“Strength is the mother of all qualities”. This is a quote that I heard early on in my career which resonated with me quite a lot. From a young age, strength has always fascinated me. Whether it was watching Superman pick up cars or colossal men move atlas stones on World’s Strongest Man, I knew that the pursuit of a strong, powerful physique was something I wanted to dedicate my life to.
With great power comes great responsibility.A lot of people take strength training for granted. You may assume that you just walk into a gym, lift something heavy, go home, eat and repeat. It can be that simple, but there are certain laws and principles that you must adhere to in order to see results. Weight training can be your greatest ally or your biggest foe. It all depends on how much respect you give it.
Here are my 5 laws of strength training for continuous and enjoyable progression:
1. Master your technique
Strength training is a skill. There is so much more to moving huge amounts of weight than brute force. It takes practice and the replications of a movement pattern that is safe and efficient for your body type. None of us will squat, bench or deadlift in the same way. We will all have idiosyncrasies that modify how we set up for a lift. This being said, it is critical you learn how to move a weight with the appropriate tension, positioning and bar path. No one cares how much weight you lift badly. Technique before weight leads to long term success.
2. Build, don’t demonstrate
There is a distinct difference between building strength and demonstrating strength. When someone tests how much they can lift for 1 rep, this is a demonstration of maximal effort. Although impressive, the downside to this is the huge taxation on the nervous system. It can basically wipe you out for days if not weeks at a time.
90% of your training must be spent building strength. This means completing sets where you feel like you have 1-2 reps left in you at the end. This doesn’t mean you should apply less effort, it just means you should leave a little in the tank so there’s room for progression when it comes to training again. You can learn more about programme design by checking out the article Periodisation Fundamentals.
3. Patience is a virtue
The biggest mistake I have made when strength training is looking to add too much weight too soon. Everyone likes to grab headlines by proclaiming “I put 20kg on my deadlift in 8 weeks”, but the reality is that increases like this only really happen at a beginner and intermediate level. The longer you train, the more you must respect the process and appreciate that 5kg on a lift every 3 months is extremely respectable. Have a vision of what you want to achieve in the long term but subsidise this with short terms actions that contribute to your goal.
4. You don’t grow in the gym
Contrary to popular belief, going hard in the gym isn’t what makes you stronger and grow. Activating “beast mode” and destroying yourself can be fun at times, but also hugely detrimental to development if you’re not taking the appropriate steps to recover. Strength training is just a stimulus to growth. Growth is solidified through restorative methods such as sleep, nutrition and active recovery. You need to maximise these commodities just as much as you train hard.
I’ve tried high frequency training methods. I’ve tried multiple times a day training methods. I’ve even undergone Super Accumulative protocols where you train 18 times in 10 days! From experience I can tell you that the most intelligent programme is the one that allows for the most amount of recovery whilst providing enough frequency to stimulate a change. Invest in rest.
5. Never chase numbers
When I first started weight training, I was obsessed with back squatting 200kg. To me, it seemed like the pinnacle of strength. It took me 7 years of different techniques, approaches, programmes, gyms, equipment and so on to achieve this feat. What impact did it have on my life? Absolutely none. We have this idea that hitting a number will provide us with gratification and fulfilment. The reality is, it doesn’t. Getting stronger should always be the goal, but this should never be jeopardised by incessantly pursuing something that costs you your own well being.
Be obsessed with perfecting form. Be diligent with your food choices. Never neglect the usefulness of cardio vascular work for heart health. At the end of the day, numbers are just numbers. Dedication to the process is much more important than hitting PB’s. Long term physical development trumps short term physical feats.