The Concept of Lowest System Load

Almost 3 years ago, I did a Podcast with Scott Iardella.  I’ve since done another more recent one with him, and one of the fun things sometimes of doing these Podcasts is if the questions are novel or unique, I wind up talking about things or using explanations/analogies that I’ve never used before.  One of the more keen occurrences like this was in discussing training with kettlebells, and my suggestions began to discuss one of the main values of particularly strength training with KBs.
I would hope that there’s no argument that kettlebells can be an excellent part in getting individuals stronger.  Now if this is what a coach favors or is skilled at or likes coaching is a whole another story.  But we probably have to come to some level of agreement that KBs are made of metal, and they have weight to them, and when we lift under the right circumstances, things change in our body.  It comes off condescending, but it’s not even nearly as condescending and moronic as coaches that say, “We don’t like kettlebells.”

I'll tell you what. I don't like these kettlebells not one single bit. Skulls and s---.

I’ll tell you what. I don’t like these kettlebells not one single bit. Skulls and………….

So Scott and I went on to discuss the main advantage of using KBs is actually the same reason a lot of coaches don’t like them.  Obviously the total load of a KB is usually lighter for the same level of effort.  We have this notion that heavy is better, but because of the uniqueness of the off-center of gravity of the KB, it is a “different kind of strong.”
Effort does not equal results.  We know this.  And Newton’s 2nd law says force is force is proportional to the mass of an object along with the acceleration of motion.  In theory, there has to be more mass of the kettlebell to increase more force.  But there can also be more acceleration.
For instance, in performing a proper hard style KB swing with 20-30% of the individual’s bodyweight, force plates register almost 4x bodyweight.  A 200 lb man can swing a 24 and create 800 pounds of force into the ground.  I am guessing there are many more 200 lb individuals swinging 20s, 24s, and 32s than pulling 8 and 9 wheels.
So the example here suggests that we MAY be able to accomplish ONE of the same things using an implement of 15% the load.
Now the fact of the matter is that 1) I’d be inclined to believe plyometrics and jump training can sustain forces similar to heavier loaded movements, and 2) the loading has benefits to the skeletal system that the lesser loads do not have.  I don’t believe we require enormous loads for hormonal effects.  I think we need the force and hypoxic failure.
The fact of the matter also is given ideal coaching and execution (a big if), doing something with 53 lbs is inherently a lot less riskier doing something with 800 lbs………..if we’re after the same thing.
What is being introduced here in my mind is that when there is a directed goal of training, and we’re not just training whimsically, meaning just doing what we like to do, there is a lot of value in the concept of Lowest System Load.

In the 200 lb individual, the KB Swing with a 24 is 253 lbs.  It’s 1000 lbs with the 800 deadlift.
The force plate reads the same.  The movements of hinging are inherently the same.
If I’m asking you to simply train for force production in this 1 training bout, why would ever use 1000 lbs to accomplish what 253 lbs can accomplish?  Or maybe even less with jump training, etc.?
That’s Lowest System Load.
The concept doesn’t say use light things; it says use the lightest implement possible to accomplish what you want to accomplish.

Translates into I just like my stuff so I don't care what you say. Very common in training and rehab.

Translates into I just like my stuff so I don’t care what you say. Very common in training and rehab.

Here is another example using the Squat…….
Back Squat –> Front Squat  –> Double KB Front Squat –> Goblet KB/DB Squat
As the list goes left, there’s probably a higher rate of perceived exertion (RPE) just to carry the load.  Upper body mobility and strength will have something do with sometimes, but it is not relevant to understanding the concept.
As the list goes right, the load is further away from the body’s Base Of Support (BOS).  When the load’s Center of Gravity (COG) is farther away from the center of the BOS, there is increased challenge to maintain position.  The stability demands are increased.  Often this creates the perception that the lift is harder for much less weight on the body, Lower System Load.  That’s the uniqueness of the Kettlebell.
Not every lift with Lower System Load is going to be able to deliver the same force, but the real money is what is often missed in training…………..the return on training resource investment.
Even if I create less force with less weight, it’s still less weight on my body, thusly an overall less stressful event.  The return on my training investment is likely much higher.

