Rough Strength Basics: How to Gain Strength

How to Gain StrengthMajority of people that are interested in strength training are concerned with wrong things. They think too much about exercise machines, biceps curls, what training gloves to use, what is better: barbells or dumbbells, when to train: in the morning or in the evening, or maybe in the afternoon? What to eat pre-workout, intra-workout and post-workout, ‘anabolic windows’, what split to use, what supplements to use, should I train biceps with triceps or separately? Holy crap, these questions make me want to puke in the mouth of the person who asks them. The best thing you can do to your training is to concentrate on BASICS and forget everything else for 3-5 years straight. So I decided to write some stuff on basics of rough strength training. Here’s the first article.

What Is Strength?

Well,, for example, defines this category as:

1. the quality or state of being strong; bodily or muscular power; vigor.
2. mental power, force, or vigor.
3. moral power, firmness, or courage.

Zatsiorsky, who is constantly quoted by strength coaches, defines strength as ability to overcome or counteract external resistance through muscular action (Zatsiorsky, 1995). I totally agree with such definition.

However, strength can be different. For example, explosive strength and maximal strength are not same things despite the word “strength”. Typically, strengths are divided into five types: absolute strength, maximal strength, explosive strength, speed strength and strength endurance. Here’s quick overview of these different categories:

Absolute strength is the amount of force that one can exert under involuntary muscle stimulation (ex. electrical stimulation).

Maximal Strength is the amount of force that one can exert under voluntary effort.

Explosive Strength is the ability to express significant tension in minimal time.

Speed Strength is the ability to quickly execute an unloaded movement or a movement against a relatively small external resistance.

Strength Endurance is the ability to effectively maintain muscular functioning under work conditions of long duration.

All of the above definitions are taken from Ross Enamait’s awesome book on bodyweight training “Never Gymless”. Check it out.

Important take-home point here is that strength is not just strength. There are several types of strength and they differ a lot. You can definitely develop them with proper training. They require different approaches, but the main principle remains the same – the biggest secret in how to gain strength. You won’t believe, but it’s progressive resistance.

How to Gain Strength?

When we are talking about pure strength, nervous system training should be our primary concern. Our strength is determined by the speed of CNS signal from brain to body’s nerve endings. Better path for neurons means more strength, in layman terms. So the main question we should ask ourselves (if our goal is to gain strength) is how to improve our neural pathways? Well, the best answer I learnt was to perform the skill as often as possible, while staying as fresh as possible. I used word “skill” with a purpose. Strength is a skill. Just like playing guitar, or drawing, or riding a bicycle. The more you practice the better you get at it. The same is true for strength, although it’s not that obvious. Therefore, if you want to gain strength you need frequent repetition of the skill. So all you need is to Squat and Deadlift heavy every day or even several times per day, right? Not quite. While it may be a viable option for professional athletes, it will be an overkill for regular fitness enthusiast whose goal is just to get strong, not to set world records.  There is so-called volume/intensity/frequency mix. If you increase one, then you should decrease other two. How should you use this awesome information above?

Routines for Strength

In my experience, the best routines for strength are high-frequency low-volume and low-repetition ones. Why low rep? Because it’s a rule. Repetitions from 1 to 5 build strength (and muscle in some cases) because they use specific energy stores and specific muscle fibers. Low volume will allow you to train more frequently. What about intensity? It should be kept pretty high. I’d say at least 75-80% of your 1 rep max. Remember: “Train, don’t strain!” Too much intensity will lead to less frequency, which is unwanted. Here’s couple of example routines for strength:

Example Routine #1 (Starting Strength Variation)

Day 1

1) Barbell Squats 3 x 5

2) Double Kettlebell Military Press 3 x 5

3) Weighted Pull-Ups 3 x 5

Day 2 – Off

Day 3

1) Barbell Squats 3 x 5

2) One-Arm Push-Up Progression 3 x 5

3) Sandbag Shouldering 3 x 5

Day 4 – Off

Day 5

1) Barbell Squats 3 x 5

2) Bulgarian Ring Dips 3 x 5

3) Kettlebell Renegade Row 3 x 5

Day 6 & 7 – Off

Day 8 – Repeat

Example Routine #2 (Power to the People Variation)

Day 1-5

1) Planche Push-Ups Progression 2 x 5

2) Barbell Deadlift 2 x 5

Day 6 & 7 – Off

Day 8 – Repeat

Note: of course, these routines are just examples. If you want to use them, you’ll need to scale intensity to your current strength levels.

What to do if you want to develop other kinds of strength? Well, it all depends on what qualities you want to develop and how long does it take to recuperate from one training session to another. You can add 1-2 additional training sessions per week where you will train Explosive Push-Ups and One-Arm Dumbbell Snatch for 5-8 sets of 3 with as much explosiveness as possible. Or you can add some speed work in some lifts, for example, barbell squats with resistance bands. Set/rep protocol remains the same. You got the idea. The more different kinds of strength you want to train the less should be total weekly volume per one type of strength.

What Training Implement Is the Best for Building Strength?

Obviously, there is no best tool to develop strength. All of them have their advantages and disadvantages. You can read about them here. Of course, ultimate results in strength require mixing training implements. However, it’s better to be good in one thing than just play with several. If you like bodyweight strength training then why not get strong through it? You should do what you like. If you like lifting barbell then use it. You can even mix them. Every training implement has it’s unique value in training. For example, you’ll have hard time finding better exercise for leg strength and size than barbell squats. There’s no analogue to strength built by manipulating your bodyweight on still rings. Sandbag strength training has its own benefits. Awareness of these pluses and minuses can lead to ultimate mix of implements for you.

Closing Thoughts

Get strong. Everything else will follow. Strength should be anyone’s number one priority. It is not well known, but strength built in gym carries over to other areas in life: carrier, relationship etc. The stronger you are the more confidence you have, the more mental strength you have. It’s definitely worth the time. Get strong, now you have all the information you need. Click here to read part 2. Thanks for reading. Comment and share.

Play rough!

Alex Zinchenko

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40 thoughts on “Rough Strength Basics: How to Gain Strength

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        1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

          It depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If you want to master the Planche Push-Up, then yes. If not, then it doesn’t matter.

          – Alex

  28. Ironthumb

    It’s man’s nature to worry about things that are not important.
    and LOL why do people use gloves? They’re useless.
    I even saw one guy before using boxing wraps- I asked if he would go for a boxing session and he said he was just gonna lift.. bunch of misguided fellows, at least they think they looked cool

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  35. Benjamin Zachat

    Very good article… and something to def keep in mind when i train in the future. After years spent trying to find what works for me training wise i negleted to get my diet right first- so can i add that when you do decide to get serious with your training make sure you have enough calories each day first… other wise you wont get far. Thats on top of getting enough protein… if you get this right first and then follow a good strength based training plan your results will be far better. And dont be afraid to do blocks of strength training followed by a more typical bodybuilding block then another strength training block after it. Get strong, build some more muscle and then make that new muscle strong too.. repeat as often as you like… wish i knew that secret years ago.


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