The vast majority of people training at gyms today aren’t strong by any stretch of the imagination. They’re merely going through the motions, chasing a pump and training to “feel the burn”.
Don’t waste your time.
If you want to get stronger, you need to rethink your approach to training. No more magazine routines, no more mindless pumping and no, you won’t be doing a powerlifting routine either.
When I speak of training for strength I don’t necessarily mean 1-rep max strength or “gym strength” for the matter. I mean the type of real world awe-inspiring strength and power you rarely see these days.
So how do you train for maximum strength?
Training for strength and training for muscle growth are two different things… or are they?
Absolutely not. If you’re a drug-free lifter:
Progressive overload+ adequate nutrition+ sufficient rest= muscle and strength
It is that simple. Don’t try and overcomplicate this equation. Don’t try and look for reasons why this can’t work or why someone you know got results training 12x a week.
Muscle is a byproduct of strength.
If you want to build muscle and get bigger you must get stronger. Increases in muscle mass conincide with rising strength levels. Lean mass gains might take longer to manifest but they will manifest as long as proper nutrition and sufficient rest are provided. Increase the weights in small increments (!), session after session, week after week, month after month.
How to set up your training for maximum strength gains
I do borrow a few techniques from the powerlifting community (these people know how to get strong), but I don’t restrict myself to any single style of training. Take what works from different disciplines and discard the useless fluff.
Say goodbye to isolation work and embrace heavy multi-joint exercises like the bench press, deadlift, bent-over row, weighted dips, weighted pull-ups and the overhead press (and their bodyweight equivalents). These exercises stimulate whole-body muscle growth and build superhuman strength unlike isolation/ pump work.
Train with low volume, long rest periods and minimal warm-up. Start with your heaviest set (after warming up), and pyramid down in weight. This style of training is called “reverse pyramid training” and it works incredibly well.
The Warm Up
You see people warming up meticulously in an effort to stay injury free and get ready for their work sets. They do tons of reps with light weights before moving on to heavier loads (if they even train with heavier loads). I don’t recommend you do that. You’ll only compromise work set performance by doing too much light work.
Stick to a quick 5-10 minute cardio warm-up and then jump right into the first set of your first exercise.
Perform 2-3 light(er) sets, working your way as you go and keeping the reps low (3-6). Don’t burn yourself out doing tons of reps. This is key! Explode up on the concentric (positive) part of the movement. Generate as much force as possible with every rep, to get your muscular and nervous systems ready to fire.
After doing a few quick warm-ups, it’s showtime! Hunt down and destroy your personal records.
The Work Sets
Aim for 2-4 work sets using heavy weight and max effort.
Occasionally you can use different rep and set schemes (i.e. 5×5, 7×3). Focus on stressing your muscles maximally while minimizing the strain on your central nervous system. Don’t burn yourself out in training. Always leave some gas in the tank.
Focus on keeping fresh rather than keeping up with your workouts.
Especially you hardgainers out there. I appreciate your work ethic and applaud your relentless drive to become bigger and stronger, but you are doing more harm than good, killing yourself set after set.
Stimulate your muscles maximally without overworking the system with endless amounts of sets, reps, intensity techniques and rushing from one exercise to the next. Strength training is not cardio! Dial back the volume and take as much time as you need before entering your next set.
3-5 minutes of rest between your max effort sets are mandatory if you want to be fresh and ready for the next set. You’re sacrificing strength and development by going fast. But I don’t want you to be fast. I don’t want you to be like everyone else. I want you to be stronger than everyone else.
“What is the optimal rep scheme, what rep speed should I aim for, what bench press technique…?”
5×5, 5/3/1 or 123? It doesn’t matter. Once you understand the principles behind your body’s adaptive processes, you won’t be confined to formulas or doctrines. Use the numbers above as guidelines but don’t let them consume you. Always be open to experiment and learn.
Your rest and recovery will make or break you
This is something I’ve had to learn the hard way. Training with high intensity and pushing heavy weight requires an adequate amount of down time. Your nervous system takes a serious hit every time you max-out or train (close) to failure.
Generally speaking, 3-4 sessions a week is as much as I would have you do. If you’ve read my thoughts on optimal training frequency , you know I rarely train more than 3 times a week and I have made incredible progress doing so.
Pick a select few exercises (3-5 per session). Get some intense but brief work in and rest like a king.
It’s the time away from the gym that will get you the results. Your recovery is imperative for strength and performance progress. While there are plenty high frequency powerlifting and strength building training programs out there, I want you to focus on getting your numbers up and staying out of the gym as much as possible (when was the last time you heard a “fitness guy” say something like that?).
When in doubt, always opt for lower training volume and frequency. Train less often but when you do, train with a purpose.
Track your lifts. No matter what your training goals are, you need to emphasize steady progress. While you might have a particular number in mind, say a 315 lbs bench press, the road to that lift is rarely going to unfold in a straight line. The ups and downs you experience and attribute to a bad pre-workout meal or just bad luck always stem from your daily routines and habits. Always.
Your body doesn’t just fail or refuse to perform because it has a “bad day”. It can be conditioned to do whatever you want it to do. Learn to work with your body, not against it. Listen to your biofeedback, take notes and respond accordingly.
The human body is capable of incredible feats of strength. “Hysterical strength” is the phenomenon that has people lifting cars and breaking through concrete walls in life-or-death scenarios.
Unless faced with extreme situations, however, we never unleash that dormant potential. According to Vladimir Zatsiorsky, professor of kinesiology at Penn State, the average person only summons about 65 percent of their absolute power potential during training, while a trained athlete can activate up to 80 percent.
But it’s there. Deep down within you slumbers a beast. Learn to tap into and access your full potential when facing the bar or the concrete.
Go into your training knowing you’re going to smash your previous records. Go in there expecting nothing but your best performance. Go in there knowing that nothing can stop you. See yourself lifting the big weights, pulling off that incredible feat of strength. Rep after rep, set after set.
Visualize it. Feel it. Know it.
And when it’s time to execute, you’re merely going through the steps you’ve already performed in your mind (read this). Forget about movements or numbers. FOCUS and the rest will take care of itself. Almost effortlessly, you crush your records and move on knowing you’ll do the same in your next session. Feels good doesn’t it?
How to Superman:
- Train heavy and progressively
- Don’t rush your workouts
- Rest like a king
- See yourself as a the strongest, baddest motherfu**er walking the planet
Strength gains lead to real world muscle growth unlike “chasing a pump”, focusing on the “upper inner” pectorals or training to feel a burn in your muscles. And once you start seeing the results in the gym and the mirror, you will never want to go back to your old bodybuilding routine.
Now go to work and make me proud.
Thank you for reading