How do you get stronger? Is it by strength training? Resistance Training? A 5×5 workout, or some other strength training program? If you’ve been following me for any length of time I think you might have picked up that I am particularly biased to when it comes to resistance training and strength. Having been a collegiate track and field athlete and a thrower for the past 10 years, I’ve been around the strength block (thumbs up if you get the programming pun) more than a few times. So what does it mean to be strong? What does strength entail? How do you know if or when you’re strong enough? All valid questions that we will cover!
What Does it Mean To Be Strong?
Strength comes in many different shapes and sizes. In terms of gym numbers, some milestones that would be good goals to strive for regarding overall health for males:
- A bodyweight bench press
- 1.5x bodyweight squat
- 2x bodyweight deadlift
- 0.75x bodyweight bench press
- Bodyweight squat
- 1.5 Bodyweight deadlift
Of course, these numbers might not qualify you for any powerlifting competitions or win you any medals, but regarding overall health, this might be some great goals to strive for. Also, these goals are assuming that you have competency for the lifts and can perform them correctly and safely. But how do we get strong? What makes us stronger? I can tell you one thing, it’s not going to involve a Bosu ball in any capacity.
How Do We Get Strong?
First, we need our meat and potato lifts!! These lifts give us the absolute most return on our investment. In fact, per rep of these lifts make us stronger than many other movements.
- The Barbell Back Squat– Largely referred to as the “king of all exercises” and that’s not by accident! The barbell back squat provides us with a stimulus that not many other movements can replicate. It is a tried and true exercise that has produced reliable results time and time again and will continue to do so. This movement will add mass to your legs about 125x faster than any leg extension and that’s a proven fact (Helpful cue: Think about pulling the bar down into your traps).
- The Barbell Bench Press– A lot of trainers and coaches often demonize the bench press as a “non-functional” exercise. Hogwash I say!! There are few more effective ways to get stronger faster than using a bench press. The only time where a bench press would prove harmful is if the individual prescribing the movement does not know how to manage the load or doesn’t know how to coach the lift (Helpful cue: Think about pushing the bench and the bar away from each other simultaneously, instead of just pushing the bar up away from you).
- The Barbell Deadlift- The barbell deadlift is arguably the next in line for the throne when it comes to movements that provide an amazing strength stimulus. Performed correctly, the deadlift will make you grow wider and thicker than you ever thought possible. Although similar to the squat, it is a highly technical exercise that requires a lot of practice before technical mastery can be achieved (Helpful cue: Think about bending the bar around your legs when completing the concentric portion of the lift).
- Farmer Walk- Bonus movement! Many of you reading may have never heard of a farmer walk, well it’s just about as farmer as you can get without sleeping next to Wilbur. The object of said movement; pick up heavy dumbbells and just walk with them til’ you can’t walk anymore. At that point, take a sec to shake your calloused paws out, pick them up and walk some more (Helpful cue: Don’t walk on a tightrope. Walk as you normally would not under load).
For the most part, these are the lifts with which you are going to be getting great at. Forget whatever one arm sideways chest press machine exercise you saw because I can almost promise you it’s just about useless. Now anybody can just tell you the lifts you gotta do to get strong, but I’m going to take it a step further and tell you how to integrate this into your training!
If you have never picked up a weight but your new life goal is to get big and strong, my first advice to you is to hire a personal trainer or coach who can teach you the lifts safely and effectively. This is a CRUCIAL first step in progressing with these lifts. Like I said before, these lifts are very technical and must be performed properly and safely. But, let’s assume that you’ve done your homework or you’ve had some previous time under the barbell.
- Start with 3×5 on all 3 lifts 2-3 times a week. Make every rep identical and perfect. Each week add 10lbs to the bar in all lifts. Start relatively light and keep adding weight.
- Finish with the farmer walks. Start with 0.2-0.3x your body weight and walk 20-30 yards. Add 5 lbs every week.
- Eat lots of food.
Once you get to a point where you can’t add weight to the bar in your lifts, move on to the next portion of our program!
After about 6-8 months it’s likely we’ve surpassed the beginner phase and entered into the intermediate phase! This is where a good majority of people lie. Once we get to this stage, it’s likely another day might need to be added to our schedule. At this point, we can introduce a few accessory movements such as lunges, RDL’s, and pull-ups into our routine. But the same principles apply! The only difference is you’re choosing a couple of accessory movements and adding 5lbs to the big lifts each week. In addition, if you aren’t a vegan, vegetarian, or another derivative of such, start incorporating some lean meats into your diet. If you transcend into the elite status of an advanced athlete congratulations! Find a qualified coach to help you continue your lifting career and I tip my hat to you.
Things To Avoid
On our journey of strength, we need to avoid a few things.
- Stop just copying things you see on Instagram. This is the fastest way to halting our progress. If we keep jumping from program to program and trying different exercises because they look fun we will just be spinning our wheels.
- Stop making things that are supposed to be hard easy. These movements are hard for a reason. There is no replacement for honest hard work.
- Reduce stress when not lifting. When we’re done lifting, that doesn’t mean it’s time to kick back and relax! Relax by going on walks and staying active. This will promote blood flow to the muscles and get you ready for another hard training session!
If you continue using these heavy compound lifts for maximal strength gains, you will see results, I promise you! If you have any questions at all don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a message on instagram @jon_dick.
Sports Performance Coach
“Coach Jon, Irvine Strength and Conditioning Coach who is an athlete himself is someone I recommend to my patients. He knows what he is doing and his attention is on the proper form and injury prevention is what I love about him.”- Dr. Shakib, your Irvine Chiropractor