So, you wanna get big in the New Year? If you wanna get big, step one is building strength. Building your strength is the foundation of a muscular body and athletic performances such as lifting heavier weight, hitting harder, running faster, getting more reps in, etc. Building strength will make your everyday performance better – inside and outside of the gym. Here’s what you need to do:
- Focus on the big lifts. Hands down, the best exercises for building strength are the squat, deadlift, bench press, and shoulder press. Incorporate big lifts at the beginning of your workout, and then focus on your accessory movements after some heavy volume with the big ones. These exercises will not only help you build mass, but you’ll also be working your core in every single one of these exercises since they use such a large muscle group. Perfecting the “big four” will also give you even more strength and balance during smaller accessory movements to bring out fine cuts in your muscles.
- Use barbells. Forget all the fancy machines for these exercises. Just remember, “barbell is best” – for big and small movements. Every piece of equipment in the gym has its place, but when you’re focused on building strength and mass, the barbell should be the first thing you pick up when you’re in the gym. With a barbell, you can add a lot of weight, and this is important when you wanna get big and strong. Once you demolish your heavy movements with a barbell, you can use the dumbbells, cable machines, resistance bands, and body weight movements to bring out the details and get a massive pump.
- Calculate your percentages from your 1-rep max. And keep track of these in a workout log. It doesn’t need to be anything official – we like using the Notes app on our phone or just a plain old notebook. Keep track of the date, exercises, sets, reps, and how you felt before, during, and after your workout. This may seem tedious, but it will help you in the long run.
- A good rule of thumb is to try to complete 15-20 sets per workout. When building strength and mass, sets of 5-reps is a breakdown that’s easy to follow and easy to remember. To visualize, a typical leg day for building strength might look something like this:
- 5 x 5 back squat
- 5 x 5 Romanian deadlift
- 5 x 5 glute thrusts
- 5 x 5 leg press
- This gives you 20 sets at 5-reps per set. It’s easy to remember and easy to focus on your form when you just need to perfect 5-reps before your resting period.
- Experiment with rep speeds. You can try a 5-second eccentric (a slow rep, counting to 5 on the way down), or a 5-second concentric (a slow rep, counting to 5 on the way up). You can also experiment with a 5-second pause at the bottom of your lift (the bottom of a squat or the bottom of a bench press). Just pause and count to 5 in the middle of the movement. This technique is also called “time under tension” and we recommend this for advanced lifters who may have hit a little bit of a workout plateau. This is great to incorporate if you’ve been consistent with a workout routine for years and need a little something new to change it up.
- Keep it healthy with a little cardio. Just don’t overdo it when you’re focusing on building strength since cardio is an effective way to lose weight. Crank up the incline on a treadmill and do a 20-30 minute walk before or after your lift. Or, do some short, intense sprints on the treadmill or spin bike. Another great way to maintain strength but keep your heart healthy is by putting in work on the stair master. You’ll feel this in your legs, and it’s a great way to build them up or push the lactic acid out after a gruesome leg day.
- Keep it simple. If you’re just getting started on your fitness journey, there’s no need to do anything super-complex or spend hours in the gym every day. Consistency is key, whether that’s with your exercises or your nutrition. As far as building strength goes, it’s important to first perfect the form on each exercise. If you nail that part of it, begin to add weight. But remember, an exercise will be more effective if you do it CORRECTLY with no weight, verses INCORRECTLY with a ton of weight. Drop your ego and lower the weight if you need to.
Those are our top 7 tips for building strength and adding muscle. Remember, what you do outside of the gym counts just as much, if not more, than what you do inside the gym’s four walls. If you wanna get big and strong, you gotta eat like you wanna get big and strong. Focus on hitting the appropriate protein, fat, and carbohydrate goals for someone with these goals. And don’t forget to drink at least a gallon of water of water every day and shoot for 7-8 hours of sleep.
What are your upcoming strength goals? Do you have a certain number you wanna hit on your back squat? Or a certain number on the scale you’re working towards? Stay focused and keep building strength to make your results even better.