What is Strength Training?A good summarization of strength training is this — a type of physical exercise specializing in the use of resistance to induce muscular contraction, which builds strength, anaerobic endurance, size of skeletal muscles and bone density.
Strength Training Is Not The Same As Weight TrainingStrength training is also called resistance training or weight lifting by some but that is not entirely accurate. It involves performing physical exercises which are designed to improve strength and muscle mass over the long term. In strength training this is done with a set goal in mind. Strength training is most often associated with the use of weights to build strength but it can take a variety of different forms. What’s the difference between weight training and strength training and how do they build strength? Weight training is using weights to improve general health and fitness, but not necessarily with a long-term plan or clear-cut structure in mind. This is what most people are doing in the weight room. They haven’t decided to or learned how to build strength. Further, they also have the mainstream influence of a typical “bodybuilding” style workout. This has become the standard way to train in my own observations over the years. On the other hand, strength training is a specific type of training where you are aiming to get stronger over time. This also includes building more muscle mass to support the heavier weights. In order to become stronger, you need to gain more muscle mass. To gain more muscle mass you need to get stronger. That is how you build strength over a long period of time. The main distinction weight training and strength training is long term goals and a plan of execution for that specific goal. A routine can be coached by an expert in the strength training field. It can also be followed by a plan online, which is how I built more strength and size. Strength training is for those with specific goals to get stronger, build muscle, improve joint function, and increase overall endurance and physical conditioning.
What Strength Training Looks LikeAlthough there is so much detail that goes into a proper strength training plan, and the methods of doing so, this generally is how a strength training routine works: Strength training involves a specific structure to your workouts where you have a plan of what exercises to do and when to perform them. A proper training plan may span many months so that you have a long-term structure to your training to meet your goals. Generally, a strength training program involves lower rep ranges, heavier weights, and a meaningful number of sets. This is so the ever-increasing stress and stimuli on your body cause it to adapt by building dense muscles and therefore more strength. Exercises consist of mostly compound movements so that your joints and muscles are fully worked. Compound movements are exercises that involve multiple joints and large muscle groups, which means it takes the whole body to complete. Most strength building workouts are very similar in nature. They will all use a core group of several lifts. These lifts are all variations of the strongest natural movements of the human body. These lifts are:
- Squat and front squat.
- Bench press and close grip bench press.
- Military press and push press.
- Deadlift and Romanian deadlift.
- Barbell and dumbbell rows.
- Power cleans and Olympic lift variations.
- Pull ups (palms facing away from you)
- Chin ups (palms facing you)
- Weighted abdominal exercises such weighted sit ups and twists
- Glute/ham raise
- Good mornings
Strength Training and Muscle GrowthNow that you know what strength training is, let’s talk about another aspect that is the actual goal for a lot of men. Muscle growth. Strength training is about picking up heavy weights and when you do you stimulate muscle growth. Aimlessly lifting random amounts of weight inconsistently will only get you so far in terms of results. That is why you need to learn how to build strength strategically. You need to take a proper approach and have a game plan to get the results that you want. A proven strength training plan will definitely teach you how to build strength.
Progressive OverloadMost strength training programs will utilize progressive overload. This is the idea of increasing your workload over time to force your body to adapt. Examples of how to do this are:
- Lifting heavier weights than the week/workout prior.
- Doing more reps than the previous week or workout.
- Completing more sets than the previous workout.
