask what exercises and supplement stack Hugh Jackman used to grow his claws for X-Men.

The diversity of the bro science is impressive; everything from the latest magical pill supplement supplements to the best exercise tweaks ever.  “What’s the exact amount of protein you should drink between each set of using the shake weight?”  Interestingly, one of the things I’ve been hearing a lot of recently is about heavy lifting.  Here’s a smattering of the well intended but misguided statements:

“I don’t f*ck around with heavy weights man, I only do the light stuff.”

“Too many people get hurt lifting weights, I just use dumbbells and run.”

“I’m going to lose weight with cardio first, then worry about muscle.”

The training world is evolving, and movement based training is increasingly popular.  It’s more common to see people squatting, deadlifting, doing chin-ups, rows, farmers walks; the good stuff.  However, there is still an underlying notion that lifting heavy weights is bad for you.

The female specific marketing, at the highest levels, still places big emphasis on aerobic activity, toning and lengthening movements, and the peaceful and relaxing benefits of yoga.  In the male world, the popularity of hybrid programs like CrossFit, that include a variety of circuit templates, and at-home programs such as P90X and  Insanity, that give credence to the fact that lifting heavy weights is bad for you, or unnecessary, or a waste of time.  Despite the large (and growing) body of evidence that provides specific information, we’re bombarded with crap like this:

Heavy weights might actually be bad for you…

If you’re performing exercises with poor technique, with loads you cannot handle.  I’m sure you’ve seen this video before:


There’s a case to be made for too much strength, and it’s typically for weekend warriors and athletes that aren’t competing in Olympic weightlifting or powerlifting.  The law of diminishing returns kicks in, and you stop either stop seeing progress, or starting seeing injuries.  This can be problematic in high level athletics, and coaches like Mike Boyle have done a great job of explaining the importance, or dangers of heavy bilateral lifting.  (Here’s the infamous Death of Squatting video.)

When it comes to preparing athletes for on field or on court performance, I like what he’s saying.  When it comes to you getting ready to be fit, healthy, and look good naked, lifting weights helps, and heavy weights are your friend.  So is good technique.  That’s an important consideration, Mr. Half Squat.

What you’re not doing…

If you’re accustomed to a specific style of training, it’s going to give you slightly less efficient results.  Our bodies are really good at becoming efficient at regular activities, which has helped push us to the top of the food chain.  Unfortunately, this means that the activities you typically engage in are giving you less-than optimal results.  So, if you’re currently using low(er) rep sets and lifting heavy weights, you might see increased progress if you move towards higher rep ranges and total volume.  It’s far more typical that people are using lighter weights and just picking them up more, which means you should pick up heavier weights.

Heavy is relative.

“Heavy” means different things to different people.  If you’re a recovering Tracy Anderson devotee,  anything over 8lbs seems really heavy.  If you’ve been exercising in a facility without much ‘serious’ lifting, it’s likely that you judge heavy based on the strongest person there.  As my personal interest in powerlifting grows, I start to think that every bar I push or pull is really light, and I’m just weak.  Heavy is relative.

When we think about heavy weights, the Average Man’s first thought is of the Bench Press.  We worship that lift.  After that, it’s probably squats or deadlifts, and most guys probably think about curls.  Instead, think about some of the high-reward stuff that you don’t typically see loaded heavy, but you can really kick some butt with:

Push-Ups, Chin-Ups, and Single Leg Work

These three exercises are usually ignored as ‘big’ lifts by most of us; they’re not as sexy as benching, doing heavy rows, or squats and deadlifts.  Until you get strong at them, in which case they’re totally f*cking awesome.  We usually limit ourselves with loading; there’s a psychological factor, and you’re more likely to go after what you regularly see than something that’s more.

For example, when it comes to loading the push-up, most guys draw the line at maybe putting a 45lb plate on their back.  What about an extra 100lbs, like Kevin Carr does in this video:


Perhaps you don’t have a weighted vest, but you do have a dip/pull-up belt.  Here’s a loaded push-up variation from Zach Evan-Esh:


When it comes to chin-ups, you can get pretty damn strong.  One time, I even wrote a whole post about loading up your chin-up.  Each loading variation gives you different options, and I’d suggest using what you have available, be it a weighted vest, a belt, or chains.  The first video is from Joe Meglio, using chains:


Perhaps you don’t have access to any of that equipment, but you do have access to regular ol’ dumbbells.  Here’s my favorite variation:


Finally, when it comes to single leg work, we set the bar pretty low.  It seems that the only exercise that gets any respect is the pistol squat!  When it comes to the loading up just one leg, there are some pretty impressive things that can be done.  For example, Max Shank does 315lb and 295lb single leg deadlifts:


Here’s Ben Bruno doing a set of 6 Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats with 335lbs.  Lol I’m weak:


Before you head off into Weight World to get hyooge, remember; in each of those videos you saw good form.  That should be the limiting factor for each of the exercises that you’re using, and it’s important to check your ego instead of risking injuring yourself.  You reputation as the ‘strong guy’ is less important than the strength of your rotator cuff.  If you’re using bad technique, cut that shit out.

When your form is dialed in, don’t be afraid to get strong.  If you’re new to heavier lifting, you should see nice improvements in performance and body composition as you get stronger.  As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to drop them in the comments below

10 Replies to “Heavy Weights Are Bad For You”

  1. It’s so funny you wrote this because I literally just clicked over from a very popular blogger who wrote a post about her first experience at CrossFit. She said she didn’t like it because she doesn’t believe in lifting heavy weights. She also said she only uses cables and dumbbells and doesn’t like using barbells. It was definitely a WTF moment for me, and it’s disappointing because her blog is reaching SO many people – and is being taken as a ‘serious’ source of female fitness. My first thought was the same as yours – heavy is relative. Her idea of heavy is probably not the same as mine, which isn’t close to being the same as yours. I think so long as someone follows a gradual plan of progression and maintains good form, pulling serious weight is not a risk.

  2. “I’m going to lose weight with cardio first, then worry about muscle.”
    I think this is the most used phrase in the gym when someone is trying to justify their reason for 20 hours of cardio a week and no weight training. I have also heard that paired with the …” well I will do weights but im in my Cutting Phase right now” I wrote a post about cutting and bulking addressing that mindset recently.

    1. GP3, It’s a fairly common approach/mentality, and it does work with enough time commitment… unfortunately, a proper diet and strength training based program works with much less time! It’s something we’ll struggle with, but good job spreading the message!

  3. There is nothing wrong with bilateral lifting if you do it right. Just use less volume. I’ve been training for over 30 years and when I was young I got away with so much. I still lift heavy, but far less volume.

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