Got a month to spare? Try following this easy, straight-forward strength training guide to building muscle and getting stronger.
You’ve figured out half the equation.
You’re eating right and you’re attempting to become more active. If you’re here, your nutrition is locked in or in the very least, getting locked in.
You most likely are paying meticulous attention to where your food comes from, what is in it, and for some, even understanding your macronutrient needs. This is all great stuff.
Now, you’re feeling healthier, feeling more active, and ready to take the next step. You want to get stronger and add some lean muscle to your frame. After all, the healthier and stronger you are the longer and happier you’ll be, right?
Yet, when you go into the gym you’re still running around like a chicken with your head cut off. You don’t know what you’re doing. Jumping from program to program or fad to fad. Probably both.
Strength training is simple and straightforward. It may seem complicated on the surface, but just like proper nutrition, when you cover the basics and get to the root of it, you realize it’s quite simple.
You’re all about conquering life. You want to go through it as the healthiest version of yourself possible. I’m here to help you with that.
Importance of Strength Training
You know that you need to eat right. That you need to eliminate as many toxins from your diet as possible. Stick to what our genetics prefer. Lean proteins, food from or roaming the ground, and not processed.
(Related: The Complete Paleo Diet Food List)
That’s great and all – scratch that – it’s fantastic. But, if you’re only watching what you eat, you’re missing something our ancestors were doing regularly: Movement.
So what are you to do?
Luckily, you don’t have to chase and drag your meal back to your dwelling. You’ll be going to the store or local farm market and just carrying it (in a shopping bag) through your front door.
Still, you have access to a gym. Time to go in and get strong.
The Benefits of a Strong, Healthy Body:
- Less prone to injury
- Longer life span (our ancestors would have dug that)
- Improved bone density
- Improved heart and lung function
- Reduced depression and anxiety
- Better ratio of strength to fat mass
- Improved sleep quality
- Increased muscle mass
Now you know why it’s important to do strength training. Let’s put down that club and figure out exactly what you need to do before you go and sprint 100 mph in the wrong direction and get sidetracked with lack of progress or worse yet, injuries.
There’s a lot of information out there. Actually, more like misinformation out there.
I fell for it too when I first started. I was 115 pounds soaking wet before I built up the courage to trek on down into my parents’ basement and pick up a barbell for the first time.
I made a lot of mistakes and I screwed around by using misguided and misappropriate programs. What I needed to do was understand the basics of program design and a few nuances of strength training.
When you understand this, Strength Training 101, so to speak – you will see amazing, consistent progress.
Before I go on to the actual makeup of a workout and strength training plan, understand that one training session is just a small puzzle piece in your whole training program.
Day 1 should get you to where you want to be on day 365. Training is a marathon made up of smaller sprints throughout. Don’t lose focus and always understand that each training session, like each meal, affects the next, as well as the outcome months down the road.
To consistently progress, you need to understand frequency, overload, volume, intensity, and even exercise selection.
From there, we need to look at sets, reps, and even special techniques to move forward.
These are the basic of the basic when it comes down to strength training. It may seem like a lot, but it’s not. It is however, essential that you understand it all so that your programs kick ass.
Be forewarned, you ignore the small stuff and your physique and strength will suffer.
All of training comes down to this statement right here…
This is exactly as it sounds: how often you train. How often you make it into the gym will impact the results you create.
I’m not like other coaches. I believe that for a phenomenal, out of this world physique, you should get your body to be able to train as often as possible. The strongest athletes train 6-7 days a week with many of those days consisting of double sessions.
You just want to be strong. So, you don’t need that.
I still recommend strength training three to five days per week with a sweet spot of four days.
You need to be active every single day. Our Paleo ancestors were, and that’s how we’re designed.
In order to increase strength or muscle mass at the simplest level, you need to cause a stress on the body that is greater than it normally encounters.
This is overload.
You increase strength by adding weight to the bar over time or a rep to a set. You increase muscle mass by asking your body to do something more challenging than it could handle before.
At the end of the day, if you are looking to increase your strength, you need to be looking to put more weight on the bar, perform more sets with a challenging weight, or perform more reps with a certain weight.
You need to create a reason for the body to adapt.
Repetitions are how many times you perform a certain exercise in one set.
Grabbing a barbell and lowering it to your chest and then back to the start is considered one rep.
In training, you use sets or repetitive efforts of a group of repetitions for a certain exercise. Each set is comprised of the total reps in each go.
A set would be multiple repetitions of that barbell bench press example from above.
