Christmas pudding. Bam!
I don’t usually do this, but I am going to start this article off with a quote. Here goes, “Strength is like pudding–the proof is in it.” This gem comes to us from none other than the grand master of badassery herself, Kathy “Hot Kath” Traxler. For those of you that don’t know Hot Kath, it’s my mom. She doesn’t play.
Ok, I lied–my mom never said that; I made that quote up. She is, however, a bad ass so don’t sass her!
If we think about the quote, though, it makes a lot of sense. People don’t understand how awesome it is to be strong until they are strong. They don’t know that everything else gets easier, that better levels of agility, power, speed and endurance are all more attainable. Until someone is strong they just don’t get it.
It’s easy to be cynical, though. It’s easy to say, “Oh, they just don’t get it; they don’t understand.” The goal is to make everyone better, not to scoff at others. Scoffing is Planet Fitness’ job.
- Judgement free my ass!
So over the past few weeks I’ve looked back through my training logs. I’ve scoured my clients’ programs and I’ve even interviewed a few guys that are stronger than I am to put together a list of tools that make people really strong.
The following is a compilation of what has worked for me, people I’ve trained and some other smart dudes that know how to get results. Getting stronger equals results.
8) Be Brilliant at the Basics: So often people want to bypass the first, necessary steps and jump into the sexy stuff. It’s ill advised, to say the least, and can kill your progress. Long Island based strength and conditioning John Gaglione wants to remind you to make sure that you are brilliant at the basics.” Solidify the basic movement patterns: push, pull, squat, hinge and core stability,” says Coach Gaglione. If you are brilliant at the basics loading movements with heavy weight becomes safer and getting stronger will be easier.
7) Gain Some Mass: Maximal strength is mostly a neural adaptation–but getting bigger helps too. Lee Boyce, a fellow T-Nation contributor and Toronto based strength coach, reminds us of the affect that gains in muscle mass can have on strength. Lee chimes in, “Gain weight. With size comes strength; the more surface area a body has, the more units of force per square inch can be applied against a resistance. How many 800 lb bench pressers have you seen or competed against who weigh 205? That said, my advice would be to focus on the large compound barbell and bodyweight movements to release the necessary hormones, and also to get on a good bulk-style eating regimen. The razor-sharp abs may lose their definition for a phase of your training – but it has to happen.”
The more muscle that have to recruit, the stronger you can potentially become.
6) Use Your Rest Periods: My friend and fellow T-Nation contributor Tim Henriques sent in this tip. Tim remembered a time in his training career when he used to get teased for taking too long between sets. “People used to tease me that my workouts were too easy because I was resting too long in between sets and not dripping with sweat and out of breath every workout when I first started training. But once I got a lot stronger than they were, the teasing stopped.” Tim continues, ” The goal when training for strength is to approach every set relatively fresh so long rest is necessary to achieve that, it is probably the biggest difference when training for size where you want incomplete rest.”
This is one of the best, yet most disregarded, tips that a trainee could get from a strength coach. Just because you feel recovered after a heavy set of three or a single doesn’t mean that you are recovered. It can take your nervous system up to seven times longer than your muscles to recover after a heavy set. Ideally, you should be resting three to five minutes in between heavy sets of bench presses, deadlifts, squats and overhead presses.
5) Creating Balance: Yes, it is important for getting stronger. No, I’m not talking about standing on one foot, patting your tummy, whistling a song, juggling a pot of spaghetti while competing on Who Want’s to Be a Millionaire. By balance I mean restoring quality to your tissues so that they hold the proper length and tension. Muscles in proper balance in their own length and tension, as well as with their antagonists, are better able to be recruited–making for better sequencing. For a quick refresher, good sequencing means that the right muscles are activating at the right times during movement.
My favorite way to improve tissue quality and promote muscular balance is through self-myofascial release. This is done through the use of foam rollers, PVC pipes, lacrosse balls and other implements. Sure, there are the different modes of stretching: static, active and dynamic; but if we don’t restore tissue quality all the stretching in the world won’t matter.
4) Learning to Brace: Your core is an axle. It’s supposed to function as any good axle should–transferring force from one end to the other while maintaining its integrity and form. Rigidity is the key. A rigid core transfers force more efficiently, helping you to generate greater levels of strength and power. To secure a rigid core, you have to learn to brace.
Bracing begins with breathing. Start by making sure that when you breathe the air is going into your belly. Reinforce this by holding a hand on your stomach and making sure that the pressure of the air coming raises your stomach, and subsequently, your hand with every breath.
Once you are able to get the air into your belly lock your abs in place by contracting them forcefully and slightly pushing them out.
Next, tighten your lats. You can do this by squeezing your shoulder blades down and back. Tight lats completes the corseting effect created by bracing your core.
You’ll need to hold your brace throughout the entirety of your heavy lifts. Remember, more tension equals more strength–so along with your brace, squeeze the bar as hard as you can and “grab” the floor with your feet. Through a phenomenon called irradiation you’ll tighten more muscles and reinforce your solid brace. If you feel yourself losing your brace or tension, pause and reset yourself before the next rep.
3) Movement Under Tension: Now we are talking about functional strength at its most basic–the ability to move while you are gripping something up. Think about the last time you moved–was it easy to pick up the couch and carry it out to the moving van? If it wasn’t you need more work moving under tension.
This is something that we’ve all done before, but my good friend and mentor Jim Smith quantified the idea in his book Chaos.
Movement under tension involves loaded carries. These are farmer’s walks, suitcase carries, overhead walks, keg carries, etc.
Farmer’s walks and their brethren improve upon qualities such as core stability, grip strength, work capacity and hypertrophy through time under tension. Improving even one of these qualities will make you a stronger human. Improving all of them at once will make you stronger and a member of BUI (Badasses United International).
2) Avoid Failure: Chase Karnes is a serious dude. Over the past year Chase has put over 100 pounds on his deadlift; talk about a guy that knows how to get strong! When he talks about getting stronger, we should all perk up and turn an ear his direction.
Chase’s biggest tip was to avoid failing when moving heavy weight. If you’re working with weights at or above eighty-five percent of your one rep max, failing during a set reaks havoc on your CNS–limiting your ability to recover and adapt to heavy training. If you’re training heavy and doing multiple reps per set, leave a little bit in the tank at the end of a set–you’ll have better recovery while still giving your body enough of a stimulus to adapt to.
1) Singles at or above 90%: This is the pinnacle. It is the number one tip in improving your levels of absolute (and relative body weight) strength. If you want to be strong you have to lift heavy weights.
The reasoning is simple–strength adaptations are based on changes in the nervous system as it responds to training. Heavy singles tax the nervous system, giving it a strong set of stimuli to adapt to. When I say set, I mean multiple sets. If you are going to program singles at or above 90% your one rep max for a given movement you’ll need to do more than one set. According to Prilepin’s Chart, seven singles is the prime volume for work above 90%. When I program singles I wave them–hitting 4 or 5 the first week, 3 or 4 the second week and then 6 or 7 on the third week. Cycling this wave twice a year for your big lifts (or their variations) will do incredible things for your absolute strength.
All fitness is predicated on and is an extension of your absolute strength. That means getting strong is important for everyone–regardless of goals. Use this advice as you plan your training schedule for the year and you’ll have a far better chance of reaching your goals in 2012.
If nothing else, being strong is cool. Everyone wants to be a member of the cool kids club.
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M.S./ CSCS/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance/ Ginger