Building strength is not complicated, in fact it is pretty simple. Simple doesn’t equal easy though and with the unlimited amounts of information available to us, the shiny object syndrome pulls our efforts from pillar to post distracting us from what is going to most easily make sustainable strength progress.
The 4 steps (or tips) I’m about to lay out will get you stronger than you ever thought possible – as simple as they sound. If you are straying too far from these steps then you are potentially holding back your progress, over-complicating things and denying yourself the results that you both crave and deserve.
Now let’s get stuck straight into these steps which I have ranked in order of importance so that you can implement them right away.
Step 1 - Movements before Muscles
Being strong is about being able to lift heavy weights, right?
What better way to lift the heaviest weights you are capable of than choosing large multi-joint exercises that get lots of muscles working together to shift big loads? That’s why you should focus your time and energy in the gym on big movements like Squats, Deadlifts, Presses, Rows, Pullups, Dips and Pressups – even some Olympic lifting if you have the capability and inclination.
The other thing to bear in mind is that strength means different things to different people and we all have our unique driving factors and capabilities – that gives you the opportunity to select variations of these exercises that both suit your needs, your goals and your movement capabilities.
You don’t have to conform to anyone else’s idea of strength – Create your own.
Step 2 - Consistency
Being consistent with the same exercises every week is the easiest way to fast-track your Strength progress. When new clients come to me and telling me they are struggling with a particular lift and want to get it strong, the first question I ask them is do they practice it weekly?
Normally the answer is no, they avoid it because they don’t feel confident about it which as you can tell is a downward spiral that will get you nowhere.
Choose the exercises using the guidance in the previous tip and then put them into a weekly routine that you do consistently, the more times you do each exercise the better you will get and the stronger you will become.
If you are in the habit of comparing yourself to others – thinking that they are naturally so much better or that things must be easy for them – then you are massively devaluing the time and effort they have put into get to that point. The point who are move the best, who are the strongest or who make it look easiest are normally the people who have been doing it the longest. Commit to the long-haul and you too will become ‘the natural’.
Step 3 - Lift Progressively heavier loads
Improving strength and getting stronger implies that you’ll be able to lift heavier weights. Logically then, to get stronger you should aim to lift heavier weights over time either from week to week or month to month. This also fits nicely with the SAID principle which means specific adaptation to imposed demands – specificity is really important for strength.
Just like I mentioned in the first tip, you will get strong in the movements you practice but it also applies to the results you get from your training. If you lift heavier weights over time, your body will get better at lifting heavier weights – Keep it simple and keep it specific!
Without being too prescriptive, strength training would normally need to happen with loads that exceed 70% of a 1 rep max or of an estimated max. You need to lift these weights until you get close to failure. You don’t have to train to failure but for each percentage of 1RM you should be lifting in a zone that gets you 1-4 reps away from failure to improve strength. Add multiple sets of this and you have a sure fire way to get stronger.
Step 4 - Recover
Real improvements in strength happen when you are not in the gym. The whole point of training is to overload your body by breaking it down and tiring it out so that it bounces back stronger after some recovery. If you constantly bash yourself up and don’t give yourself the chance to actually recover and adapt then your training could be setting you further back than not training at all – sounds crazy right? But consider that for a moment! Use planned days off to be active, to stretch and foam roll and maybe consider getting the sauna or going for a massage to help you wind down, switch off and get into a good state for recovering.
Another important part of recovery is having planned down week and also planned blocks of different training. For example, if you spend 4-8 weeks in a hypertrophy style training block, violating some of the principles above, you’ll be able to recover both mentally and physically as well as priming your body to get some new gains when you switch back to strength training, it is win-win. Consider doing 2-4 planned blocks for hypertrophy throughout the year to boost your strength gains.
Wow, nothing ground-breaking right?
If you are already doing the above really well then you should be on your way to getting really strong, you just need to have some patience and it will come with time. If there are any of these steps that are missing from your training then you best implement them straight away. Begin with the first step and work your way through.
Let’s quickly recap those steps.
If you'd like some help putting these steps into practice or have them totally taken care of for you then you can send us a message now to book in for a free 30 minute chat to answer any questions.
Allan Young is a Glasgow based Personal Training who runs Strength Coach Glasgow and is a 4x Scottish Champion Olympic Weightlifter.