Today you are going to learn HOW to get strong!
Like most of us, my initial tutelage to resistance training came from the pages of muscle magazines. They promised me huge bulging muscles and a ripped physique, awesome! What I got however was a load of mobility issues, injuries and little growth, not so awesome. Those were the days when the interwebz was still in it’s infancy, so I had to learn the hard way, trial and error. If I could go back in time, this is the advice I would give myself.
It’s all about stress
You are an organism. You will adapt to the stresses you place upon yourself in order to better deal with that stress the next time you encounter it. Now ask yourself what places the most stress on the body a back and biceps workout or a full body session that includes squats, deadlifts, bench press, chins and farmers walks? Remember your nervous system isn’t limb specific so neither should your training be.
Split your routine up based on ‘what’ the body does, not based on what ‘part’ it is
Think about the last time you performed an isolated leg extension outside of the gym. Never right? Now what if I told you that isolating muscles can confuse muscle firing sequences that decrease performance and increase the risk of injury. Remember that strength and functionality are seldom the goals of bodybuilders. Should you completely avoid isolating exercises, not at all, but they certainly shouldn’t make up the bulk of your program.
Instead we can break movements down into 9 categories
1. Explosive movement
2. Knee dominant
3. Hip dominant
4. Horizontal Push
5. Horizontal Pull
6. Vertical Push
7. Vertical Pull
8. Rotational Core
9. Bridge Core
We can further sub-divide many of these into unilateral (single arm/leg) or bilateral (both arms/legs). A rounded strength program will cover all of these movements. I’ve included a list of exercises and which category they fall into at the end to avoid you falling asleep at your desk, after all you are supposed to be working ;)
Work through full range of motion
When performing an exercise, work through the full range of motion you have that is safe to do so. I like to say ‘strength is gained in the range that is trained” and it’s true. Training through full ranges of motion will help prevent injuries and maintain flexibility. Safety is key though. Ass to grass is a phrase everyone uses to describe the holy grail of squatting depth, however the reality is most people don’t have the hip mobility and/or strength to maintain proper posture at depth during a squat. Once the butt begins to tuck underneath you, that’s your depth for now. Work on flexibility, strength and mobility to get you deeper into the ‘hole’.
Your rep & set schemes should be the same for push/pull movements
Balance applies to more than just aesthetics. If you are benching 120kg then you sure as hell better be strapping some weight to your hips and chinning with 120kg too (includes bodyweight). Do this and, voila your bench will go up and your shoulders will begin to like you again. Your body does not want to be in imbalance and it will only allow you to go so far in one direction before it puts the brakes on. Even things out in the strength stakes and your body will happily let you add more weight to the bar.
Train on your feet
This is where life and sport happens, so your training should mimic that. Get off the leg extension and squat. Stop using the pec dec and push something heavy over your head. Not only will you get strong but you’ll build real stability, not the kind you find from balancing on a swiss ball, the kind that runs over people on a rugby field.
Compound exercises are the backbone of your routine
Coming back to stress, compound exercises are the king. Compound exercises allow you to handle a lot of weight. This places a large amount of stress on the nervous system. Bottom line, if you want bigger arms, put more weight on your deadlift.
Tension is key when it comes to training. Knowing how to manipulate it, will allow you to perform the same exercises with different outcomes, pretty cool right. It’s common for bodybuilders to use a slowed concentric to increase the time under tension, for strength however being explosive is the key. You won’t lift big weights by being slow. True, the bar might not be moving quickly but your muscles will be pushing as hard and as fast as they can. It is your intent that is key.
Make weak points, strong points
Weak points are usually to blame for those “oh, nearly” lifts. Identify and focus on bringing up your weak points and you’ll start making those lifts. I like to use strongman type training to balance things out. There isn’t really anywhere to hide whilst you do many of these lifts. You either make them or you don’t and they hit everything. My body is in pieces today from doing farmers walks yesterday.
Almost every facet of our life now runs in fast forward, which is a shame. I’m a big believer in going through a process to really understand something and maybe that’s why I love strength training so much. You can’t fast forward your way to being strong without first putting in the groundwork. There is something gratifying about adding an extra 5kg’s to a lift you couldn’t do 4 weeks ago that makes it almost therapeutic for me. As a beginner, you’ll likely experience the biggest leaps and gains of your training life. Enjoy them and stay the ship, because when it gets hard, it also when it gets very, very good.