It seems pretty intuitive to me that a man should be strong. However, the current standard of strength for a grown man is quite conservative. Walk into any commercial gym and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. A 315 lb. squat will get people to stop what they’re doing and watch. A 405 deadlift will warrant the same kind of attention. I’m not belittling the person who can legitimately do this. It takes work an dedication for most people to reach those milestones. I’m attempting to bring awareness to the fact that this is not an astonishing feet of strength. This is – or should be – very normal, but it isn’t. I know this may all seem a bit hard to believe. After all, if it should be so common, why isn’t it? That my friends is the million-dollar question.
You see, for some time the fitness industry has had you obsessed with finding easier ways to get the body you desire. You’ve been fooled into believing that a set of abs and biceps are the measure of health and fitness. Abs is simply a display of low body fat. Shit, skinny kids made mostly of sinew have abs. Do they look very useful to you? No, they’re frail and disgusting. And way too much attention is placed on those relatively small amounts of muscle on your upper arms. I get it; big arms are cool and aesthetically pleasing. Not as cool as big arms on a body with big everything else.
The so-called experts have convinced you that unilateral exercises done on some type of unstable surface will improve sports performance. Buzz words like “functional” and “core” have been used to give some legitimacy to their recommendations. It’s all snake oil. The saddest part is I think some of these “experts” actually believe in their snake oil. You may be thinking, “why such deception?” Well, the fitness industry is just like any other. They want to sell you something and some in the industry don’t care what they have to say to get your money. They’re preying on your ignorance. A shiny ball is constantly being flashed in front of you and it’s up to you to stay focused and informed. You’ve been distracted with bullshit for far too long and you’ve lost your way.
Still not convinced? Look guys, the evidence is in front of you as long as you want to see it. You’ve spent countless hours in the gym? How much progress have you made in the last year? Have you consistently tried to eat more/less/better? Have you stuck it out when you hit a plateau and found a way through it or have you conveniently changed your goals? Do you go to the gym even when you feel like shit or do you use it as an excuse to go home? When you do go to the gym do you have a plan or do you wonder over to the dumbbells or cable machine and do what you enjoy? Ask yourself these questions and answer them honestly. Now that we have all of this out of the way, let’s get back on track.
Becoming stronger should be your primary goal. It makes everything else easier. It makes you more resistant to injury, and will make the largest contribution to your quality of life. Getting stronger is like putting money in the bank. It will pay you interest down the road (way better than our current rates, also). You’re banking muscle for the future, and muscle buys you freedom. Freedom to do the things you enjoy as well as the things you need to do in your day-to-day life. We can’t reverse aging (yet), but we can certainly hold it back and live a high-quality life to the very end. Strength is a quality that can be improved upon for decades. It’s a quality that can be improved as long as you are still alive.
The fastest way to improve the performance of an athlete is to make them stronger. This is mostly because the majority of athletes aren’t as strong as they could be. Explosiveness, and endurance are derivatives of strength. Explosiveness is strength right now; it’s strength displayed quickly. Endurance is just a series of submaximal strength events. Think of it this way - strength is the base of the pyramid and all other physical qualities stack on top of that base. If you aren’t running fast enough or jumping high enough, the first item that should be assessed is your level of strength. You can’t display something you don’t possess. If you haven’t done so, read this and then come back here.
I want to link the article “Necessity of Strength” to “this”
Still want the abs? That’s fine. You can have them. Getting strong will build a great set of abs. Once you have become a lot stronger you adjust your diet and add in a little HIIT cardio a couple of days a week. The extra muscle mass you’ve put on will make any fat reduction considerably easier.
If we are to become stronger it makes sense to do it in the most logical and efficient manner possible, right? The barbell is the most useful tool in existence to accomplish this task. Having the best tool doesn’t automatically mean the person will be able to use it correctly. There are a great number of unproductive things a person can do with a barbell, but there are relatively only a few very productive activities. Squats, presses and pulls will be the most productive because they work large amounts of muscle mass over long effective ranges of motion, which allows you to lift the most weight and get as strong as possible. With the addition of very light bars and small plates, they are almost infinitely scalable. As a lift moves further and further away from these criteria it becomes less useful, although not always useless. But why would we settle for a less
The fastest way to get stronger while using these lifts is to do them often. Most men who are 40 or younger, and are untrained can squat, press, and pull, 3 days a week for the first several months. This is possible because an untrained person isn’t able to stress himself as completely as someone who is trained. Sure, the weight may feel heavy; I believe you when you say it is. However, you aren’t using as much muscle as you think you are. This means you’ll recover from your session fairly quickly. It’s like healing from a scratch or a laceration. As a novice lifter your training is only capable of giving you scratches, but as a more advanced lifter your training can give you lacerations. Make sense? Kind of? Maybe?
What can you expect from some time spent on a dedicated strength program? I’ve routinely seen men add over 100 pounds to their squat, 70 pounds to their bench press, and 20 pounds of body weight in 8 weeks or less. That 315 squat looks a little less intimidating now, doesn’t it?
An extra 20 pounds on your frame will carry with it some considerable physique changes. A while back I took some measurements after gaining 15 pounds. I added 2 ½” to my thighs, 1” to my arms, 1” to my neck, 1” to my waist, 2” to my upper torso, and ¼” to my calves. The interesting part is during that period of weight gain I didn’t do a single arm isolation exercise, calf raise or “bro shrug”. Another interesting note is that my calves are extremely stubborn to growth, and after years of using every technique I could find I added ¼” without even trying. At that time my training only consisted of squats, bench, overhead press, deadlifts, power cleans, and weighted chin-ups.
Recently I measured a client who just completed his 8th week of training. He gained 18.7 pounds, and added 2 ¾” to his thighs, 2 ½” to his upper torso, 3/8” to his neck, ¾” to his arms, and only 5/8” to his waist. His training only consisted of squats, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, and barbell rows. The only supplements he took were protein, creatine, and BCAA’s.
There may be a few of you who zeroed in on that increase to the waist measurement and can’t get it out of your head. Look, you have to get over it. Even professional bodybuilders have to go through periods where their waists grow. They know what the deal is and accept it as a necessary part of the process. And guess what? Your abs are muscles too, and subject to hypertrophy just like the others. Don't forget that the lower back muscles probably experienced some hypertrophy as well. 5/8" added to the waist doesn't necessarily mean it was done by getting fat. Like I said before, the extra muscle will make your cutting phase much easier and you’ll look way better in the end too. In the mean time the added inch to your waist will be largely imperceptible because of the extra INCHES to your chest and thighs.
I have to warn you; strength is addicting. Once you get a taste of the possibilities there’s a good chance you’ll want to make them realities.
About the Author:
Scott Acosta is a USA Powerlifting Coach, Westside Barbell Strength Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer, 2-time attendee of the Starting Strength Seminar, and competitive raw powerlifter.
Scott’s best competition lifts are a 540 lb. squat, 391 lb. bench press, and 606 lb. deadlift in the 231 lb. men’s open weight class