Okay so these tips aren’t necessarily “secret” but I get asked questions on how to gain strength all of the time.
There’s a few simple principles that I will go over in this article as well as some more in-depth tips.
Onto the secret tips on how to gain strength…
Like I said, these aren’t secret by any means, but these are tried and true tips to gaining strength.
How to Gain Strength Outside the Gym
Getting stronger happens in and out of the gym. Check out these tips you can implement right now to start getting stronger outside of the gym.
Eating crappy foods all of the time takes a toll on your digestive system and will have negative effects on your health eventually.
If you start incorporating better foods that you prepare, you are going to notice a marked improvement in how you feel and how you perform.
Start slowly and skip eating out just once per week; instead, prepare and create a healthy meal.
Tip: Try this Chili Lime Chicken w/ Potatoes and Green Beans Recipe.
If your diet is decent and you are looking to maintain or possibly gain a little weight in the process, eating more makes a huge difference.
Without going into sodium loading and other advanced methods to building strength with food, simply eating more food can and will make you stronger.
While this doesn’t mean you should start eating an extra-large pizza per day, eating another meal of chicken and brown rice or picking up a McChicken or 2 every once in a while will help.
Tip: I’ve found that eating more nutritious foods give me the best feeling and performance but if you have a guilty pleasure like eating an Arby’s chicken sandwich, having one every couple of days extra will certainly build some massive strength. Going overboard will make you fatter and getting to that point of overeating will adversely impact your growth.
Getting your diet in check is more important than eating supplements… trust me.
So lets say your diet is in check and you are ready to move onto some supplementation.
- Pre-Workout: If you haven’t been using a pre-workout and you are looking to amplify your workouts, try one. I prefer MTS Nutrition Clash.
- Intra-Workout: While I don’t always drink BCAAs or protein during a workout, I make sure to hydrate myself. Check out my favorite BCAA product review.
- Post-Workout: Post workout supplements that help with sleep such as ZMA will help your body recover and get you ready to train another day.
Here are some other supplements that I use or recommend:
- Creatine – It just works, it’s cheap, and easy.
- Protein – That shouldn’t be surprising at all.
Tip: There are a lot of supplements out there, SARMs, “test boosters”, pro-hormones, etc… do I recommend them all? No, I’ve built a decent strength base without using them. Do they work? Possibly.
Get More Sleep
Along with taking a ZMA to boost quality of sleep, getting more hours of sleep will help with recovery and building strength.
Sure, we can work on 4-6 hours of sleep, but we will perform better if we can consistently get 8 hours. I admit that everyone can sleep different times and people sleep in different levels of quality of sleep… but more sleep allows your body to recover, period.
Try taking a nap or three during the day or force yourself to get off Tinder and get some sleep. Your body will thank you for it.
Tip: Remove yourself from the screen at least 30 minutes before bed. There are also apps that help remove the blue light that disrupt our circadian rhythm if you can’t bother to put your phone down for 30 minutes.
Meditate, spend time in quiet, sit outside and relax, or listen to soothing music on your commute to work.
All of these things can help reduce stress. Indulge in what you need to so that you can reduce stress.
Stressors on our body affect our nervous system and we can only take so much of it. Stress kills and it does make you sick if you hold onto enough of it.
Tip: Quit worrying about the small stupid shit and get your head right.
Building strength, building muscle, and training is something you should look at in terms of the long-run.
Whenever you “test your strength” to see if you are able to break your 1RM PR, you’re setting yourself back weeks in regards to building strength.
The energy exerted from testing your 1RM fries your nervous system and stops your ability to get stronger unless you reduce the other stressors and start recovering. This is why your friend who has been trying to beat his 1RM is now unable to lift the weights he used to.
If you are serious about building strength, you need to remember you are trying to build strength, not test your strength. Many heavy lifters I know only test their 1RM either at a powerlifting meet or every 6 months give or take. This is because your body takes a toll on these max effort lifts and doing so is not conducive to building strength.
Tip: Training at a 70-85% of your 1RM has worked well for me and others that I’ve helped train.
How to Gain Strength Inside the Gym
Tackling things like weak points and form issues, building strength in the gym is a little more technical than outside of the gym.
Address Your Weak Points
Instead of trying to bench more, find and address why you are failing. Weak triceps? Need more upper back work? Unable to stay in the groove coming out of the hole?
All of these are weak points in your body and can be addressed. Having a hard time locking out your deadlift? Work on your form, work on glute exercises, and work on exploding off of the floor.
Addressing and building up your weak points will make you an overall better strength athlete and you will not have to deal with complications that can arise later on in your lifting career.
Tip: If you think you don’t have any weaknesses and you are just not able to lift the weight, you better wake the hell up.
Drop the Volume
It’s relatively well-known that an 8-12 rep range is best for building muscle… but what about strength?
While there are a lot of people who fight for a 5×5, a 5×3, doing triples, doing doubles, or doing singles, the best rep range will be one that you can stick with.
I do not recommend training anything under a triple. Working in the 5 rep range and the occasional 3 rep range on your main movements will allow you to create more force from your nervous system.
Note: Some online trainers and strength athletes such as George Leeman will advocate a higher rep range to build strength. While I believe this also works, I think that there needs to be a firm and solid understanding of your body and have your form on point.
Doing higher rep work causes most people to get lazy and “do whatever it takes to complete the rep” which means they break their optimal form due to weaknesses in their body.
Tip: Find what works best for you – I prefer 5x5s, 5x3s, or even 3x8s.
