Getting stronger makes you better at everything.
I know, it’s quite the bold statement, but it’s the truth.
I’ve had 3 clients tell me, in the past week alone, that they’ve seen the benefits of strength training in 3 completely different sports: golf, cross country running, and bowling!
It’s pretty simple: The stronger you get, the easier things become.
Each step you take, or club you swing, or bowling ball you throw, requires less and less of a percentage of your max effort as your strength increases.
This translates to more endurance and improved performance in the long run, and will transfer over to just about any activity, task, or sport.
So whether you’re driving a golf ball 300 yards, or just carrying groceries from your car to the living room, getting stronger will make each of these tasks easier because they will require less of your overall energy to perform.
Not only that, but more strength usually translates to more muscle.
And more muscle always translates to a faster resting metabolism.
And the faster your resting metabolism, the more food you can eat and still stay lean.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that being strong is pretty awesome.
It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, if you incorporate some kind of strength training into your life, you will be better at everything else that you do.
In my six years as a personal trainer, I’ve observed a lot in the weight room, especially training in a corporate gym.
What I’ve learned is this:
(Get ready for another bold statement)
9 out of every 10 people who “strength train” are wasting their time.
I’m not exaggerating, either.
If anything, I’m being conservative with that figure, because many times I’m hard pressed to find ANYONE performing a hard press. (See what I did there?)
This post is my attempt to change that.
You might say, “Well, J.J., not everyone is a personal trainer, and doing something is better than nothing.”
While I completely agree with that statement, and will admit that something is, indeed, “better than nothing,” I would also state that I didn’t start this blog to write for those who just want to “get by” in life.
I write for those who, like myself, want to grab life by the “Co-Jones,” and be the best version of themselves that they can be.
In other words, it is my personal opinion that if you aren’t going to give 100% to a particular task or goal, then it is best not to do it at all.
Strength training is no exception.
Why You’re Not Getting Stronger:
1. Poor Technique
The Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press/ Push-up, Pullup/ Pulldown, Military Press, and Row should make up the foundation of your training program.
LEARN TO PERFORM THEM CORRECTLY!
I can’t tell you how many people I see on a daily basis with horrendous form on all or most of these exercises.
Hire a trainer.
Go on YouTube.
Read a training book.
Do whatever it takes to master these lifts before starting a new training program.
Poor technique will, at best, lead to a serious plateau because you will not be utilizing your muscles properly.
At worst, you will be sidelined with an injury that will keep you out of the weight room for months, or longer.
Technique trumps weight every single time.
Lose the ego, drop some of the weight being used, and learn to perform the exercise correctly and safely.
2. Testing Strength Instead Of Training It
I see this almost every day.
Guy walks into the weight room and the absolute most he can dumbbell press is 60 lbs for 8 reps.
He walks in, does a set with the 40’s, then the 50’s, and then grabs the 60’s and does a max effort set of as many as possible – 8 reps.
Chest is done.
He does this routine week in and week out, and before you know it, a year goes by and he’s still pressing the same exact weight.
You don’t get stronger by training to failure.
I repeat: You don’t get stronger by training to failure!
When folks strength train, they forget that not only are they placing quite a bit of demand on their muscular system, but they are also placing that demand on their Central Nervous System (CNS) as well.
When you strength train, you want to be as fresh as possible for each and every set.
Training to failure takes a very long time to recover from, not only by your muscles, but your CNS as well.
If you are constantly training with maximum effort and to failure each and every time, your body will never adapt or recover from the stimulus properly, and getting stronger will be almost impossible.
In fact, most people will get weaker if they train like this for long periods of time.
Always leave 1-2 reps in the tank when you train.
If the program calls for 3 sets of 8, use a weight you could probably lift for 10 repetitions.
This will allow your body to adapt to the new stimulus while still challenging your musculature and ensure that you don’t fry your CNS in the process.
3. Program Hopping
We are currently living in the “Age of Information.”
We literally have a machine in our pocket that can give us any bit of information we care to know.
