Recently I asked people to tell me their “Why?” Why do they go to the gym every day? What are they hoping to get from it? One of the most common responses to this question is to get bigger and stronger. Whether you’re an athlete training for a sport, a bodybuilder preparing for a contest or show, or someone simply looking to improve your strength, this post is for you.
Most people don’t like to hear this because it is not a new, sexy thing, but the best and most efficient way of getting stronger is basic barbell lifts. Yes, that’s right, the same barbell lifts that have been around forever are still the best way to build strength. That is the reason they have been around forever.
When people come up to me in the gym and ask how to get stronger or how to get a bigger the first question I ask them is if they are doing the standard barbell lifts like benching, squatting, deadlifting or an overhead press. If not, I immediately tell them to add these four lifts into their program for the next month or so and they will already notice they have gotten stronger.
Yes, there are other great ways to get bigger and stronger but if you are looking for the most bang for your buck, lift a barbell. The barbell is the most efficient way of getting stronger simply because you can lift the most weight with it. The lifts are also compound movements. A compound movement is a movement that involves more than one joint, thus involving more muscles. For example, a squat involves the hip, knee and ankle joints. By involving all these joints, multiple muscle groups including the hamstrings, quadriceps, adductors, spinal erectors, etc. are being used to perform the squat. When someone does an exercise like a leg curl or leg extension they are working around one joint (i.e. the knee in this example) and isolating only one muscle group. I used the squat in this example, but this is true for the other barbell lifts as well.
After explaining the importance of needing the barbell lifts to get strong, a common follow-up question I’m asked is, “how heavy to go?” Heavy is five reps or fewer. I never go over 5 reps if I am doing strength work on the barbell lifts. Strength programs are going to have some version of three to five sets of three to five reps. It is important to perform your strength exercises while you are at your strongest and freshest state. So do the barbell lifts first. A great example that I grew up on is doing a heavy bench first on chest day, a heavy squat first on leg day, etc. Perform the sets at or near full recovery so take between two and three minute rest between sets. This is a common mistake I see so pay attention to your rest periods and don’t rush it! I write all of this with caution because you should be competent with the technique aspect before trying heavy weight.
I won’t delve into the technique aspect of the barbell lifts because each lift will be its own individual article. Those articles will be coming soon so stay tuned!
One of my favorite quotes comes from 8x Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman, in which he says “Everyone wants to be strong, but don’t nobody want to lift heavy-ass weights.” To get strong you have to lift heavy. At times, it really is that simple. So I challenge you that if you have the technique down to go and lift heavy and don’t be afraid to feel the strain of heavy weight, learn to love it, because that is how you will become strong.