Even rest is a crucial component to your training. The rest could be between exercises or even within a set itself, however, how much time you give your body to recover will determine the outcome and the type of training you are performing.
For instance, for strength and power work, it is recommended to rest for 2-3 minutes after a set and for hypertrophy, rest should be kept to 60 seconds or less. If using your strength training for conditioning, rest could be all over the place, but generally it’s kept to a minimum.
[tweet_quote]You will need to be strong at the beginning and strong and powerful when tired.[/tweet_quote]
The sum of your training is your volume. It’s made up of your reps and sets as well as your frequency and intensity.
You could look at daily volume, which would be how many exercises you did, how many sets were performed for each exercise, and how many reps were performed within each set. You also want to look at the weight performed and the intensity (more on that below) of each set.
To look at your weekly volume, you would take the total of each training session. For the month, yup you guessed it, each week.
The more volume you utilize, the larger the impact on your recovery.
Not everyone can handle a lot of volume. Others need a ton to create a change.
In the beginning, it’s always best to start off with minimal volume and work your way up.
Intensity is often referred to how much effort you put into a workout, but it isn’t about the grunting, screaming and sweating.
Nope, intensity truly refers to the percentage of your one rep maximum repetition (1RM) you are using.
When developing strength, you need to use greater percentages of your 1RM.
Higher intensities are necessary for developing strength. You need to use 83-85% or higher to get really strong. Beginners can get away with using really any load above 70% and get stronger, whereas lower intensities are great for building muscle mass or conditioning purposes.
However, it’s important to use a variety of intensity ranges in your training program to create the best results and stimulate optimal progress and recovery.
Not all exercises are created equal.
That being said, there’s no inherently bad exercise. Only bad exercisers.
I can hear the vehement Olympic lifters and powerlifters screaming at their computer screens.
You program needs to contain compound exercises (multi-joint movements) like squats, deadlifts, and presses, as well as single joint movements like extensions or even *gasp* curls.
Your time to train and history of training will both determine which exercises you should use.
It’s best to start with exercises that require more muscles or joints to perform, and save the single-joint exercises for the end of the session.
Also, for structural balance it’s always best to include more volume for exercises that target the muscles you can’t see in the mirror.
The more you can control within your training, the more you can guarantee your results.
No matter how you slice it, the exercises you perform have a tempo or rate of speed for each repetition. You can either decide to take the bull by the horns and dictate what the heck it actually is, or just wing it, hopefully not flailing around.
Tempo is broken down into four phases and written as four numbers, i.e. 3010. They are the eccentric, pause at eccentric, concentric, and pause at concentric.
The time under tension that you place your muscles under helps determine the results you will achieve.
Below are general guidelines of what you can expect by how long you load your muscles up.
- 10 seconds or less is aimed at developing power. Depending on the exercise, this is generally 1-5 reps.
- 20 seconds or less is aimed at developing strength. Generally seen within 5 or less reps.
- 40-70 seconds is your ideal range for developing hypertrophy. Seen anywhere with 8-20 reps (or more)
- 70 seconds or more is generally reserved for conditioning purposes.
Sometimes time under tension training can be as simple as just controlling eccentric and exploding through the concentric and putting the most force into it as possible (CAT – compensatory acceleration training). For most people, this is the best technique for attacking the big lifts.
This videos shows using more of a CAT style where the concentric is explosive as possible and eccentric is just controlled, but not for any set tempo.
This video shows more of a tempo-controlled set with an eccentric of 3 seconds and a 1 second concentric that turned mid set into a 2 second eccentric due to fatigue.
Putting all of this together means there are a lot of variables to account for when creating a program.
You can’t just go in, pick an exercise or two, and haphazardly perform an infinite amount of reps and sets with no direction or goal in mind.
Sure, you might get results. Just about anything will work in the beginning. But, what’s the point if in one, two, or three weeks you’re all banged up and can’t even get to the gym because you’ve injured yourself with poor training techniques?
An easy way to always add weight to the bar and muscle to your frame is to consistently account for the basic variables of strength training.
How To Get Stronger
When it comes to training, it’s easy to read everything that is out there, but when it comes time to actually apply that knowledge, it can get a bit confusing.
I mean, if you’re trying to get strong, should you be doing fewer reps or more reps? Fewer sets or more sets? What exercises should you focus on, and how long should you be in the gym?
Using everything I mentioned above, you already have a higher than average training intelligence than most people stepping into the gym.
In general, if you’re looking to get strong, you should be focusing on using rep ranges between 3 and 6. You can go as low as hitting singles or doubles, but that shouldn’t be the bulk of your training.
