30 tips on how to get stronger for lifting
This is a collection of links, videos and rep schemes I used to go from novice to intermediate/advanced level in lifting. I hold the bench press record for my local gym. So this is a collection of tips from an average Joe to make you one of the strongest, if not the strongest guy in your local gym. If you want to go beyond that, you can use this article as a starting point for your research to achieve greater things.
1. Have a specific goal
When it comes to getting stronger there are tons of different variations of strength. The strength a strongman has is very different from the one of a crossfitter, powerlifter, gymnast, "barbrother" or calisthenics fanatic. All have their purpose and the good thing about them is that every single one of them is better than sloth and living an unhealthy lifestyle.
I admire every single one who has a goal in the gym, with the bar or just doing push ups and sticks with. That in itself takes already more commitment and drive than a lot of poeple show.
2. Have a specific plan and stick with it
Whether it may be the elusive muscle up, the "big three" of powerlifting or the olympic lifts for crossfit. Pick a program that is specific to the goal you picked to ensure that you will progress towards it the fastest. Analyze where you want to be and how big the gap is. Break down the gap in actionable steps with incremental increases for the same exercises over time.
Sticking with a program once you have designed it or decided for it is one of the single best things to ensure success I have personally come across. Tweak it here and there depending on daily life due to sickness and personal commitments, but try to avoid to jump from one program to another like mad. Good programs are at least 4 weeks, better six weeks, ideally 12 weeks long according to Ed Coan, former IPF powerlifting world champion.
3. Pick the right program for your goal
If you want to grow more muscle, you might want to look at high rep / high set templates with low intensity in the 8 - 12 repetition range. If you want the best of both worlds you might want to do a 5x5 program. When being strong at same body weight is your goal, you'll be most likely well advised with a low repetition / high intensity scheme. The goals which are more in the range of body weight movement differ not that much from the principles of weight lifting when it comes to the progression from pull up to muscle up. Pick the right program and run with it. One of the best overviews I have found so far for rep schemes is in the article "22 proven rep schemes" from t nation.
To know what the right program for you is you have to know your goal and your level. Hereby you will find some help to estimate what your current level of strength is based on the back squat, deadlift and the bench press. If you are into gymnastics, maybe look at the requirements and progressions specific to that area. Your strength level is important because it will impact what kind of a program you wil pick yourself. Usually rep schemes for novices and beginners, even for intermediates are more balanced and focus on building a strong base. Strong base means growing in strength as well as size.
Famous beginner programs would be Stronglifts 5x5 or Starting Strength. Intermediate programs would be 3x3 templates or, if you are more into body building, German Volume Training. Advanced lifters might turn to a 5/3/1 program or the westside method to gain even more strength. If you are especially interested into evaluations of many programs the website powerliftingtowin is a good source. One word of caution from my side would be, that it can seem like some of the stuff you find on the internet claims to be the ultimate source. My experience is to take on the advice, learn from it, look at the pattern and what is repeated by many poeple, test it and keep what works for you specifically. Do not follow a program to copy someone else, but try to get to a stage where you can run a program which will form the best version of your own self.
4. Pick your numbers right
Once you have decided for a program you have to decide how much load you will use in each session and how it will increase over time. The more novice you are, the harder this will be for you so it would be good advice to stick with what has been subscribed from your personal trainer, in the book you read or what the advise from the very experienced lifter is you have found on YouTube (it is usually not your bro in your local gym, unless he pulls 600 pounds+ on the deadlift. I have not yet seen such a beast in real life).
Once you get to intermediate stage avoid getting greedy like I did. If you put on too much load too fast your form will suffer and it will hurt you in the long run. You will hit a wall and not progress further quicker and from there you will have to go back and reconstruct the lift with proper form. Better get it right the first time around, avoiding deloads and waste of time.
5. Focus on one thing at a time
If you try to focus on everything at the same time you will most likely hurt yourself. To stay injury free. you can only increase intensity or number of reps, when you still train the same amount per week or you train less a week and go up in number of reps and intensity. Same goes for form. Usually you can not squat with perfect form with your highest load. You should be striving for this, but still usually form breaks down at least a little when you go to the limit. Wendler's advice on picking 90% of your believed one rep max seems to be good advice to keep yourself away from injury.
6. Know the basics
When it comes to picking your load it is good to be informed what the basic mechanics of loading are. Even though it has been developed for olympic lifters the Prilepin table of loading has been around for a while and is accepted as a guidance for picking your load. It is still being challenged due to its lack of specificity. This argument can be made for any theory in lifting though.
7. Visualize your success
Close your eyes and imagine yourself succeeding in lifting the weight or reaching that goal you set for yourself. This will help you to keep focused and pay attention to detail. Look at yourself as if you were a critical third person and pick apart your weaknesses to then lead to actually completing the rep. Be your own worst nightmare and best cheerleader at the same time.
