The 5 Pillars of Strength
I have been coming across many people expressing their desire to get strong. I’m not talking about strong as in they want to join a powerlifting or strongman competition and ''win'', but they’d like to maybe turn some heads at the gym, and show their friends just how “strong” they really are. These requests for strength come from people you may not think of as a typical iron-maniac/typical looking gym junkie. It comes from anyone; mums, government employees, netballers, horse riders, ok you get the point now.
The thing is, anyone can get strong. Unfortunately without the proper direction many go about it all the wrong way. They pick up a magazine, watch some you-tube clips or get info/coaching from another gym-goer who just isn’t strong and doesn’t know how to get strong. Would you ask for dance lessons from a person with 2 left feet? Didn’t think so.
Ok, in this latest SFTM blog I will go over 5 important pillars of strength that shouldn’t be ignored if you are trying to get strong. If you follow these points and start integrating the suggestions I make into your training you will get stronger, no doubt.
Exercise Selection/Training Program:
Exercise selection is important. If you truly want to get strong should you be concentrating on squats or leg extensions, cable crossovers or bench press? EXACTLY. Even if you don’t want to do a powerlifting or strongman competition, there are certain exercises, which provide more strength and size potential, compared to others.
Here is a quick list of big, multi-joint exercises to concentrate on:
Bench Press – close grip bench, dips, incline bench, dumbbell bench, parallel bar dips.
Overhead Press – standing overhead dumbbell press, seated overhead press, seated behind the neck presses, jerks, push presses.
Barbell Squats – high bar squats, low bar squats, front squats, pause squats, alternate bar squats (cambered, safety squat bar, etc.)
Deadlifts – conventional deadlift, sumo deadlifts, deficit deadlifts, block deadlifts, stiff legged deadlifts.
I’m not going to tell you there isn't a place for smaller isolation exercises, because there is (these are great for accessory work) - You do these when you're already fatigued or got the real work in from the big compound exercises (unless you are doing some sort of bodybuilding program).
We all love a good chew (I don't know about any of you reading this, but I do. LOL). It seems there is a spectrum of two extremes when it comes to nutrition. You have the one side made up of people eating everything and anything they want and generally look and feel like crap. Then you have the other side of people who limit 75% of the foods out there and claim to be happy about eating boring, tasteless foods all the time for fear that their gut will explode from looking at gluten/carbs/bla bla blaaa.
If you want to be strong, you need to fuel your body. You need protein, and you need carbs. At the simplest level, that is all it is. Unfortunately since everyone likes to confuse the shit out of things with “scientific” resources this fact gets chucked into whatever fad is currently popular.
Should you consume protein powder and lollies, only? After all, they do contain protein and carbohydrates, right? Yeah, but this is a stupid example (use some common sense). Health does become a factor, and the need for vitamins and minerals from food is something that can’t be overlooked.
Just remember if you're eating foods that don’t agree with you and you're not performing in the gym; unfortunately you aren’t going to get stronger or progress. If you have a few years of training under your belt, you need to be in caloric excess in order to get optimal strength gains. There is no way around it. You may be able to maintain strength while losing weight, but doing both simultaneously without “help or experience” is always going to be a failed mission.
So stop worrying about what your favourite training guru says and start experimenting and listening to what works for you first.
Intensity and volume are two tenets of programming, which are often overlooked by amateurs/trainees. If you know how to manipulate volume and intensity in your strength-training program, you will get stronger. The thing is, this requires planning ahead. If you are someone who is at a level where autoregulation is a viable option, then planning can be a little less important.
However, if you’re reading this - I'm guessing you want to get stronger and aren’t quite at that level yet. Let’s quickly go over what exactly intensity and volume is.
Intensity is the percentage of your 1 rep max (RM) that you are using to lift. It doesn’t mean that you are “training intensely”. It’s an objective marker of what kind of weight you are using as a percentage of your 1RM.
Volume is the total amount of weight you lifted in a given training session. If you lift 100 kg's for 10 sets of 10 reps, your volume would be: 1000*10*10 = 10000. If a lifter were to say “I’m using a lot of volume now,” this would usually mean they are doing a lot of work sets.
There is usually an inverse relationship between volume and intensity. The higher intensity you use, the less volume you use. The more volume you have in a program, the lower the volume. Doing 10 sets of 5 with 70% of your max is much more realistic than 10 sets of 5 with 90% of your max.
If you are doing a program that calls for 10 sets of 5 with 90% of your 1RM, you should find a new program, trainer or coach.
Is this making sense? There are so many strong people who have used programs based on volume and intensity. I truly don’t believe that one method is better than another. I do believe that these variables should be manipulated on a weekly or monthly basis to gain strength.
For instance you could start with a lower intensity and higher volume at the beginning of your program. Each week, the intensity would increase slightly, and volume would decrease slightly, resulting in new max after a predetermined period of time (usually at 8-12 weeks). The reason I like this method is because it’s old as hell and has been working for many strong people for a long time.
Just understand that most strong people have some semblance or outline of what they are trying to accomplish over a given timeline. No one expects to all of a sudden add 20-50 kg's to their bench press or deadlift overnight. It won’t happen. Even if you train with autoregulation, you have a minimum weight you should hit each training session, but your goal is to increase that minimum weight over time. This results in an increase in your 1RM.
This might be the most puzzled principle of strength out there.
The body is biological organism. It enjoys being in a state in which not much is changing. As a matter of fact, you must defy your body’s wishes in order to force it to change. What this means is that you must apply different stimuli to your body in order to adapt to more stimuli.
I’m sorry if I put you to sleep with that last edumacated paragraph, but it needed to be said. You must provide different loads to your body in order to stimulate strength and size. Have you ever known someone who does his or her 1RM bench every week? Really try to think about someone you know who did this as part of their training and ask yourself if they were still hitting the exact number a year later? I bet you know of someone.
Those outcomes occur because they were not placing a new demand on the body, which allowed the body to stay nice a comfy where it likes to be. This is why using 8’s, 5’s, triples and doubles, etc. are a good rep method of gaining strength. You provide different demands on your body and force it to adapt to these new demands.
You need to figure out a way of forcing your body to adapt to new demands to gain strength. Using a high intensity all the time isn’t the solution because your body will not be able to progress in strength at the rate that you can add weight to the bar each week. This is why dialing back the intensity a little bit and adding some volume can be a huge benefit to someone a lifter who has been using high intensities.
Consistency cannot be taking lightly. If you are not consistent in training you simply won’t progress - no point stopping and starting and expecting results (You have to be consistent and grind away).
If you are truly trying to progress, you will usually have some extra motivation to help push you to get into the gym when you are supposed to go. If life/circumstances get in the way and you know you will have to take a step back with training frequency, you can still maintain your gains (Focus on the things you CAN DO).
Just realize that in order to make great progress, you have to have a level of consistency that will allow those goals come to life. If your program calls for you to train 3-4 x week and you're only training 2 x per week, unfortunately you won’t get maximum return - This is the same with nutrition. You can create a little “barrier” to accommodate when you may not be able to follow the plan. You still need to be following your macros (or whatever you use to track) for the majority of the time.
So there you go; this is the 5 SFTM pillars of Strength. If you would like to discuss this post further with me, please get in contact with me via email or facebook.