Lift heavy and get strong? It’s not that simple. Learn about strength training workouts and the precise process to get strong. In this post, I will first talk about the core exercises and assistance exercises of strength training, then I will talk about methods to get stronger on these exercises.
The Core Exercises Of Strength Training
These are the exercises that powerlifters compete in and it is also the core of every good strength training method. How these exercises are organized can vary from method to method.
Most of the focus is put on increasing these 3 lifts because they work almost every single muscle in your body. It is the best ‘measure’ of strength because every muscle works together in order to complete these lifts.
There are also ‘assistance’ exercises that can help you grow on your core lifts when used correctly.
- Weighted Chin-Ups/Pull-Ups
- Shoulder Press
- Pendlay Rows
- Power Clean
Compound vs Isolation
All of the exercises that we covered are compound exercises. These are movements that use multiple major muscle groups in your body and it optimizes strength gains. Compound exercises also helps your body produce more HGH (human growth hormone) and testosterone, which makes you grow faster.
Isolation movements can be completely neglected from a beginner’s strength training workout. Although, there is nothing wrong with throwing in a few sets of bicep curls at the end of your workout…but please don’t take up the squat rack when you’re doing curls.
As you progress past the intermediate phase, isolation movements can start playing a more important role. When you get to the higher weights, your form will break down and your ‘weak points’ will present themselves such as the knees buckling inwards, unsteady feet, rounded back, etc…
Having weak rear deltoids/lumbar/hamstrings/glutes is very common and doing isolation exercises to strengthen these weak points can increase your strength tremendously in a very short time frame. In some powerlifting programs, isolation exercises will be included as accessory exercises.
What Perfect Form Does For You
Most literature on this subject will talk about the importance of form. I just can’t stress this point enough. It is the reason that I have included all of these videos on ‘form’ in the sections below. I believe that it is one of the most important factors when it comes to strength training.
Your muscles can ‘activate’ in a full range of motion when the right form is applied. When the muscles activate properly, they will be able to grow optimally. Sacrificing form out of greed to lift more weights is foolish because you are robbing yourself out of growth, not to mention that it will also result in early plateaus.
For example, ‘hip drive’ is the dynamic in low-bar squats that develops your entire posterior chain. In fact, low-bar squats is the only exercise that works the entire chain. The posterior chain is the largest muscle mass of your lower body and it can generate a lot of power. The development of your posterior chain fuels your gains on squats and deadlifts.
The squat and deadlift work the largest amount of muscle mass with a heavy load and this makes your body produce hormones that makes you grow faster.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of people have no idea what this is and they’re missing out on a LOT of strength gains. Make sure you check out the video on hip drive below.
What Happens When You Have Shitty Form
So here is what happens to guys and girls that skip the process of learning correct lifting form.
- They get injured.
- They find themselves hitting a very early plateau.
- Their strength regresses AFTER hitting a plateau (this one is not frustrating at all…just kidding, this one is very frustrating).
Learning about form is probably the most boring part of this whole thing. We all want to stack on more weight after each session and feel ‘badass’.
But here is the thing, you will HAVE to learn the right form sooner or later. If you don’t get it in the beginning, you will have to learn about it later when you hit an early plateau…and you will kick yourself for it. Whether you got injured or you hit a plateau and have to lower the weights in order to learn the right lifting form. You will then realize on how much growth you have missed out on.
Neural Adaptation and Muscle Hypertrophy Regarding Strength Training
When you first put on your shirt, you can feel it. But after a moment, you don’t feel the shirt anymore. This process is neural adaptation.
This same process happens in strength training. In fact, it is the process of gaining strength. After you work with a heavy weight, your body will get used to the weight and it will no long feel as heavy. Next time, you will be able to lift heavier weights.
You will get stronger after a single strength training session without any increase in muscle size. As you become more advanced, your strength gains will slow down.
I think of neural adaptation in strength training as unlocking more hidden potential; building a greater mind to muscle connection.
So why should you care about Neural Adaptation and where does Muscle Hypertrophy come in?
Muscle hypertrophy is muscle growth. In order to consistently get stronger and become more ‘neurally adapted’, your muscles HAS to grow bigger as well.
This is where diet plays a vital role. If you don’t eat enough of the right foods, your muscles will not grow and you will not get stronger. The only way for this to happen is you eat in caloric excess. You need to need more than your body burns. Guys that have trouble eating will have trouble growing.
If you don’t want to gain too much excess fat, eat clean and keep the macro ratios in mind. Eating mostly carbs will make you fat.