8. Train with someone stronger than you
Training with someone who is stronger than you will egg you on to become better. It also has the benefit of releasing more testosterone as you already start competing against the other alpha male / female around. In addition, if you are a visual learner, you will see the superior movement patterns and how the higher load is behaving to learn from it and adapt yourself accordingly. If you currently do not have a stronger person at your disposal, go to the internet and find people who are better than you and learn from them.
9. Rest enough
Muscle and Strength are not build in the gym. They are built in your recovery times and when you sleep while your body gets the chance to compensate for the overload you exposed it to during your session. Avoid training heavy every day and training the same body parts on back to back days. Use splits like legs / chest / core for your session and train three to four times a week. This time will be needed for your body to build up that muscle and strength. If you do not give it the needed rest you will overtrain and your body will sooner or later crumble.
10. Form, Form, Form
Proper form on the lifts is key to success and being effective and efficient. If you only do a half squat you have to do twice as many to get the same results for the same muscle group. In addition you will leave out muscles or not train them as deep if you cheat on your form. Usually when form is bad there is also a lack of overall tension in the body which also comes at the price of a lower impact of each repetition performed and higher risk of injury. Remember loss of tension in oyur body is likely to result in pain if you load more than your body weight on the bar. Be smart and stay in the range where you can execute the movement proper to avoid injury and get more out of your time in the gym. In the long run this will make you stronger than solving for the day and just lifting as much as possible to impress any one who is looking.
11. Stay humble
Even if you feel like you are pulling ahead of your program and a feeling of megalomania overcomes you, stay humble and stick with your plan. As long as the numbers go up and there is more weight on the bar you are traveling in the right direction. Bigger increments can disturb the flow to a program to the degree that you will fail repetitions later on and failure leads to a deload. Probably to the same weight on which you thought it wise to pack on more than prescribed.
If you are not sweating in the gym doing your repetitions, you are not doing it right. My best workouts are the ones which feel super hard and I am sweating like a beast, but i still make it through without failing. If you do not feel like this, probably your program is not challenging enough and you have to go back to the drawing board and pick your numbers right.
13. Switch programs in due time
As long as you are getting stronger and keep motivated don't change program. Yes someone might tell you that there is some magic formula, rep scheme or other hokus pokus which will make you stronger, faster. The thing is you do not know for certain if that really applies to you as an individual. If the program you are currently on has proven to make you stronger why swap a well tested design which works for you for the unknown. There is no need (yet) for that. As soon as you feel like you got everything out of the program that you are currently using because your numbers are not going up anymore or it got so dull to you that it will inhibit your performance and focus, than look for something new. If you can not stick with a program for at least six weeks you have an attitude problem, not a program design problem in my opinion.
14. Feed yourself
If you are on a program like smolov and you are training like a beast, you have to eat like a beast and feed the machine. Get your eggs, bacon and good food in there and have 5 - 6 meals a day. There are plenty of meal plans out there to help you out. Remember to eat good food and not the fast stuff from around the corner as you can justify the food intake. Shitty calories in = Shitty results. Keep your food lean and clean and eat as much as possible if you are on a extreme rep scheme.
I personally eat the following during the day:
- Whey shake, Fish oil, wellman capsule, oatmeal with assortment of berries and three scrambled eggs
- Snack of nuts & bananas when I get to work, I have a jug of water and I keep drinking through the day adding up to 5 - 6 jugs of water a day
- 4 eggs, salad and lean meat of the day for lunch
- another snack of nuts with apples
- Dinner which is made by my lovely girlfriend which currently follows the guiding principles of slimming world
My personal diet could be highly optimized and I might look into that, but the thing is if you follow the points of training hard and having a proper plan in place you will not have that much of a dieting issue unless you want to compete as a bodybuilder or stay chiseled all year round. If you burn 3000 - 4000 calories a day, you already have to eat a LOT of good stuff to make up for that.
16. Have guts
Try something new and don't be afraid to do so. You will have to push past your comfort zone to make gains. Be smart about it and prepare all of the necessary securtiy measurement like squatting in a power rack, adjusting the pins at the right height for you, having a spotter around and the securing the plates with collars to minimize uncontrolled movement. Once all of this is done attack the weight with all you have. Do not be afraid to fail and you will succeed.
18. Train optimal
In bodybuilding there is a method called training to failure which means doing as many repetitions as you possibly can until the pain does not allow you to go any further. Admittedly the people who are proclaiming this principle have usually better bodies than me. However I personally prefer Louie Simmons, who trained many people to be as strong as an ox, advice on this one who recommends to train optimal rather than to failure. Ed Coan also is in agreement on that point. If you hit a new personal best and it is within what you had planned for your workout leave it at that to come back and train another day rather than spending the last bit in your tank and rip a muscle or tendon. You want to stay in the game long.
19. Use progressive overload
Constantly keep adding small increments of weight to the exercises you are doing. This is how you build a strong, stable machine which will last. I have done it and it works. Stronglifts 5x5 is a prime example of this approach. Keep adding 2.5kg on each session. If you train each week and never fail a rep you will have added 130kg to that specific lift in a year. Sounds more impressive than 2.5kg each week, doesn't it. The more you fail, the more you have to deload and the more you have shot yourself in the foot.
