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How Does One Get Strong?
In one form or another, this is the most asked question from me. The answer is normally quite different from what the asker is looking for. Being strong takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and attention to detail. Before we discuss the details to getting strong, we must first define “strong”.
I am not the strength snob that thinks a person needs to squat 800 pounds or clean & jerk 400 pounds before they are strong. Strong to me is a person maximizing his or her own genetic potential. Some people can work as hard and smart as they want to, and they will never squat as much as Dan Green or snatch as much as Jon North. However genetic limitations shouldn’t be an excuse to set your sights low.
Normally the limiting factor is one’s propensity for injury. This means that one’s strength is unlimited unless one gets hurt, so the sky is the limit. I believe that almost any male can squat and deadlift 2.5 times their bodyweight and female 2 times, so this is a good first long-term goal. The biggest limiting factor has always been the athlete’s paradigm, or view of reality. The first step is to defeat the doubt within.
When you get to the top of the strength world, you will be around a group of athletes that have overcome several doubts. The cream of the crop has overcome the most. That is just the simple truth. I met several lifters that should have beaten me, but for some reason, they were not able to overcome the mental blocks. All the greats like Ed Coan, Steve Goggins, and Ilya Ilyin were able to go to a part of the brain that the rest of the world is terrified of.
I was at the meet that Steve Goggins squatted 1100 pounds. At the time, he was the first person to squat over 1100. He was a pioneer, and a fearless one at that. The look on his face was one of complete confidence and determination. There are plenty of people out there that specialize in sport psychology. If you have issues with confidence, I suggest seeking out one of those experts. You might try talking to one of the greats, and ask them about their own mental processes.
Here are some of the keys to approaching all-time weights:
• Stay relaxed until it’s time to lift. Don’t get jacked too soon!
• Learn to channel that inner “zone”! Have that spot that you can go to overcome all fear.
• Maintain the same pattern whether it’s a warm up or a personal record. This is key.
Most people get way too jacked way too early! Learn to relax until it is time to go. I suggest making small talk with friends, listening to relaxing music, and remember to have fun. Here is what I used to really relax:
“I simply remembered that I was lifting weights with a bunch of people that loved lifting weights as much as me. It was simply a big gym, and I was doing exactly what I loved to do!”
That inner zone is key. You have to be able to go to that place that is fearless. A place where you are invincible! I used to channel all the things that I hated: people that doubted me, abused me, or hated me. Then I would remember all the things that I loved, and that feeling was indescribable. Everyone is different! I recommend finding your own Zone!
Make sure that you develop a pattern with all lifts and never deviate. Most of us change up our approach to the bar when it’s loaded to a weight that is perceived as heavy. When we maintain the same pattern, the body perceives it as something ordinary. When we change our pattern, it is perceived as “out of the ordinary”. This causes us to change the movement, and sometimes the body goes into protection mode freezing up. A lot of champions have told me this over the years, and I used the technique with great success.
Now that we have discussed the mental issues of being strong, let’s discuss the physical. Becoming strong is simple at the heart and complex around the core. At the heart, the body requires more stimulation this year to be stronger than last year. This means that volume has to increase to stimulate an adaptation from the body. However, not all stimulation was created equal.
Here are the keys that I have discovered over the years that work:
• Get the most out of the least! Use basic principles before moving to advanced!
• Pauses and time under tension principles work well for overcoming barriers.
• Target weaknesses
• Have a goal of complete structural balance
• Conjugate always! Always vary exercises, training frequencies, and types of stimulus so the body is always adapting.
The physical and mental aspects are the two primary ways of increasing strength. However it’s the athletes that become the masters of the mundane that really take their training to the next level. Here are the keys:
• Nutrition is key! Nutrition fuels the workout and more importantly fuels recovery.
• Recovery is everything! If you kill yourself in the gym and never recover properly, you will never see the results that you crave.
• Sleep goes along with recovery! I recommend 8-10 hours.
• Optimal mobility allows that athlete to train injury free longer.
Nutrition can make or break an athlete. I watched my athlete Adee Zukier use proper nutrition to go down a weight class and get stronger. This sparked us to start the “Eat What You Want! Lift What You Want!” Program. Whether gaining, losing, or maintaining there are proper macronutrients that will aid the athlete with their goals.
Recovery has always been a big key to my training. Dr. Gray, my famous Chiro, has been my secret weapon. He has used his Graston, A.R.T., K-Laser, Rock Taping, and Nutrition skills to be a one-stop shop for my performance. I suggest that you all find a guy or gal like this to put in your corner. I also focused on hot and cold contrast, massage (good massage), stretching, salt baths, and any other means that I could find to recover.
Sleep is so important. If you are having trouble getting sleep, you need to find a way to correct the issue. Strength will never come without sleep. Here are some suggestions: turn off the TV early, put down all devices, and read a relaxing book. Bed time is not the time or place to watch videos of your favorite athletes. That will only jack you up even more. You can also write down all the things that are on your mind, so that you can deal with them first thing in the morning. This habit has been my saving grace. My brain pops out ideas at night, so I have to put them somewhere. If I don’t, I will just lay there thinking about them.
Mobility is something that some people go way over board. The key is optimal mobility. 5-10 minutes prior to training is plenty of time to get in some quality mobility work. Mobility is more easily acquired with heavy weights. I suggest pause squats and overhead squats to seek proper positions.
Getting strong requires hard work, mental toughness, and attention to detail. There are programs that are better than others, but really go heavy often. That is the key! There is no easy way to the top. Over the weekend, I had a gentleman ask me the quickest way to squat 800 pounds. I told him that I simply squatted very heavy and very often. He was looking for an advanced equation for the answer, but that just isn’t the case. Sorry! Hard work and great parents is the key to any world record strength accomplishment.
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