Strength, in my opinion, is the number one most important trait you can build in the weight room. Without a solid base of strength, you’re going to be bad at everything you ever do in life, just kidding!
Getting stronger will never be a bad thing. Whether you’re a young athlete, soccer mom, firefighter, couch potato, or keyboard warrior; being strong will always make your life easier in some way. Or break your keyboard easier if you fight people on the internet for fun.
The basic principles of strength training are:
- Progressive Overload Is King
- Focus On Big, Compound Movements
- Progress Slowly
A lot of beginners think they need to be doing those bodybuilding programs to build strength and I can tell them all from experience nothing could be further from the truth!
Doing tons of random isolation exercises like bicep curls, tricep extensions, leg curls, and cable flys is great once you’ve built a solid foundation of mass and strength. For most people, using these exercises occurs years later after focusing on the heavy compound basics; such as squatting, benching, and deadlifting.
If I could go back in time and focus on these 3 principles my strength gains would significantly improve without a doubt! Come see what I’ve learned in my decade-plus of strength training experience!
Progressive Overload Is King
When focusing on getting stronger, the number one most important thing is progressive overload.
“”The progressive overload principle basically states: In order for a muscle to grow, strength to be gained, performance to increase, or for any similar improvement to occur, the human body must be forced to adapt to a tension that is above and beyond what it has previously experienced. Go back and read that again.” This is a quote from Jay at aworkoutroutine.com.
Essentially what this boils down to is you need to increase how much work you’re doing from session to session. This can be in the form of more reps, sets, or weight as I described in this article.
When it comes to building strength we want to focus on increasing weight in the 4-8 rep range.
This is what most people recommend and I understand why. But what if I told you building strength is possible without getting into those heavier rep ranges. Would you believe me?
With this in mind, the best way I’ve found to build strength quickly is to focus on using PR sets. A PR set is where you attempt a Personal Record with a given weight.
Here is a basic workout I have my new clients do that builds strength for them faster than I’ve ever seen before. Before training my current client, Brianna, she could only squat and deadlift around 100 for sets of 10. She was unable to Bench Press and Overhead Press unfortunately due to a shoulder issue.
Because of the training however, we were able to fix her shoulder COMPLETELY within 4 weeks. She has zero pain and her strength in those two upper body movements EXPLODED in strength!
On top of that, this program was built for her to LOSE WEIGHT of which she’s lost around 8 lbs in 8 weeks. The fact she’s making this much progress while losing body fat is astounding and something I didn’t think was possible. This is what she did last week in the gym.
|Day 1:||Day 2:||Day 3:|
She completed 10 Reps
|Trap Bar Deadlift |
She completed 5 Reps
She completed 15 Reps
3 Sets @Bodyweight
3 Sets @Bodyweight
10, 9, 7
3 Sets @55
12, 13, 14
3 Sets @65
18, 17, 16
Dumbbell Incline Bench
3 Sets @30
15, 14, 12
3 Sets @40
15, 15, 14
15 minutes @50
She completed 10 trips
Trap Bar Farmer Walks
15 Minutes @125
She completed 8 walks
15 minutes @60
She completed 10 pulls
The important thing to realize was we never went super heavy leading up to this. We started her at 125 lbs and literally just added 5 lbs per workout. After a couple of weeks of hitting solid sets of 5, we switched her over to PR sets. She hit 10 reps every single time up to 180 lbs.
We had a little deload week and had her go for 200 lbs to see where she was. I didn’t let her go close to failure on any set and as you can see she had more reps in the tank. Even at 200 lbs she most likely would had hit 10 reps! That’s absolutely insane!
My strategy for progressive overload as you can see is very simple. We pick a light weight and push for a PR set. We cap the lower body movements at 10 reps, and the upper body movements at 20 reps. If you do more than 5 reps, you add 5 lbs and push for another PR the following week. Doing this allowed us to build up muscle and strength over a long period of time.
Doing this my clients never miss their reps, constantly build good form and confidence, never overtrain by doing a ton of heavy sets, and they build muscle all at the same time.
And again I can’t emphasize this enough, she did all of this while losing almost 10 lbs. Imagine if she ate more calories and gained a little weight? Her lifts would be even stronger than they are now!
You don’t always have to go super heavy all the time to build strength and I have the results to prove it. With everything I’ve done and all the people, I’ve trained nobody has ever been hurt and they have all substantially increased their strength levels even if that wasn’t their main goal.
Try to increase the stress on your body every time you hit the gym. It doesn’t matter if it’s 5 lbs here or 1 more rep here, you will get stronger and you will make progress. Keep working!
Focus On Big, Compound Movements
Everybody should know what compound movements are by now! Squats, Bench Press, Deadlift, and Overhead Pressing are some of the main ones that most people know about. A compound movement is any movement that works multiple muscle groups at once. They have the ability to build the most muscle mass, strength, and even burn more calories because they’re so intensive.
Because compound movements work so many major muscle groups you can essentially train your entire body with only a handful of movements. This is great training economy and something more people need to pay attention to!
Now think back to when you first started training, did you focus on any of these? Most people I know started off with basic Curls, Bench Presses, and other upper body movements only. Nobody was Squatting or Deadlifting and if they were their form was awful.
Imagine my surprise when I first learned what a compound movement was and why you should focus most of your training on it! I was mad and a little upset I wasted so much time working each muscle individually.