Fantastic resource nailing down compound lifts with kettlebells.

Fantastic resource nailing down compound lifts with kettlebells.

It is challenging to legitimately quantify the stress of the lighter load, and that is what makes this is a simple concept, a belief.
What is clear is manipulating the A in F=MA can lead to significantly increased Force with signficantly less Mass.  This is a higher return on training investment.
What is clear is that the Exertion of an identical exercise will be the same or higher with signficantly less Mass when using an implement with an off-center of gravity such as a kettlebell.  Again, this is a higher return on training.
And the compelling logic of the Bilateral Deficit is still another opportunity to accomplish big force production with less total system load.

And all you have to do is just try this approach for a training cycle.  Use the same pattern to achieve carryover for your goals taking advantage of Lower System Load.
If general numbers are improved, but even if not improved to the point that putting big wheels on your back, we should also look at other measures out of the weight room (quality of sport practice or general wellness/soreness/fatigue) and the key indicators of training such as your best KPI, a Tendo or force plate readings, other physiological readings.
Getting more with less is better.
Getting less with less might be better too if you can then train more often or more intensely or divert to other valuable things that might have otherwise not been possible.


Gaining 5 of 6 is better than 8 of 10. Think about it.

Some Reader Q&A for Clarity


1) If my goal is improving speed/power output, will LSL still give me the same results or am I choosing better recovery/joints over potential power output?
It is quite possible get the same results.  This ultimately depends on the choices and goals.
It should be expected that Lower System Load should lead to better recovery and less extraneous joint or CNS wear.

2 ) If the above is true that LSL will give me the same results for force output, why would I ever go with another strategy?
Good question.
Unfortunately, we can not say the above is true all the time.
Fortunately, I do think it is well worth a try.
More fortunately, rather than the practical application focus, the theoretical application of return on training investment is really plugged in here.

3) Would you ever go far enough to add an unstable surface (Airex pad) for lower body work?
This depends.
For force production?  Not likely.
For motor skill acquisition.  Quite possibly.

4) Are most common options for upper body going bottoms up, fat grips, and changing levers on pushup/pullup variations?
Changing grip, changing levers, increasing acceleration, and unilateral training seem to be the buckets to fill in accomplishing Low System Load.

5) For lower body, are the most common forms of LSL front squat vs back squat, KB’s front squat variations, OH squat variations?
Given that often we still have to hold onto something for lower body training, it can become challenging to accomplish Lower System Load when the upper body strength/grip becomes the limiting factor.
Something to consider are high bar and Front Squat positions, specialty bars with camber, and kettlebell ballistics.
I don’t know if the body’s adaptation is based on the recognition of a barbell or a kettlebell.  I think it recognizes how much force is put the through the floor and returned to the body.

6) I would like to know the systemic differences between “heavy” and “hard”…meaning, do you see the same type of hormonal responses to say, a fat grip DB bench as you do with a heavy barbell? Similar hypertrophy expectation?
If you can reach the acute variables associated the desired effect, again, I don’t think the body knows or cares what’s in your carriage.
Hard enough gets the job done and less load has less extraneous effect(s) in other systems.
You win.

7) … do you ensure you’re targeting the muscle groups you’re looking for? You kind of mentioned this in your post, but if you lower system load from BS to FS to Goblet to bottoms-up for example, how much leg strength are you actually getting? Is this where the benefits of unilateral training are most evident? Going from BS to RFESS with the bar on the back?
Best way is to try it and test.
The idea is that we get strong with high levels of force, and high levels of force doesn’t always have to come from high system loads.

Lowest System Load is a concept  to reconsider exercise choices while maintaining high levels of proper training load and stimulation.
It is not messing around with little yellow Pikachu kettlebells.

Well, whatta ya know?

Well, whatta ya know?