Why Bodybuilding Type Training Isn’t the Best Way to Reach Your Muscular PotentialThis is where things get interesting. So many people (myself included) go to following a “bodybuilding focused” training style. This type of training has become wildly popular due to several factors. Fitness magazines, bodybuilding documentaries and social media are some. This type of training has its place for some people and for those in the sport of bodybuilding and it will help you build muscle to certain point. However, it is not the most beneficial way to gain muscle and strength for a normal guy who does not take performance enhancing drugs to build muscle. Also remember, that a bodybuilder’s goal isn’t necessarily to be as strong as they look. The best bodybuilders will be very strong but they don’t necessarily have to be. That’s why bodybuilding training usually uses higher rep ranges than strength training. It utilizes the “pump” and many weightlifters strive for it because it feels awesome. I’ll admit that is really does and it has its place in a training routine. Hypertrophy training is beneficial but you will eventually need more strength to gain more muscle. Research has shown that heavy, low-rep weightlifting primarily builds strength and results in higher amounts of muscle damage. Which leads to more muscle being built. While, lighter, higher-rep weightlifting primarily increases muscle endurance and results in less muscle damage. This means less muscle being built. It’s generally agreed upon that high rep training does not build strength equally as well as low-rep, heavy weight training. All the best strength training programs out there prove this because they involve a lot of heavy weightlifting. This is good for us because heavy strength training is very effective for building muscle. If you are never planning to use “performance enhancing drugs” and want to achieve your genetic potential for muscle growth, you’re going to have to do more and more strength training and less and less bodybuilding type workouts. The take-away is that if you want to get as big as you naturally can, then you need to get as strong as you can through lots of heavy lifting. When learning how to build strength, you should start with this idea in mind.
Movements and Exercises to Build StrengthAs humans we are built to perform certain movements with ease to be functional. There was a time where we had to do ALL the heavy lifting just to survive. Even though we have grown past that, our bodies are still built to be efficient in these natural movements by utilizing multiple muscle groups and leverage. In strength training we are strengthening these movements by progressively adding weight to them. We use these natural movements every single day. That’s why strength training is good for anyone, not just a guy trying to get bigger. Upper body natural movements are pushing and pulling actions on the horizontal and vertical planes. Bench press is an example of pushing horizontally, and rowing is an example of pulling horizontally. Whereas, pull ups and overhead press are pulling and pushing exercises on the vertical plane. The lower body not only holds us up all day, its natural movements are the base to all our actions. The movements for the lower body are squatting down and bending at the hips to lift things off the ground. The barbell squat and deadlift directly mimic these movements. Carrying things are considered a natural movement also like, holding an object in one or both hands while walking and/or running. An example of a carry exercise is the farmer’s walk. Most strength building programs have a core group of exercises which are the barbell squat, deadlift, overhead press, and bench press. The power clean is also a popular go-to. These will be where you learn how to build strength. The squat, deadlift, and power clean are considered posterior chain movements. A posterior chain exercise works nearly every muscle on the back side of the body. Squats and deadlifts are considered the kings of all strength building movements because they work the body the hardest. Overhead and flat bench pressing are push movements. Pushing exercises work the shoulders, chest, back and arms to varying degrees. A properly structured strength building approach will balance the work load between flat bench and overhead press to maintain shoulder health and vary the pressing stimuli.
Benefits of Learning How to Build StrengthThe benefits of strength training are vast. So vast I’ve written an article on specifically just that. You can read Why Become a Stronger Man in 2023? (Free 7 Day Training Plan) to learn more about the benefits of strength training. Some of the benefits of learning how to build strength are:
- Healthier mind and body
- Stronger muscles
- Stronger bones and joints
- Manage stress
- More capable
- Increased energy
- More confidence
- You will build resiliency and mental fortitude.
- Sleep will come much easier to you and you will sleep longer and more deeply.
- The amount of work you will be able to do will skyrocket. This makes you more capable.
How to Start Building StrengthStarting a strength program, or anything for that matter, isn’t hard. It’s maintaining the consistency that’s harder. The discipline to put in hard work when you’re tired, sore and don’t want to is much harder to maintain than it is to start. However, if you enjoy training as much as I, and so many guys do, you will be on your way to making serious progress. Next, we are going to mention the basics to starting a strength training program and a lot of this can apply to any type of training you choose.
