8/15/16 - When “Going Light” Backfires Hilariously

While the sport of bodybuilding builds some respectable strength in its participants, most body builders’ size isn’t a good reflection of their strength. Bodybuilding notoriously develops sizable physiques with a basic training concept called hypertrophy. Expressing strength is largely a combination of cross-sectional muscle mass and central nervous system (CNS) efficiency (to optimally recruit said muscle mass). As a result, most bodybuilders aren’t as strong as they look, while most strength athletes don’t look as strong as they are. Without getting too nerdy with it, there is a specific training zone that mostly develops cross-sectional muscle mass, or size. These rep ranges, depending on the literature that you consult, fall between six and twelve reps.

Loads that one could accomplish a set of ~6-12 reps is a perfect load for building muscle mass. For example, loads too heavy to perform six reps fall outside of this hypertrophic zone. By definition, handling the heaviest loads possible (that which one could perform, say, one to five reps with) are too heavy to develop more size. Surely, these loads and subsequent rep ranges do yield adaptation. These heavier loads at fewer reps (<6) yield adaptations that improve strength and neurological efficiency, but not necessarily muscle size. Neurological efficiency could be simply understood as the body’s ability to use what it already has to do more work and, while critical to improve strength, doesn’t grow muscle tissue effectively like hypertrophy does.

These simple training fundamentals make for a funny conundrum for coaches dealing with athletes who fear heavy weights will pack on unwanted size. Quite often  individuals concerned about adding mass, getting instantly “bulky” from barbell training, etc. As a result, what is their strategy? They say things like “I want to go light and work on form,” which is neither an effective strategy to reinforce “form” nor is it an effective means to avoid adding size. In any case, they bypass the intended neurological development of handling relatively heavy loads and put themselves often directly in the hypertrophic zone they meant to avoid in the first place. In this case, “going light” means adding muscle mass and not necessarily directly improving strength performance (aka the opposite of the desired effect).

In all my years in performance, I’ve never observed someone earn positive adaptations they regretted (like being too strong, too fast, or too fit), but I’ve observed thousands of people with no results that perpetuate their lack of improvement with a misguided fear of changes that are never coming their way.


Logan Gelbrich


8/15/16 WOD

Find Max Height Kneeling Box Jump


Then, complete 6 rounds for time of:

200′ Sandbag Carry (BW)

15 Wall Balls (20/14)