Move intently and intensely is all you need to do to get stronger when starting from damn near scratch. The first post of this series suggested purposely incorporating seven primary movement patterns into your training regimen: Squat; Hinge; Lunge; Push; Pull; Rotate; Locomote; Purposely moving a variety of ways with a high degree of consistency can start to improve your positional integrity and movement competency. Systematically applying resistance to repeated bouts of your new favorite movements builds strength.
Benefits of Strength Training
Why train to get stronger? Plenty of reasons; increased muscle mass, bone density, range of motion, mental well-being, metabolism, sleep, immune function, . . . Knowing you’re strong enough to tackle a wide array of the random challenges life can throw your way is also extremely empowering.
You don’t only obtain strength by working strictly within what the research says equates to ideal strength training prescriptions of exercises, sets, repetitions, loads, and rest. This is particularly true if you’re a novice, which is exactly for whom this blog is written. For novices, here are some general terms with which it’s worth familiarizing yourself:
Exercise – The exercise you select determines which movement you strengthen, along with the muscles that help generate that movement. For example, squatting strengthens your squat and, by proxy, the hip/leg/back/”core” muscles that contribute force to its successful execution.
Intensity – In this case, intensity refers to the amount of resistance you’re having to overcome to successfully complete the resisted movement you selected. Intensity can be assigned both objectively, as a percentage of your heaviest possible repetition, or subjectively, by using a fancy RPE pr reps in reserve scale. For novices, keeping subjectivity as loose as, “Lift something relatively difficult but absolutely doable for the number of repetitions assigned”, suffices just fine.
Volume – If the exercise describes how you’re picking something up and putting it down, and intensity specifies how heavy what you’re picking up and putting down is, then volume refers to how many times you are picking something up and putting it down. Typically, volume is prescribed in sets (like a round or a bout of exercise) and reps (how many times you’re repeating the movement within a set, bout or round of exercise). Heavier things are typically picked up less times per set while lighter things can be picked up more times per set. Therefore, volume and intensity generally have an inverse relationship. Rest – An often overlooked variable is rest, or time taken between sets of exercise. Longer rest periods allow for heavier loads lifted and/or more repetitions to be completed on subsequent sets while shorter rest periods achieve the opposite. Rest becomes increasingly important as you get stronger.
Here are a few guiding principles with which to familiarize yourself prior to embarking on your journey to get stronger:
Specificity – You get stronger in the patterns you train and in the way that you train them. Carryover from one exercise to another depends on how closely related those exercises are. A stronger squat likely leads to a stronger lunge but don’t expect your pullups to increase too.
Individuality – Genetics, environment, training history, injury history, and several other factors unique to you contribute to how your body responds to training. You and your best friend could follow the exact same program and experience drastically different results.
Progressive Overload – You need to appropriately increase resistance over time, beyond what you’re accustomed to, in order to get stronger.
Diminishing Returns – You’ll make strength gains considerably faster when you first start training than when you become a more experienced lifter.
Variety – One way to battle diminishing returns is by shaking things up a little bit. That said, shake them up too much or too often and you won’t achieve progressive overload. I recommend you change without really changing by switching to a similar but slightly different exercise, or decreasing reps while increasing weight, when progress stagnates.
Reversibility – If you don’t use it, you lose it. For real. However, it’s easier to get back the strength you once had than it is to obtain it for the first time.
I know, great 3rd grade science lesson but what do you actually need to do to get stronger?
Perform the seven previously discussed movement patterns two times per week in a resisted fashion, increasing the resistance gradually along the way. There are no less than a million ways to accomplish this so I’m going to give you just one, along with a list of resources you can tap into for additional training options. Perform the following routine as a circuit (or break it into smaller groups if necessary), resting minimally but as needed throughout. You can use the movement routine from part one of this blog series as your warmup. As for intensity, lift something relatively difficult but absolutely doable for the number of repetitions assigned. Try to slightly increase intensity each week as the reps per set decrease.
Goblet Squat – Hold something, preferably a dumbbell or kettlebell, at chest height. Squat down then stand up. To progress, hold something heavier. To make it easier, sit to a box or chair instead of a full squat and progress by increasing your depth.
Pushup – Keeping your body in a relatively straight line, lower yourself down to the ground then push yourself back up until your arms are straight. If your initial strength level doesn’t allow for pushups on the floor, perform them on something that allows your upper body to be elevated. If pushups on the floor are easy, you can add weight to your back to increase resistance.
Hip Bridge – Lay on your back with knees bent. Drive your hips up high then lower them back down. To add resistance, you can lay a dumbbell or weight plate across your hips.
Inverted Row – It’s basically an upside down pushup. The more upright your position, the easier it is. Get more horizontal to increase resistance.
Split Squat – Start in a half-kneeling position with your front foot flat on the ground and your knee just forward of your ankle. Tuck the ball of your back foot. Stand up. That’s your starting position. Keeping your feet in place, drop your back knee to the ground (under control) and stand back up. Complete all repetitions on one leg before switching to the other. Hold something in your hands to add resistance. Hold ON to something to add assistance.
Kneeling Chop and Lift – Knee tall. Hold something in your hands, like a weight plate, and move it from your side pocket up and across your body. Repeat all repetitions on one side before switching to the other. Keep the movement under extreme control and don’t be in a rush to load this up heavy. Farmer Carry – Hold something heavy in both hands, like kettlebells or dumbbells. Walk tall and slowly for the assigned number of steps (per leg). If you can’t walk the entire distance without setting the weight down, it’s too heavy.
Here are some trusted resources for helping organize the initial steps of your strength building journey:
Book – New Rules of Lifting
Lastly, keep in mind that strength is a relative term. Some traditionalists might be appalled by the absence of barbell training or lower rep schemes in my beginner recommendations but I believe that everything is earned and the barbell along with heavier weights are better called upon when bigger guns are needed to move the needle. Earn the right to handle the higher resistance afforded by the barbell’s ability to deliver heavier loads. Right now, we are simply trying to reinforce quality movement with some strength.