How to Build Strength With Nutrition FirstMost articles always leave nutrition for last. We’re briefly going to address it first because you don’t grow muscle in the gym. You grow muscle outside of the gym with proper nutrition to fuel your hard work. The fact is that it is vital to your success. That’s why you should read Proper Nutrition to Build Muscle and Lose Fat (An Ultimate Guide to Nutrition) in conjunction with this article. It will help you set up your diet with your individual goals in mind. Want to gain muscle? Lose fat? Gain strength? All the above? Our guide to nutrition will help get you there. For example, if you are looking to gain muscle and strength you need to eat more calories than you are burning daily. On the contrary, you need to be eating less than you are burning every day to lose fat. Having a proper diet set up when you begin will bring you the fastest results. Since this is an article on strength training and building muscle, a good starting point for your diet is to be in a caloric surplus. That is assuming you are below 20% body fat as a man. If not, then I suggest cutting until you are below 15% body fat then start putting yourself into a caloric surplus. If you want the best results possible, you need to dial in your nutrition before getting too serious into your training. I urge you to look at our nutrition guide because it will teach you how to set up your diet properly for the best gains possible. Too many people start training and give up because they don’t see results fast enough. The guide also lists some effective supplements. A protein powder and pre-workout supplement are very helpful in my experience. Creatine monohydrate has been studied for a long time. It has been shown to be very effective at building muscle and strength and is safe to use if used correctly.
Identifying Your GoalsAfter you have looked at our nutrition guide, now take a minute to think about your long-term goals. Write them down where you will see them. Try to make your goals challenging but remain logical and realistic. A 450-pound bench press might be possible in 6 years, but it certainly can’t be achieved in 6 months. Once you have written down your long-term goals where you can see them, it’s time to think about short term goals. Your short-term goals are very important. Think about where you want to be in a month, 6 months, and a year. These are very important because they keep you moving closer to your long-term goals and they can keep you motivated. It’s a marathon to reach long term goals and it can be discouraging if you aren’t moving toward them as fast as you’d hoped. So, think about where you want to be at different markers you set for yourself throughout the year. These can be your personal milestones, just keep them realistic. Keep in mind, the key to reaching any goal lies in maximizing your effort and staying consistent. Never waste a single workout. Never missing a workout. Strength is not built overnight; it is built slowly using small but consistent steps day in and day out.
Adopting Solid Training Habits and A Strong MindsetIt’s not uncommon for new lifters to get into the mindset of looking for a “magic” strength training or muscle building program. Here’s what you need to know: there is no magic system or program. The key to making rapid, consistent progress comes from adopting a training mindset and building certain habits no matter what training program you do:
- Staying Motivated and Persistent – Stop making excuses and missing workouts. If you want to improve your strength and move closer to your goals you need to make it to the gym every day your plan instructs you to. This requires discipline setting your priorities.
- Stick to the Basics and Stay Committed – Stay with a basic program and follow it as directed. Simplicity works well and you should get strong with the basics. The most popular strength building systems use a simple structure using the same effective strength building movements. Don’t do more or less because you want to. It will interfere with what has been proven to work and could potentially hurt you. If you commit, then stick with it and you will see change.
- Stay Committed to your Diet– To maximize your efforts in the gym you must also make sure you are eating properly. Not eating enough, or eating too much, inhibit progress toward your goals. Create a proper diet for your goals.
- Find a Plan and Get Started – You can’t enter the gym without a goal. If you do you have no direction. Building strength and muscle requires a plan. No workout should be random, or without a specific goal.
- Accept that you will suffer – You WILL go through days where your workout is incredibly difficult. You WILL have days that you really don’t want to work out. You WILL experience pain. It is best to acknowledge and accept it. You will become more resilient and build mental strength along the way. Just remain consistent.
Proven Plans That Teach you How To Build StrengthAll strength training approaches are very diverse. There are a lot extremely popular and proven training plans that every lifter should look into. These programs are extremely effective, time tested and proven to bring results. We will start with a couple that are perfect for someone just starting out.
