The pursuit of strength is not quite as universal as the pursuit of happiness but, if you are like me; they are nearly one and the same. For as long as we know kids have tried to pick up big rocks and men have tried to pick up big weights. Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, and Strongman competitions have, up until recently, been primarily male sports. Now, we see more women than ever getting involved in weightlifting programs, CrossFit, and even dabbling in strongman and powerlifting. The pursuit of strength has never been more universal than it is today.
It would also be safe to say that there is more information to sort through than ever before. Oddly enough though, as records have been broken and limits are being pushed, some of what gets missed is the simplicity of what really works when you are trying to get as strong as you possibly can.
For me, I am known for being strong. I’m not known as strong because I am a world renowned powerlifter, strongman competitor or bodybuilder. I squat a respectable 546 lbs and deadlift 586 lbs. I snatch 315 lbs and clean 400. I also can bench press 3 plates for a handful of reps. The thing that makes these numbers impressive is I reached them while maintaining a high level of overall fitness. I didn’t have to sacrifice my health or my ability to run, jump or play sports. In 2018 I was the 9th Fittest 35+ Year Old Man on the planet.
As people if we follow some key principles we can continue to get stronger and stronger as we age. Now I am not saying that strength progressions are linear and we will get infinitely stronger until the day we die. But, what I am saying is that our strength, relative to our peers, can be continual and nearly linear. So if you want to be strong follow these 5 basic principles.
- Lift weights that are heavier than you are used to. That means the body must be meeting some resistance that is greater than what it is commonly subject to. If you are a school teacher who is used to carrying textbooks and grading papers, you’ll need to move loads much more challenging than that to gain new strength. Likewise a mason worker can move concrete bags all day long and not be getting stronger. Even he will need to go into the gym and lift weights that are heavier than he is used to in order to create new reason for the body to adapt and get stronger.
- Getting stronger is about building. So many people love the gym so they go in and sweat and pump and lift and grind. But once the muscle has been torn apart, in order for it to get strong it has to heal. Ideally it isn’t just going to heal over time through rest but it should be accelerated through an abundance of amino acids(from protein), adequate rest, a caloric surplus, and supplementation.
- Increased Training Frequency. By increasing training frequency, it is possible to increase the amount of times we go through the break down and rebuild cycle of muscle. This happens as one begins to dial in food, sleep, hydration, and supplementation. If it is put first, all that happens is increased injury or, at the very least, small and below average strength gains that would be easily avoided.
- Intensity. Similar in many ways to point number 1, intensity is about overloading your muscle by adding weight. But where point number 1 makes a simple point about single lift, intensity speaks to the totality of the training session. The more intense the whole session, the more likely that it is that the body was pressed to do something different, therefore creating change and adaptation. It may be helpful to think about intensity as ‘trying to put more big lifts into the same training session.’
- Focus on strength in the compound and fundamental lifts. These are lifts that offer more bang for your buck than movements that focus on smaller body parts. These lifts work multiple muscle groups at the same time. There are plenty of articles out there to help you “grow your chest today” or “get a big back now” but the problem is the underlying strength isn’t there. There are plenty of pro bodybuilders who will tell you how they grew their chest or diced up their quads. There is just one problem, they can rep 315 or more on bench press for 4 sets of 10 and they can back squat 405 for sets and reps as well. See, the problem is we see someone who looks like we want to look and assume that if we do what they say we will look like them. Until we can do what they can do on the compound lifts we wont have a prayer of “growing our chest in 3 weeks.”If you don’t know what a lot of this means, that is actually very understandable. We have been told for years that “half reps are safer” or “to not let the knees go pass the toes” when squatting. Also, a basic understanding of agonist and antagonists muscles is helpful but largely unknown. Instead our culture talks about creatine, PEDs and electronic recovery devices. We see recommendations of something like 50-75 grams of protein for adults which is far below what our strength idols eat(they in fact exceed 3x those amounts of protein) Although many of these things are part of the pursuit of strength, the reality is we have to start far more basic than what we are being told. So, go lift heavy, eat a lot of food, recover and then do it over and over again. You’ll get strong.
PLEASE FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW