I know a lot of people who want to get strong. I’m not talking about strong as in they want to total 2000 pounds raw, but they’d like to maybe turn some heads at the gym, and show their friends up “strong.” These requests for strength come from people you may not think of as a typical iron-gorilla. It can come from anyone; nerds, lawyers, government employees, you get the point.
The thing is, anyone can get strong. Unfortunately without the proper direction they go about it all wrong. They pick up a magazine or get info from another gym-goer who just isn’t strong and doesn’t know how to get strong. Would you ask for financial advice from a homeless person?
Didn’t think so.
In this article I will go over 5 important pillars of strength that shouldn’t be ignored if you are trying to get strong. If you follow these points and start integrating the suggestions I make into your training you will get stronger, no doubt.
Exercise selection is important. If you truly want to get strong should you be concentrating on squats or leg extensions, cable crossovers or bench press? I think you get the picture. Even if you don’t want to do a powerlifting meet, there are certain exercises, which provide more strength and size potential, compared to others.
Here is a quick list of big, multi-joint exercises to concentrate on:
- Bench Press – close grip bench, dips, incline bench, dumbbell bench, parallel bar dips (not that garbage bench dip exercise)
- Overhead Press – standing overhead dumbbell press, seated overhead press, seated behind the neck presses, jerks, push presses
- Barbell Squats – high bar squats, low bar squats, front squats, pause squats, alternate bar squats (cambered, ssb etc.)
- Deadlifts – conventional deadlift, sumo deadlifts, deficit deadlifts, block deadlifts, stiff legged deadlifts
There really are a hell of a lot of exercises to choose from, no?
So why do I see people going into the gym to do shoulders and doing 20 sets of various front raises? Doesn’t make much sense does it. I’m not going to tell you there aren’t a place for smaller isolation exercises, because there is. You do them when you are already fatigued from the big compound exercises (unless you are doing some sort of bodybuilding program).
It’s that simple.
Everyone loves food. It seems there is a spectrum of two extremes when it comes to nutrition. You have the one side made up of people eating whatever they want and generally look pretty bad. Then you have the other side of people who limit 75% of the foods out there and claim to be happy about eating boring, tasteless foods all the time for fear that their gut will explode from looking at gluten.
If you want to be strong, you need to fuel your body. You need protein, and you need carbs. At the simplest level, that is all it is. Unfortunately since everyone likes to confuse the hell out of everyone with obscure “scientific” resources this fact gets contorted into whatever fad is currently popular.
Should you consume protein powder and jellybeans, only? After all, they do contain protein and carbohydrates, right? Yea, but this is a stupid example. Health does become a factor, and the need for vitamins and minerals from food is something that can’t be overlooked.
Just remember if you are eating foods that don’t agree with you and are making you miss time in the gym, you aren’t getting stronger. If you have a few years of training under your belt, you need to be in caloric excess in order to get optimal strength gains. There is no way around it. You may be able to maintain strength while losing weight, but doing both simultaneously without “help” is a mission in futility.
So stop worrying about what your favourite guru says and experiment with what works for you. Strange concept, but it really does work…
Intensity and volume are two tenets of programming, which are often overlooked by noobs and weaker people. If you know how to manipulate volume and intensity in your strength-training program, you will get stronger. The thing is, this requires planning ahead. If you are someone who is at a level where autoregulation is a viable option, then planning can be a little less important.
However, if you’re reading this, you probably want to get stronger and aren’t quite at that level. Let’s quickly go over what exactly intensity and volume are. Intensity is the percentage of your 1 rep max (RM) that you are using to lift. It doesn’t mean that you are “training intensely.” It’s an objective marker of what kind of weight you are using as a percentage of your 1RM. Volume is the total amount of weight you lifted in a given training session. If you lifted 100 pounds for 10 sets of 10 reps, your volume would be: 100*10*10 = 10000. If a lifter were to say “I’m using a lot of volume now,” this would usually mean they are doing a lot of work sets.
There is usually an inverse relationship between volume and intensity. The higher intensity you use, the less volume you use. The more volume you have in a program, the lower the volume. Doing 10 sets of 5 with 70% of your max is much more realistic than 10 sets of 5 with 90% of your max. If you are doing a program that calls for 10 sets of 5 with 90% of your max, you should find a new program btw.
Make sense? There are so many strong people who have used programs based on volume and intensity. I truly don’t believe that one method is better than another. I do believe that these variables should be manipulated on a weekly or monthly basis to gain strength.
For instance you could start with a lower intensity and higher volume at the beginning of your program. Each week, the intensity would increase slightly, and volume would decrease slightly, resulting in new max after a predetermined period of time (usually at 8-12 weeks). The reason I like this method is because it’s old as hell and has been working for many strong people for a long time.
Just understand that most strong people have some semblance or outline of what they are trying to accomplish over a given timeline. No one expects to all of a sudden add 100 pounds to their bench press over 24 hours. It won’t happen. Even if you train with autoregulation, you have a minimum weight you should hit each training session, but your goal is to increase that minimum weight over time. This results in an increase in your 1RM.
This might be the most perplexing principle of strength out there. I don’t quite understand because it just makes so much damn sense.
The body is biological organism. It enjoys being in a state in which not much is changing. As a matter of fact, you must defy your body’s wishes in order to force it to change. What this means is that you must apply different stimuli to your body in order to adapt to more stimuli.
I’m sorry if I put you to sleep with that last paragraph, but it needed to be said. You must provide different loads to your body in order to stimulate strength and size. Have you ever known someone who does his or her 1RM bench every week? Really try to think about someone you know who did this as part of their training and ask yourself if they were still hitting the exact number a year later? I bet you know of someone.
This occurred because they were not placing a new demand on the body, which allowed the body to stay nice a comfy where it likes to be. This is why using 8’s, 5’s, triples and doubles, etc. are a good method of gaining strength. You provide different demands on your body and force it to adapt to these new demands.
You need to figure out a way of forcing your body to adapt to new demands to gain strength. Using a high intensity all the time isn’t the solution because your body will not be able to progress in strength at the rate that you can add weight to the bar each week (5 pounds for instance). This is why dialing back the intensity a little bit and adding some volume can be a huge benefit to someone a lifter who has been using high intensities.
Consistency cannot be understated. If you are not consistent in training you simply won’t progress. It’s great if you can maintain consistency for your whole life, but unless you really have the iron bug, there will be points where you will be more and less consistent.
If you are truly trying to progress, you will usually have some extra motivation to help push you to get into the gym when you are supposed to go. If life gets in the way and you know you will have to dial back training frequency, you can still maintain your gainz.
Just realize that in order to make great progress, you have to have a level of consistency that will allow those goals come to fruition. If your program calls for you to train 5x/ week and you do 2 one week, 3, the next, 5 after that, then 2 (for example) you won’t get maximum returns on all your hard work.
This is the same with nutrition. You can create a little “barrier” to accommodate when you may not be able to follow the plan. You still need to be following your macros (or whatever you use to track) for the majority of the time. If the majority of the time you are consuming doughnuts and the minority of the time you are hitting your macros, your progress in terms of strength and body composition will be lackluster at best.
If you want to become the strongest that you’ve ever been, work with Kyle as your own private strength coach.
Featured image: “The Gneiss Towers” by Flickr user aknock and used under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.