Starting StrengthStarting Strength is an extremely popular program designed by Mark Rippetoe. It is considered the got-to program for beginning lifters who need to rapidly build strength and add size to their frame. Mark Rippetoe wrote the book “Starting Strength: Basically Barbell Training” and it has become essentially the standard of strength training. If you are serious about strength training or any weightlifting at all, then you want to read Starting Strength. Even if you don’t plan on ever doing the program. I highly recommend you check out the book to learn the proper form on the exercises you will be doing. Training can be dangerous if the exercises are not done properly and trust me, nothing is worse than having to stop training because of an injury.
The workouts in Starting Strength are actually very simple. They rely on the most effective compound exercises and the focus of the program is achieving the biggest possible lifts by the end of it.The basic Starting Strength template is as follows. Workouts A and B are alternated on 3 non-consecutive days per week. Monday, Wednesday and Friday or example. You start with Workout A on your first lifting day of the week, then rest a day and do Workout B. Rest a day, then back to Workout A and at the end of the week you take two rest days. Here is an example of a week laid out:
- Monday: Workout A
- Tuesday: Rest
- Wednesday: Workout B
- Thursday: Rest
- Friday: Workout A
- Saturday/Sunday: Rest
Stronglifts 5×5This program was created by someone named Mehdi according to the Stronglifts 5×5 website. It is simple, effective, and doesn’t require you spend large amounts of time in the gym. The StrongLifts 5×5 strength training program consists of two workouts. It is very similar to Starting Strength. I used this approach with great success when I began strength training
- Workout A: Squat, Bench Press, Barbell Row
- Workout B: Squat, Overhead Press, Deadlift
How to Build Strength With Proven Programs for the More Experienced LifterThese programs are incredibly effective for someone who has already been training with heavier weights for more than a year. Beginners should be cautious if they want to start one of these. Their bodies might not be ready to take on the workload they offer.
Wendler’s 5/3/1Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 system is a powerlifting and strength building training routine. The program is one of the most popular strength programs out there because it’s easy to understand, it gets results, it doesn’t require any special equipment, and the workouts are relatively short. 5/3/1 has you training 3-4 days per week on what is called a “rotating wave system”. You perform each of these workouts once to complete what is called a “wave”. 5/3/1 has you do one of four workouts on your training days:
- Squat and assistance work.
- Bench Press and assistance work.
- Deadlift and assistance work.
- Overhead Press and assistance work.
|Day 1||Day 2||Day 3||Day 4|
|Overhead Press||Deadlift||Bench Press||Squat|
|Assistance Work||Assistance Work||Assistance Work||Assistance Work|
- Workout A. Squat and assistance work.
- Workout B. Bench Press and assistance work.
- Workout C. Deadlift and assistance work.
- Workout D. Overhead Press and assistance work
3 Days Per WeekOver the course of a mesocycle, you will perform each of the 4 workouts four times, for a total of 16 workouts. For a 3 day/week plan a mesocycle will look like this:
- Week 1. A/B/C Example: (Monday – Workout A, Wednesday – Workout B, Friday – Workout C)
- Week 2. D/A/B
- Week 3. C/D/A
- Week 4. B/C/D
- Week 5. A/B/C
- Week 6. D
4 Days Per WeekIf you use Wendler’s 5/3/1 and train 4 days/week, your mesocycle will last only 4 weeks because you fit each core workout in per week. Your workout schedule should look like this:
- Monday. Squat Day
- Wednesday. Bench Press Day
- Friday. Deadlift Day
- Saturday. Overhead Press Day
- Wave A. Warmup, 75% x 5, 80% x 5, 85% x 5
- Wave B. Warmup, 80% x 3, 85% x 3, 90% x 3
- Wave C. Warmup, 75% x 5, 85% x 3, 95% x 1
- Wave D. Deload wave – 60% x 5, 65% x 5, 70% x 5
Assistance WorkAssistance work is other exercises that are meant to build up your weaknesses and to help you get stronger on the main lifts. How much assistance work you do is up to you. Wendler says natural lifters should try to be in and out of the gym in about an hour. If you can’t do it in that amount of time then you need to look at your rest periods between assistance work sets. In the Wendler’s 5/3/1 book, the following assistance work plans are presented:
- Boring But Big: The main lift, the main lift again @ 5×10 (50% 1RM), and another accessory exercise for 5 sets.