Practice and Perfect Your Form
Practicing and perfecting your form is one of the easiest ways to lift more weight.
Practicing perfect form for your body will allow you to lift more weight more efficiently.
I’ve written some articles on how to build a bigger lift and I will link them below.
Build a Bigger Series:
- Build a Bigger Squat
- Build a Bigger Bench
- Build a Bigger Deadlift
- Build a Bigger Military Press
- Build a Bigger Bent Over Barbell Row
Warm Up Properly
Properly warming up has helped me bench more and squat more. I simply thought that I was going to “wear myself out” and I would do a few reps to warm up and that’s just not enough.
They call it warming up because you are increasing your body temperature, priming your muscles, and priming your nervous system to start lifting some serious shit.
If you only do a few reps with 135 before you jump into your work sets, you are risking injury and you definitely would start lifting more if you warmed up properly.
Tip: It is okay to do the movement with just the bar. It is also okay to have multiple warm up sets before you jump into working weight.
Squeeze the Bar
Squeezing the bar is a tip that isn’t being told enough. When you squeeze the bar as hard as you can, you are recruiting more muscles subconsciously and you are guaranteed to lift more weight simply by squeezing harder.
If you need an example: Hold something in your hand (or just make a fist). Nothing, right? Act like you are choking someone out with that same fist and you will feel you’ve engaged your biceps, triceps, shoulders, lats, and abs.
Tip: It literally works, trust me on this one.
Learn Proper Breathing Techniques
“Breathe in and hold it” – I hear that a lot and that simply isn’t really what happens.
What I mean here is you need to learn how to do the Valsalva maneuver. Just like when you go take a dump, you hold your breath and push. Instead of pushing out, you’re trying to squeeze your muscles into your body that is full of air.
Just like when you brace yourself to take that punch in your stomach, this maneuver helps with core strength, explosiveness, and an overall strength builder.
Tip: Learning how to do shit maneuver takes some time and practice but it has let me pull a 605 deadlift and a 525 squat beltless.
If you or your buddy has been lifting the same amount of weight and the same reps for a while, you’re doing it wrong.
Every week you should focus on adding at least another rep or adding weight. This progressive overload works and is something that everyone – including elite powerlifters do.
While the techniques that elite powerlifters use are a little harder than “just add weight” they are striving to build strength, make their work weight feel lighter, and working on their form.
Tip: If you are at a sticking point and you are lifting the same amount of weight with no luck of increasing, your intensity is too high. I try not to train over 70-85% of my 1RM.
Focus on the Lift
To most this is going to be “hocus pocus bullcrap” but believe me, it works. When I first started lifting, there was an older guy in the gym that I talked to and was deadlifting 605lbs for reps.
I fell in love with that number and I held onto it in my head. I would watch other big deadlifts and feel the same feelings of excitement, joy, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
Three years later I am deadlifting 605 after having a bad day the day before. I had a dream I did it, woke up the next day and achieved my lifetime PR on deadlifts. It was the best thing I had ever felt and focusing on the lift really helped me out.
On the other side of focusing, being able to laser point your focus at the immediate set is going to help you lift it. It’s possible to bench 225 for a set of 5 while worrying about that cable bill you forgot to pay, but once you start focusing, it’ll become easier and you will start lifting more faster.
Tip: Visualize and be grateful that you can lift whatever it is your goal is. Learn to focus on the task at hand and bust your ass to get it.
Increase Rest Times
Rest times are something that is brought up with every work out and while I generally give a ballpark range of what you should shoot for, strength building is a little more dynamic than just looking at a clock.
Once you’ve been lifting a year or two, you’re going to “feel” when you are ready. Whether that’s a 3 minute, 5 minute, or 7.5 minute rest… you’ll just know.
I generally stick to a 3-5 minute range for resting when I am strength training.
You are building strength so you need your form to be on point; rushing into the next set won’t allow you to do that.
Tip: Shoot for 3-5 minutes and try to log how you feel during that set. Do you feel refreshed at 4 minutes but not ready at 3 or cooling off at 5? Write it down and learn your body.
Try Paused Reps
Paused reps will add strength to your lifts. Paused bench has been something that has built my lift and helped my off of the chest motion greatly.
You will learn how to recruit more muscle and you will also learn how to command power from your nervous system.
If I were to have you try anything new with your form (other than the tips I provide in the build a bigger series) would be paused reps.
Tip: Start with doing a paused rep on your last rep of your set. The small change will be a good shock to your system.
Add in Power Moves
Adding in power moves, dynamic work, and other explosive movements will build strength.
For my first powerlifting meet I tried some dynamic work/speed work as well as some paused reps and it really helped me break some PRs.
Check out some of the most effective power moves to add into your workouts:
- Sprints – wind sprints, suicide runs, hill sprints, sled push, sled pulls
- Box Jumps – seated box jumps, single leg box jumps
- Medicine Ball – med ball throws, med ball side throws, slam downs
- Barbell/Dumbbell – DB snatch, BB snatch, block pulls, any dynamic work 50% 1RM
When you’re in the gym, don’t worry about the small stuff; focus on your goals and make an action plan to reach them.
Take some time off from your stress-riddled day and learn to deload when necessary.
Lastly, switch up your training volume and intensity, do power building moves, and address your weak points.
When you start utilizing these tips and making them work for you, you’re going to start noticing an increase in strength and confidence under the bar.
Do me a favor and share this to your social media accounts so your friends can get stronger too.