The entire wealth of human knowledge can be accessed at the push of a button.
Unfortunately, smart phones, watches, and cars have replaced smart people.
And because of this influx of information, many of us have a little bit of ADD.
This “information overload” has managed to infiltrate the gym as well, and because of it, no one sticks to anything long enough to see results or progress.
“Monday, I’m doing P90X.”
“Tuesday, it’s CrossFit.”
“Wednesday, I’m doing Insanity!”
“Thursday, I’ll do Chris Pratt’s Jurassic World workout from MensHealth – he’s ripped!”
These “program hoppers,” as I like to call them, end up doing a whole lot of nothing.
The absolute minimum you should remain on any given program is 6 weeks.
This is how long it will take to notice or feel any kind of results.
The only way to get better at anything in life is to perform that task over and over again.
Weight lifting is no exception.
If you are constantly switching from one program, or workout, to another, your body will never adapt or get stronger.
Sure, you’ll feel like your doing a lot, and you’ll never “get bored,” but unfortunately, you also won’t get results either.
Pick a program and stick to it.
Patience is a virtue.
The strong have it and the weak don’t – in life and the weight room.
4. Never Cycling Your Programs
On the flip side of the coin, there’s the guy that’s been doing the same routine for the past 30 years.
I have a few at my gym and I’m sure that you’ve seen your fair share, too.
You know exactly what day of the week they hit biceps and exactly what machines they use also.
Not only are these guys setting themselves up for some nasty overuse injuries (tennis elbow anyone?), but they’ll also ensure that they never ever get stronger.
While staying on a program for some time is important, staying on one too long will hinder any and all progress.
You will inevitably plateau.
The human body is an incredible machine.
It is made to withstand extreme loads and challenges and can adapt to the most strenuous of circumstances.
If your goal is to get stronger and continue to get stronger over time, then it is best to “cycle” your program or routine every 6-12 weeks or so.
This will ensure that you have enough consistency to improve in the short term, but enough variation to continue to see improvement in the long term as well.
5. Your Exercise Selection Sucks
Again, Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Pressing, Military Pressing, Pullups, Rows, and all of their variations should make up the foundation and majority of your training program.
I’ve said it before: bodybuilding splits don’t work.
Isolation exercises like bicep curls and lateral raises are great when they round out a program and are used as auxiliary lifts to the big 6, but they absolutely suck when they make up your entire program.
Building strength requires a sh*t ton of hormonal stimulus from moving a lot of weight with multiple body parts simultaneously.
Walking into the gym and sitting down at the leg extension machine isn’t going to do crap to get your stronger.
Sure, they are easier to complete and not as challenging, but when have “easy” and “not challenging” ever been used to describe any worthwhile accomplishment?
6. Doing Too Much Cardio
If you are a woman or a semi-fat dude, chances are you have this problem.
I know it sounds stereotypical, but I’m calling it like I see it.
Pick one goal, people!
You either want to be really good at running for a long time, or you want to be strong and sexy.
Unless you have superior genetics (I’m guessing most of you don’t, because you wouldn’t be looking for fitness tips on the internet if you did), I strongly recommend you choose just one because, unfortunately, the two usually contradict each other in terms of their effects on the body.
Now, if your main goal is fat loss and you are deciding between getting stronger or doing cardio, I recommend you choose getting stronger – it will get you to your goal in half the time, and with more pleasure!
Strength = muscle.
Muscle = increased metabolism.
Increased metabolism + good diet = less body fat.
The only way to get stronger between sessions, however, is to eat well and REST.
Performing too much cardio only inhibits your recovery process, as it increases your body’s stress hormone, cortisol, and decreases your body’s “Get Sexy” hormones – HGH and testosterone.
If you’re going to perform cardio at all, it should be short and intense, and done 1-2 x per week – max.
I write programs for people all the time and it takes them twice as long (or more) as expected to drop body fat when they don’t trust the process.