You’ll get stronger staying a little submaximal. Your nervous system will be quite thankful, as well.
If you’re looking to increase lean muscle, it’s time to start bringing up the reps. Letting the muscle get loaded up.
I don’t care what you’ve heard, if you want to get stronger, you need to build muscle.
A larger cross-sectional area of the muscle has a greater ability to produce force.
In other words, the bigger your muscles, the stronger you can be.
Your program as whole, not just the one or two exercises you perform, but the exercises you start with and end with, the exercises and reps you perform on day one versus day seven, all impact the results you’re going to achieve.
So it’s important to understand how it should look.
When looking at strength training as a whole, there are, for the most part, three main goals. Increase strength, increase muscle, and increase your endurance/conditioning.
To get stronger you need to lift heavy. Bottom line. No getting around it.
Reps – 1-6
Sets – 2-10
Rest – 60-180 seconds
The less reps in a set, the more sets you can perform. So, if you’re performing five reps each set, you could perform three to five sets. If you’re performing two reps in a set you could do up to eight or ten sets.
At first, start with longer rest periods, but attempt to get rest between 60 and 90 seconds for strength work.
To increase your muscle mass, you need to increase the tension within the muscle, increase the metabolic stress, and induce muscular damage.
Reps – 8-20+
Sets – 2-4
Rest – 30-60 seconds
When you’re looking to build muscle, you have to make the body need to throw slabs of muscle on. You need to increase the time under tension and you need to bring a strong amount of fatigue within the muscular system.
More reps, greater time under tension, and short rest periods do the trick.
Muscular endurance is your muscles’ ability to endure long periods of work. Everyone, especially our ancestors, needs to be able to run a mile or two without keeling over and dying, so your muscles better be able to take a beating and go awhile.
In addition to strength, you’ll need to prevail for long periods of time or kick it up a notch even when you’re tired. This is metabolic conditioning. This is muscular, power, strength, and cardiovascular endurance all wrapped in one.
Reps – 20+
Sets – 2
Rest – very short
Putting It All Together
Enough chit chat. Let’s give you something you can take home and start applying today.
[tweet_quote]Let’s unleash 4 weeks of awesome using everything plus some to give you killer results.[/tweet_quote]
I’m going to be including some special techniques within this program. Nothing crazy and nothing fancy. Stuff like supersets, drop sets, and tempo to get you looking like you’re straight from the cave.
These techniques will allow you to be stronger and build lean muscle but at the same time also allow for the muscle to have strength-endurance, a quality very important to our Paleo ancestors.
Also, our goal is that any muscle we’re adding better be functional. That additional mass better not be just for show, it better have go.
To accomplish all of this we’re going to be using some special techniques over the next four weeks. Let’s examine these so you’re not staring at the screen in confusion.
Superset – A superset is when you combine two exercises and perform them in succession. Normally, during a straight set, if you had three sets of ten reps of an exercise, you would perform all three sets before moving onto the next.
In a superset, you perform exercise one, and then with a short rest go onto exercise two and perform the designated reps, repeating the cycle between the two exercises until all sets are complete.
Drop Sets – I’m a fan of anytime you can extend a set without sacrificing the intensity. This is where drop sets come into play.
There are two main variations of drop sets, mechanical and traditional. Mechanical is all about leverage. The weight will stay the same throughout; however, you go from a position of less advantage to greater advantage while cranking out reps.
In traditional drop sets you chose your rep range and perform the allotted reps. Rack the weight and chose a weight 10-20% lighter, and bang out the same amount of reps (or what little your body will let you), and repeat this one or two more times.
This is an example of a traditional drop set.
This is an example of a mechanical drop set.
The ideal breakdown for strength training programs I’ve found are four days broken down into lower body and upper body focused sessions.
If you were to train M-F this would be, Monday – lower, Tuesday – Upper, Wednesday – OFF, Thursday – Lower 2, Friday – Upper 2, Saturday & Sunday – OFF.
Your off days are perfect times to add cardio or metabolic conditioning.
What are you waiting for?
Unlike your grass-fed beef, this program isn’t going to expire and go bad anytime soon. This is tried-and-true basic strength training (with a nice little twist for additional lean muscle and strength). Its simplistic nature will work today or even three weeks from now.
Follow this program for the next four weeks. Feel the strength and the newfound muscle start piling on.
Look and feel stronger than you ever have.
Each week, attempt to add more weight or stick to the tempo and rest guidelines as best as possible. Essentially, week in and week out progress should be your main goal.
(Your Next Workout: 21-Day Bodyweight Jumpstart)