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.
The Single Arm Row is my favourite upper body pulling exercise. By having your feet square and 3rd point of contact through your non-working arm, you can create a really stable position to lift heavy weights. It is for everyone, there is only a very low body awareness required to be able to perform this movement safely. You need minimal equipment too, a dumbbell and then something sturdy to lean on and you are good to go. This exercise gets your core working hard to brace and to resist rotation, you will feel it in your oblique’s the next day if you work hard to resist excess rotation. With 3 points of contact for support, you are really able to isolate your big pulling muscles of the back and arms. It will also raise awareness of any side to side deficiencies.
It is easy to cling onto certain ideas and let our biases shape what we do. This is particularly true when it comes to training for strength. We can end up on a very narrow and focused path and if we just take a step back to look at the bigger picture we might notice that we add or exclude certain things which aren’t necessary or even helpful for our original goals.
I’ll share 5 of the things that I see people with the goal of getting stronger clinging on to which are not necessary and sometimes even detrimental.
The more you can dig down into the why of your goal - Why do you want to get stronger?
Why have you chosen these particular lifts to define your strength?
Then the easier it becomes to guide how you go about achieving that. Remember you are individual and you have your own motivations for doing what you do, you can set your own path and don’t have to get stuck to the ideas that others have had before you.
Keep reading to find out 5 of the things you thought where non-negotiable when it comes to get stronger but you might actually be better off without.
The Barbell Deadlift is undoubtedly one of the best all-round gym exercises however it gets a bad name as we all know someone who has hurt their back doing it! With a bit of know-how or guidance and some attention to detail you can master your technique and keep making safe, low risk strength gains. It gets your full body working in co-ordination to generate really high force outputs. It effectively trains the lower body, particularly the hamstrings and glutes. It gets your core working hard to keep tight and transfer the force you generate from the ground to the bar. You are normally able to use the most amount of weight so there is the potential to create a huge hormonal stimulus and accelerate the rest of your strength work.
The standing overhead strict barbell press is a major upper body pushing pattern that requires a moderate level of skill and stability to perform. I usually start my clients with simpler movements, including the Half Kneeling DB Press but when they can effectively control their core to keep a neutral spine then we can add in the overhead press from standing. With everything under the barbell when it is overhead, your full body is having to work in co-ordination to perform the overhead press. This movement pattern isn’t really used much in daily living and so ends up being the one everyone says they are weak at! Training this will help bring balance to the shoulders while developing solid upper body strength.
The Half Kneeling DB press is particularly useful because it sets you up in a stable position that really highlights any errors. The lower back is in a more stable position that standing as we have one leg forward and have 3 points of contact to the ground, compared to our normal 2 in standing. It allows you to brace really hard and keep your back in neutral keeping your joints as stacked as possible. It primarily works the shoulders and triceps but the core has to work hard too.
If you have been going to the gym for any length of time, you’ll notice that other gym-goers have fancy belts, knee sleeves and other pieces of equipment. In this article, I’ll share the 5 essentials that I feel everyone should have in their gym bag. These will help you prepare, organise and make the most of your training in the gym helping squeeze out those marginal gains to help you towards your goals that bit quicker. Inevitably, there may be some things that don’t make the list which could have a lot of benefit for some but these are the things that I simply would not go to the gym without, if I had the choice. All of the equipment and accessories mentioned are available at Strength Shop. This is my personal list, let me know what accessories you would never go to the gym without in the comments below.
The Lat Pulldown is an upper body compound exercises that targets the pulling muscles of the back and arms. Pretty much every gym has one of these and that means pretty much everyone will have tried it. That means that like the Bench Press it is most often performed poorly or with little thought. The loadable nature of the Pulldown makes it perfect for total beginners as you can put on any weight you like, this overhead pulling motion is normally lacking and is very difficult to train outside of a gym setting unless you can do chin-ups (which very few can!). As the motion exactly replicates the pulling motion for a chin/pullup it is perfect for getting in higher volume muscle and strength work to assist with building towards your first bodyweight pullup.
The kettlebell swing is a great movement for the hips and posterior chain (back of the body). It is very common so we need to understand how to do it and why. It can be a tricky one, it is suitable for beginners if coached in an appropriate setting by someone who knows what they are doing. The fast nature of them movement however makes it a lot more complex than other hip hinge variations and so should only really be utilised once you can confidently perform movements like Romanian deadlift. It is good for power development, getting all of your muscles firing quickly and in co-ordination as well as for conditioning. When you have the intent to move something as quickly as possible, it is very good for power development and very tiring!
In this series, I’ll set out 5 of the top benefits of weight training.
Before we dive in, I’ll start with a quick clarification of terms. Weight or resistance training is generally considered to be the use external resistance to add load to the body to achieve muscular benefits like strength. From now on, I’ll refer mainly to strength training which encompasses anything which puts a demand on the body causing it to generate higher levels of muscular force. This can cover assisted methods which serve to unload the bodyweight, bodyweight exercises or any type of external resistance like kettlebell, barbells and bands.
The benefits set out are aimed at those who are going from doing no or very little strength training to some focussed sessions a couple of times a week. That’s where you will reap the biggest rewards however some of them are still applicable to even the more experienced trainer. There are benefits to exercising shared among many different types such as the social aspects of community and making new friends as well as the physical benefits of it aiding with achieving and maintaining a healthy bodyweight. I’ll try to focus more on those that are unique or are particularly relevant to strength training.
Allan Young is a Glasgow based Personal Training who runs Strength Coach Glasgow and is a 4x Scottish Champion Olympic Weightlifter.