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Building Strength the Right Way

Updated on April 9, 2009

Learn to Lift The Right Way

Are you interested in getting stronger? Have you been hitting the gym religiously, but you just aren't reaching your goals? If you answered "yes" to either of these questions, here is the information you need to start you progression towards your goal.

Unfortunately, in the world of strength, there is a lot of misinformation. Too many trainees and trainers are following bodybuilding protocols in an attempt to look like the guys in Mr. Olympia, jumping from routine to routine as the monthly magazines come out. Every month, you see a new workout with advertisements like "Bigger biceps in only 4 weeks," "Get the six-pack you want in 15 minutes a day," and "The Ultimate Triceps Workout."

Too bad those workouts are ineffective. If they were effective, why would there need to be a new one each month? Read on to find out how you should be lifting and why the workouts in all of those bodybuilding magazines don't work. Women, you too should see this information as strength is a necessary component of aging gracefully.

Strength has long been one of the most revered attributes of both men and women. In the Greek and Roman cultures, strong, athletic men were celebrated for their prowess on the battlefield, in the athletic arena, and for their amazing physiques. Today, strong, athletic women are loved by men of all stripes and a strong, muscular body is still a hallmark of male vitality.

Now, I'm going to teach you the way you should be going about achieving the same lean, muscular physique that so impressed civilizations before us and continues to impress to this day.

The Big Lifts

To build high levels of strength, there are really only a few exercises that you need. Lifts like these have been used since man sought to increase his strength and improve his physique. Look at any of the strongest athletes in any sport and you'll find that they all use these lifts, supplemented with additional work. The lifts I'm talking about are:

  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Bench Press
  • Overhead Press
  • Power Clean

Why These Lifts?

The selection of these five lifts was relatively easy. They all require the use of massive amounts of muscle. The loading potential is unparalleled by any other exercises. The squat and deadlift both allow an individual to move weights that they cannot move in any other way, while working the entire body, from head to toe. The mass building potential of these two lifts is incredible.

Similarly, the bench press and overhead press are the best lifts for building upper body strength and mass. And the power clean is unparalleled in teaching the body to move large loads quickly. While the clean won't put massive amounts of mass on you, it will teach you to use the strength that you have developed in the other lifts.

The key to these movements is in their functionality. Unlike typical isolation movements common in so many bodybuilding programs and Men's Health type magazines, these exercises teach the body to move properly. They train you both muscularly and neurologically to produce a body that can perform both inside of and, more importantly, outside of the gym.

But How Do I...

Performing these lifts safely and competently is far beyond the scope of this discussion. You should consult a trainer with knowledge of these lifts that can ensure your form is impeccable prior to adding weight. You can also consult YouTube for video examples of these lifts, along with sites like Gym Junkies.

To put together a solid program, I like two particular books. The first is Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore. This book teaches the proper form and programming for a novice or intermediate lifter. Second, I like Charles Staley's Escalating Density Training. Staley truly understands how to build a strong, functional body.

Strength Is Relative

Of course, you should understand that you don't have to squat 300 pounds or deadlift 500 pounds to enjoy the benefits of increased strength. Everyone from the 90-year old grandmother to the 16-year old football player will benefit from improving their strength. A grandmother doesn't have a need for the levels of strength that an athlete does. However, the need is there and should be part of any adequate training program.

If you can't deadlift a barbell, you can deadlift a small medicine ball. Then you can progress to a larger medicine ball. Before you know it, your strength will improve and you'll find yourself with levels of strength and vigor previously unknown to you.

Is It Safe?

Of course it's safe! As long as proper form is learned and maintained throughout the movements, these are the safest lifts available. The key is ensuring that you don't get sloppy in the interest of stoking your ego. It is better to lift 10 pounds less, but lift it properly, than to lift any amount improperly.

Most trainees spend their time working only the pretty muscles that they can see in the mirror. This sets the body up, especially unstable joints like the shoulder, for muscular imbalances that decrease functionality. Ever seen the big guy in the gym with the hunchback look, his chest far more developed than his back? Because these lifts build the body proportionally, all muscles contributing their fair share, the chances for overuse and muscular imbalance issues are diminished greatly.

So Get To Lifting!

Go do your homework. Learn how to incorporate these lifts into your training regimen. Learn how to properly program them, how to properly load, and how to properly lift.

Naturally there is a place for additional supplemental work like pullups, dips, pushups, and core work. But the bulk of your strength programming can incorporate these movements and you'll be amazed to see the rest of your fitness programming come along for the ride.

Ready To Get Stronger?

If you're tired of being a 98 pound weakling, it's time to put some muscle on your body. Strength is of the utmost importance in looking good naked, being healthy, and going into old age with function and independence. Charles Staley is one of the foremost experts on strength, being one of the founding members of ISSA. If you're ready to get strong, you need to check out his book Escalating Density Training.

Just click here to start your new stronger life.


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