If they aren’t on a treadmill every single day or constantly soaked in sweat, they feel that they aren’t going to “lose weight.”
The sad thing is that the very thing they think they’re doing to speed up that process is actually delaying it exponentially.
Don’t sabotage your progress.
7. Poor Diet / Relying on Supplements
Something else I witness daily:
Guy walks into the gym and crushes his workout.
Then he walks over to the vending machine and buys a “ready to drink” protein shake, chugging it down like he hasn’t eaten anything in a week.
This is what people don’t realize:
Our bodies simply cannot process artificial, synthetic nutrients.
Therefore, at the end of the day it’s not necessarily what we put in our mouths, but what our bodies’ can digest and assimilate efficiently.
Your body recognizes 25 grams of protein from a chicken breast or steak.
It doesn’t know what the hell to do with the 25 grams in a processed shake.
So while the label may say 25 grams, please understand that you are probably processing much less than that.
Eat. Real. Food.
Stop relying on protein shakes and supplements.
Make sure the majority of your calories come from whole foods like vegetables, fruits, oats, rice, meat, fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds.
Drink tons of high quality water and if you need a little “pick me up” before a workout, pour yourself a cup of black coffee.
8. Failing To “Warm-Up” and “Work Up” Before A Workout
This is extremely common with the average gym goer.
Notice I used the word “average.”
Ask any advanced lifter if they warm up before they train and the answer is always “yes.”
Performing a full body, dynamic warm-up will lubricate your joints and raise your core temperature.
Not only will this dramatically decrease any risk of injury, but it will also serve to “activate” your muscle fibers for the workload ahead.
Once you’ve worked up a good sweat, always make sure to “work up” to whatever your starting weight will be for that day.
So if the workout calls for 3 sets of 5 on the bench press and the weight used is going to be 185, you’ll probably want to do a few sets beforehand and “work up” to that weight.
You might do a set of 20 reps with just the bar, followed by sets of 3-5 reps with 75, 95, 115, 135, and 160, all BEFORE starting your first set of the 3 sets of 5 with 185.
Performing the “warm up” and “work up” beforehand will make that first set at 185 feel lighter (and safer) as you have now properly raised your core temperature, lubricated your joints, fired up muscle fibers, and prepped your CNS for the task ahead.
9. Not Having A Training Log
How will you know if you are making any progress if you never write anything down?
I’ve carried a training log with me for the past 3 years .
Since then, I’ve increased my squat, deadlift, and bench press by a combined weight of over 350 lbs.
So many people just walk into the gym clueless and without a game plan.
When else in life does this strategy work?
Ask any successful person at anything in life if they accomplished their goals without a concrete vision or plan and see what they tell you.
Write down your program and track you progress.
Exercise selection, weight, and repetitions should be written down each and every training session.
Use this data to improve daily, monthly, and yearly.
10. Not Deloading
If you are training consistently, you will need to “deload” every 8-12 weeks depending on your age and training intensity.
Put simply, a “deload” is nothing more than a short, planned recovery period, usually lasting about a week.
As stated earlier, training is extremely demanding on your musculature, joints, tendons, and CNS.
Weeks of training hard can stress your CNS and adrenal glands, as well as compromise the integrity of your joints and tendons.
At best, this can lead to a decrease in performance.
At worst, you could get sick and/or injured.
Every 8-12 weeks, take a week to rest and recover.
You can reduce your training volume and reduce the weight used by about 50% that week; or just take the week off altogether from weight lifting and use it to rest, work on mobility, or get outside more.
You will undoubtedly come back from the “deload” more energized and ready to continue getting stronger.
More importantly, you will greatly reduce your risk of becoming ill or injured.
It’s called strength training for a reason.
If you train consistently and haven’t noticed any significant increases in strength levels in months or years, chances are that you are making one or more of these mistakes.
Address the problem and fix it.
Remember, how you do anything is how you do everything.
If you aren’t going to give 100% of your effort to a task, it’s not worth doing.
Don’t waste your time.
Get stronger and do everything else better.