The details grow and change over time, but the principles are rock-solid and have been borne out by the success of dozens of powerlifting champions and pro athletes.
To begin with these 10 rules of strength training. Take them to heart, and come back when you’re serious.
LESSON 1 FIND HOME BASE
If strength is your highest priority, make your home wherever you train. You need to feel both comfortable and challenged in your training temple.
You need to be in a gym where people are about at your level, but where you’ve got guys who know more and can lift more than you, if your goal is to become better, though, you have to know when it’s time to move on to a better gym with stronger people training there.
Choose a training space that fits you and your training goals. When you’ve outgrown it, find a new home. Feel comfortable—but not too comfortable.
LESSON 2 USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM
If you lift weights, you’ve probably been in the position of spotting someone or having someone spot you. If you haven’t had that experience, then you’ve never pushed yourself beyond your comfort zone.
After working with a variety of spotters, you’ll find that some people can truly help you pull off previously unthinkable lifts, while others don’t know jack or don’t know when to shut up. You need your training partners to fall into the former category if you want to grow.
This doesn’t just apply to competition lifts, either. It is just as important in accessory lifts and everything else that contributes to the overall project of getting stronger.
Find a knowledgeable, dedicated partner you can depend on, and become someone they can depend on too. Be there to help troubleshoot when necessary, and accept their coaching in return.
LESSON 3 SET THE SCENE
If YouTube is your only window into the world of serious strength training, you might think that a background of grinding screamo metal is the only way to make a PR a reality.
That’s not the only way to be hardcore, though. Your music needs to match your personality, your mood, and your objective for your training session. If you’re a crazy person, you have to go crazy in the gym, If you’re not a crazy person, I want you calm. When you’re training, music is very important for matching who you are as a person to what you’re trying to achieve.
LESSON 4 MAX OUT REGULARLY
The takeaway for you? When you’re training to be strong in a certain lift, you need to know where you stand, and test yourself regularly. If you can max out on something every time you do these lifts, you’d be strong, too.
LESSON 5 AIM FOR SMALL GAINS
It’s easy to understand that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. It’s after the first few miles that the goal may start to seem unreachable. But the way forward hasn’t changed. Only your point of view has.
What does this mean if your goal is a double-bodyweight deadlift or adding pounds to your bench? Both goals can seem distant, but the way to get there is one pound at a time.
To hit new max lifts and progress towards bigger goals, take the one-step approach with tiny increments of improvement. That might mean adding another 2.5 pounds to a certain squat or deadlift variation. It’s this type of incremental progress that eventually adds up to totals.
Think about it this way: If you break a max by 5 pounds a month, that’s 60 pounds a year.
Stay focused, stay strong, stay patient. You’ll get there.
LESSON 6 EXPAND YOUR IDEA OF A PR
To say that lifters set PRs every week can be a bit misleading. In truth, these aren’t upping their numbers in competition lifts like clockwork.
Instead, set PRs in an immense variety of the classic lifts using different widths, types of variable resistance, and ranges of motion. A rack pull PR from a certain height is still a PR. So is a close-stance box squat PR to a specific box height. To build strength from the ground up, tweak every possible variable.
Take good records, so you know what your standards are in everything you do. And then push those standards. Only by giving your body new stimulation can you expect it to deliver new results.
LESSON 7 CRUSH YOUR PERSONAL WEAKNESSES
Is there a body part you hate training so much that you go light when it comes time to hit it? Do you only think about the muscles you can see when you’re staring in a mirror? Does the prospect of a heavy leg day make you start planning for a skip day?
If so, it’s time to man the fuck up. The strong get that way by targeting weakness, not by playing to their strengths. But this work has just as much purpose and vision behind it as a max-effort pull.
You may be strong somewhere, but you’re not strong everywhere. Figure out the chinks in your armor and work on sealing them, rather than simply chasing pumps and trying to add a half-inch to your calves. Use high reps and lighter weight targeting stabilizer muscles with accessory lifts, and you’ll see extra inches and pounds where it counts.
LESSON 8 APPROACH STRENGTH FROM ALL ANGLES
When you first get into a gym and start lifting weights regularly, you can make exponential advances without much planning. Strength and size seem to come easily, even if you do the same thing for weeks or months at a time. But soon enough, those gains slow down. Then they stop. This is a sign that your program isn’t complete enough to carry you any further.
Look at where your program is deficient, correct it, and get pointed in the right direction.
LESSON 9 RESTORE YOURSELF
To get strong you have to have restoration. The most accessible recovery tool is the foam roller for self-myofascial release.
If you have access to these use them. If you’re wondering where the money comes from, start by cutting out alcohol and junk food for a few months. You’ll find it quickly enough! But if nothing else, acquire a foam roller and learn how to use it. Expand your idea of what “rest” means, and your body will be ready to expand your idea of what “strength” means.
LESSON 10 REST WHEN YOU NEED IT, WORK WHEN YOU DON’T
Rest doesn’t come on any specific week or day. When you feel it, it comes. You need to keep your baseline strength level high and never take too much time off. You have to be strong to be trainable. You want to be at 80 percent strength or higher at all times. You don’t want to be at 70 percent strength and then have to work yourself to death to get back to the place where you can start to really train and get stronger again.
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