As soon as I saw just how much stronger you could get I was all in!
I built my first entire program off of them and skyrocketed my strength almost immediately! I remember Squatting less than 95lbs my first time, Benching close to 165, I never Deadlifted or Overhead Pressed so I know they were weak.
Fast forward a couple of years following a super basic program of ONLY compound movements and I was Squatting in the 300s, Deadlifting in the 400s, Benched 300 for 3 solid reps, and even overhead pressed 185 lbs. At a height of 6’5″ I was amazed by the results! If you want results like these and even greater you need to build your programs off of compound movements.
If you only did these 8 movements you would be bigger, stronger, faster and more athletic than all of your peers. Those 8 movements and their close variations are:
- Bench Press
- Overhead Press
- Dumbbell Rows
- Dumbbell Incline Bench
These are all tried and true strength-building exercises that work no matter who you are! If you can’t do one of these movements as is, find a close variation and use that instead. Work AROUND pain, not through it. Getting hurt and having an ego in the gym is the number 1 way to make sure you never get stronger.
When using these 8 movements, I didn’t do anything else except occasional ab work or curls. 90% of the work involved pushing hard and getting stronger on these movements.
I was also running hills after every workout with the goal of staying in shape and burning calories. Doing the hard conditioning kept me in great lifting shape and increased how much food I could eat. The more calories I ate, the stronger I became. Don’t forget to eat, it’s so important for building strength.
A basic A/B Style template using these exercises would be as follows:
|Workout A:||Workout B:|
Squat PR Set
Deadlift PR Set
|DB Incline Bench 25-50 Reps||Dips 25-50 Reps|
Bench PR Set
Press PR Set
|DB Rows 25-50 Reps||Pullups 25-50 Reps|
|Conditioning 10-15 Minutes||Conditioning 10-15 Minutes|
Using this style of training you can train 2, 3, or even 4 days a week. It’s completely based on your recovery ability and how consistent you can be. A great way to set it up is to just take a rest day or do cardio in between each workout.
Setting it up this way you aren’t confined to a 7 day work week. This allows us to train when we’re recovered and focus on getting stronger. Doing this type of training you absolutely need to cut out all the fluff and just work hard on the basics. You can use the movements I showed you above or choose your own based on your own principles.
The main point is you need to get stronger at your main barbell, dumbbell, and bodyweight basics. When you get stronger at those life seems to get easier, your mind grows stronger and your body follows suit. If you follow this basic plan and work on adding weight, as your form dictates it, you WILL get stronger. This is tested and I know it works.
If anybody has any questions on this section definitely let me know! I’m definitely interested in helping out as many people as I possibly can!
I’ve seen this many times in the past with people that think they can FORCE progress. They start off light, work hard for a couple of weeks, make GREAT progress, and then they HAVE to max out. It’s like they need to know they’re getting stronger immediately instead of just taking their time and letting it come to them.
When you increase your weights fast you get stronger faster sure…but only for a little while.
The people that add weight faster like this hit a plateau faster, then they decide to force it and keep adding weight. Their form breaks down, their reps get slow and grindy and eventually they get injured.
After they get injured they have to stop training for a while to recover. They let their ego get in the way AGAIN and they reinjure themselves over and over again throughout the years until finally, they give up and stick to cardio and racquetball.
They go around saying Bench Press is bad for your shoulders, Squatting is bad for your knees and Deadlift is bad for your back at your local commercial gym. Sound familiar?
This happens so often it’s not even surprising anymore. It’s really sad and unfortunate but it’s something I see all too often. With my clients, the #1 way they don’t get injured is by progressing slowly.
5 more lbs and 1 more rep. That’s all it takes to get stronger over a long period of time. I find that by progressing slowly and starting too light you build a bigger training base. You start with higher reps to build up muscle mass and work capacity, as the weight gets heavier the PR sets will slowly get lower and lower until you’re hitting close to 5 reps. From there we back off the weight and work back up!
All of the PR sets you hit when you were weaker will be broken when this happens. If you benched 200 for 10 reps the first time and worked up to 240 for 5 reps in an 8 week period, I guarantee when you back off the weight that 200 for 10 reps is going to be closer to 15-20. It works so well and I know it’ll work for you guys.
When in doubt, start too light, cap your PR sets on your lower body to 10, and your upper body to 20. Every PR set you shouldn’t be going to failure. Keep 1 rep in the tank and make sure your form is solid. Over time you’ll build more muscle and your strength will build right along with it. The longer you progress without having to back off the weight, the stronger you’ll be over time.
When building strength is the goal, never forget the basic principles I went over today: focusing on big movements using progressive overload while making sure to progress slowly.
As soon as you let your ego into the weight room is when you get injured and have to waste time getting healed. Do you want to build strength the fastest over the long haul? Take your time, be consistent and don’t force it. The moment you think you know better than your body it’s going to break down on you. Take care of it and reap the benefits of a stronger mind and body.
I hope this article really helped you all out! I had a lot of fun writing this one and it’s definitely one I know a ton about. The amount of experience I’ve attained in this past decade that I can give to all of you is why I do this.
Let me know your favorite ways to get stronger! Do you agree that focusing on the main movements is the BEST way to get stronger? I wanna hear what you all have to say in the comments below!
Until next time,