20. Take notes
How are you possibly going to know what works and what works not for you, if you are not constantly keeping track of your progress and evaluate according to the facts on the sheets you fill out. Taking notes is essential to being successful not just for work, but in life in general. The guy who has proper notes for his shopping and his lifting will step into tesco or into the gym, do what he has to do and know why he is doing it, and walk out again with a deed done. The guy without notes will spend half of his time wasted thinking about what to do next and what to do at all and get nowhere.
21. Warm up properly
All professionals do warm up, be it in the gym, the opera singer, the race car driver, you name it. Amateurs skip the warm up, because they are lazy or not committed enough. Don't be an amateur. If you want pro results, do it like the pro's and have a proper warm up routine to avoid injury and be pumped up when you hit that iron. I personally do wrist circles, arm circles, hip circles, stretching back and forth while trying to touch my toes and then to the ground. On the ground I do scorpions and iron crosses to move on to spiderman lounges and cossacks. When I am done with dynamic stretching I get out my jump rope and do 100 double unders for time. End of my warm up.
22. Become a student of the art
If you want to become good at something, study it. Read every article you can find, get podcasts about it, take part in discussion and comment on things. There is so much free stuff out there around getting stronger that it is a reflection upon your own commitment, if you are not getting the right information together. You do not have to spend a dime to get the most valuable insight from the best experts on the field. Look up Layne Norton, Jonny Candito, Louie Simmons, Ed Coan and Eric Spoto, just to name a few. Go to bodybuilding.com, t nation and beyond the whiteboard and look how your results stack up, what you might need to do to fix your form and progress.
23. Focus on what matters
That being said focus on what matters, which is to lift the weights to get stronger. If you spend more time thinking about your diet and macros and which calorie to take in next than lifting them weights or find a million excuses why you can not lift that weight in that or the other direction than you will only train your brain and mouth, not your muscles.
24. Think of your body as a system
If you are stalling in your progress try to do a root cause analysis. Your body performs as an orchestra, not just a violin. Your muscles, nervous system, ligaments and internal organs all play a part in getting stronger. Therefore ask yourself if you are rested enough, eating well enough and whether the breakdown came actually from having legs which are too weak or actually having weak ankles (which is my problem, I could be way stronger in the squat, if I fixed my ankle mobility issues).
25. Stay hydrated
Your brain and muscle performance drops significantly when you are dehydrated and it is the easiest thing in the world to fix. Just have a water bottle with you when you train and keep filling your body with water constantly. This will keep you fresh and alive and you will be less likely to feel exhausted and powerless at work or at the gym. There will be a phase where you have to adapt to the higher water intake, but after a week you will be fine. I had to learn this for my marathon running.
26. Take creatine
Creatine actually helps me with my results. I take it in form of a pre workout which also uses caffein to get me pumped. This stuff works and is worth a shot, if you have the money. Be aware of the side effects which are being debated.
Apart from planning rest days make sure that you get enough sleep. 7 hours of sleep should be your goal, if you have a busy lifestyle. For me personally more is not really doable having an office job I have to go to. Do not sleep less, it will hurt your performance and focus and this spells injury as we know already.
28. Use Free weights
Free weights will activate your muscles more than machines as your body has to compensate the load as a system and keep balance itself to gain control of the weight. Machines take a lot of that work for your nervous system out of the exercise and it has less impact on you. Yes you will be able to lift more in the leg press machine than in the squat, but if you want to get real world strong, use free weights.
29. Attack your weak points
Your least favorite exercise has the highest probably of being the one you should do the most of until you feel comfortable with it. For me this is the front squat to get better mobility and stability into my back squat. Whatever it is you suck at, be it your biceps, packs or hamstrings, train the heck out of that weakest link in your system.
30. Mix in explosive exercises
If you want to become stronger bear in mind that strength also has a component in it of how fast you can release that power. The more explosive you become the more power you can release in less time and therefore move heavier weights. So if you want to become stronger have some circuit training or explosive lifts like the clean and press in your repertoire at least once a week.
- 3 easy ways for marathoners to get stronger and
- 5 secrets from Pavel Tsatsoulin and Jim Wendler to make you stronger
- 5 steps to run faster, get stronger and be smarter
- 5 Strongmen you should know
- 5 tips to get stronger faster
- 7 websites to stay fit and strong
- Better breathing makes your squat stronger
- Do you need protein to get stronger
- How the get up will make you strong
- How to get 10% stronger in six weeks
- How to kettlebell swing to get amazingly strong
- How your body gets stronger for CrossFit and powerlifting
- Selected quotes from Deadlift Dynamite that will make you stronger
- Selected quotes from simple and sinister that will make you stronger
- Sore today, strong tomorrow with a squat workout
- Try this deadlift thing to get strong like bull