- The Triumvirate: Main lift, and two assistance exercises – 5 sets each.
- I’m Not Doing Jack Shit: The main lift, and nothing else.
- Periodization Bible by Dave Tate: Main lift, and 3 exercises – 5 x 10-20 reps each.
- Bodyweight. Main lift, and 2 bodyweight exercises such as pull ups, sit ups, dips, etc.
The Juggernaut MethodThe Juggernaut Method has become popular among elite strength athletes and is known for its ability to turn average guys into incredible performers. It was developed by Chad Wesley Smith of Juggernaut Training Systems, it is a combination of several sources: Jim Wendler’s famed 5/3/1, the training style of Doug Young, who was a legendary powerlifter who held multiple world titles throughout the 1970s, and simple block periodization. Chad is the founder of Juggernaut and has dominated the world of powerlifting. He set the American world squat record at a whopping 905 pounds, although it has been beaten as of now. It is different from other powerlifting programs and strength training routines. The Juggernaut Method is more of an open-based template which allows each person to focus on their own specific needs and goals. This allows athletes to take advantage of the highly-effective structure and programming found in powerlifting plans. You can also accommodate for conditioning for work/sports. If you are an athlete looking to get big, strong, fast, and powerful—the Juggernaut Method Training Program was literally designed specifically for you. I am currently training under Juggernaut AI, and it has been a serious game changer for me. Describing The Juggernaut Method in this short article will not give it justice so I highly recommend reading the book. It will go so much more into detail about the training and is a good read.
Training StructureThe Juggernaut Method has simplicity as one of its main goals. It is focused on scientifically-backed progressive overload and it adjusts your percentages slightly from workout to workout. By doing this, it ensures incremental but consistent gains which lead to new rep maxes. The training uses rep maxes and not just maxes (1RM) because it takes some of its influence from Doug Young. In his own training, Doug focused on utilizing a last-set rep-max. He used his performance to dictate the weights used. The Juggernaut Method also focuses on block periodization. It intelligently and purposefully adjusts the repetitions and sets performed over a given training cycle to maximize your results. This comes in three phases:
- Accumulation phase: high volume to accumulate fatigue, build work capacity, and develop skill for a given lift
- Intensity phase: intensity and specificity increases to begin optimizing strength and power while volume is decreased by more than half
- Realization phase: maximal intensity and low volume for optimal competition performance—maximum strength and power reached
The Training Plan OverviewChad advocates for a thorough warm-up before every lifting session. This should focus on activation of the core and mobility exercises. The four waves simply correspond to the number of repetitions performed:
- 10 Wave: sets of 10 or more repetitions
- 8 Wave: sets of 8 or more repetitions
- 5 Wave: sets of 5 or more repetitions
- 3 Wave: sets of 3 or more repetitions
- Week 1: Accumulation—high volume, light weight used. Leave 2-3 repetitions ‘in the tank’ on the AMRAP set.
- Week 2: Intensification—medium volume, medium weight used. Leave 1-2 repetitions in the tank on the AMRAP set.
- Week 3: Realization—low volume, high weight used. Leave nothing back on the AMRAP set—go as hard as you can.
- Week 4: Deload—recovery. No AMRAP sets.
- Monday: Squats
- Tuesday: Bench Press
- Thursday: Overhead Press
- Friday: Deadlifts