There is a ‘lag’ between strength gains and muscle growth. First you build neural adaptation; you get stronger. Then muscle growth follows that strength gain if you have been eating and resting correctly. Once your muscles grow bigger, you can build more neural adaptation. The two factors work hand in hand.
- Increase the weight you use while keeping a disciplined form
- Make sure your muscles are activating for the full range of motion
- Patience and consistency is the way to get strong fast, not greed and bad form
- Eat clean and eat a lot.
I will have a few videos demonstrating proper form in a later section. Some of the videos go into very specific details about the form…which can get boring. But if you can bare with it for a few minutes, you will reap the rewards later. The slightest improvement on form and dramatically improve your results.
The instructor in the videos is Mark Rippetoe, his advice on form is spot on. Follow his advice closely and you will get strong, indefinitely.
Watch for the angles of the feet, how far apart your feet should be placed and how the knees should point slight outwards.
Hip Drive is very important in Squats, this is the difference that makes the difference. This is a video of Mark fixing the guy’s Hip Drive
Some consider the Deadlift to be the best lift of all. It requires you to use more muscles than any other lift.
Back angle is also very important.
The Inner Game of Strength Training…Don’t become delusional
Having the right mindset and beliefs will give you an edge in your development. Here is what I mean:
Don’t get greedy, be patient. Occasionally, you will have an amazing workout…and maybe you will have a few training sessions where your strength grows at a rate that completely exceeds your expectation. In this situation, don’t become deluded and throw your original plans out the window.
I remember when I first started, I thought to myself: “Holy crap, if I can increase the weight by 10 lbs every week, I’ll be benching 225 lbs in no time!”
What a mistake that was…a few weeks later, I continued to raise the weight while sacrificing my form in order to feed that delusional dream of mine. As a result, my strength regressed and I missed out on a lot of growth.
When you can confidently complete your sets with good form, increase the weight by 5 lbs next time (eventually, you will need to get smaller weights to add). Remarkable strength comes from consistently working out+eating right+resting enough week after week and making a bit of progress each time. It’s the accumulation of these consistent efforts that create remarkable results.
One Secret to Fast Strength Gains
The secret is Do Not Train To Failure. Only attempt a rep if you are confident that you are able to complete it. It is perfectly fine to ‘leave one in the tank’. It might be tempting to lift as much as you can and really push it. However, when it comes to strength training, pushing it too hard puts unnecessary stress on your central nervous system. This will slow down or stop recovery/growth.
Resting Time Between Sets For More Strength Gains
Take 3-5 minutes between working sets. There was an interesting study about how taking longer breaks can lead to greater strength gains.
Rep Schemes and Ranges
You will be training in a lower rep range to gain strength (around 5 reps per set). The core movements typically in the lower range while certain assistance exercises can be in the higher range. All of these depends on which method you are following.
I recommend that you stick to a complete method, don’t mix and match.
The Best Resources
I’m a big fan of ‘Starting Strength’ by Mark Rippetoe and I believe that it’s the best resource to go from novice to the intermediate phase.
Intermediate is when you can:
- Bench Press 1.2 times your bodyweight
- Squat 1.6 times your bodyweight
- Deadlift 2 times your bodyweight
If you’re the average male of 5’10 at 160 lbs, can you:
- Bench Press 192 lbs?
- Squat 256 lbs?
- Deadlift 320 lbs?
I would say that 99.9% of people in most gyms aren’t even close to the intermediate level.
Starting Strength is the best method to reach those goals. You will start the first day with the bar and add 5 lbs every workout session on each lift. This is only possible if you follow the guide on diet and eat accordingly.
Mark Rippetoe has trained thousands of people. Time after time, he has been able to take that average male and train him to the intermediate level in under 5-6 months.
I wish I read this book when I first started. If could, I would go back in time and force myself to read through this book a few times. It would have taken at least a year off my learning curve (you can make some serious progress in a year).
The form of each exercise is described in precise detail. The important nuances add together to make a significant difference; many that can’t be learned through simple video demonstrations. Get your form right in the beginning so that you can progress fast.
Everything is described with precise details which makes it stupid proof. It’s a simple system to help you make consistent strength gains week after week.
You workout 3 days a week on non-consecutive days (Monday, Wednesday, Friday). Each workout only has 3 exercises.
It’s $29.00 on Amazon, which is the price of half an hour with an average personal trainer (They usually cost $50-$60/hour). By the time you finish the book, you will know more than most personal trainers and strength coaches on strength training for novices. You can grab yourself a copy of the book on Amazon below: