Shrugged Collective

Make it hard

There are two primary ways to get stronger.

1. First, you can do the obvious thingAdd as much weight to the barbell as you can, as quickly as you can.

There are no mysteries here, folks, just some fundamental lessons that you will learn in time. It’ll be easy when you are just starting out. All you have to do is add more weight to the barbell every time you train. Squat, pull and press a little bit more than last time, 2-3 days a week. In six-months you’ll be unrecognizable to old friends.

After those initial and rapid improvements it will get really hard to improve. You’ll have to space out the heavy training sessions so that you’ll be able to recover from the mounting stresses. You’ll have to try new things way more frequently. Sets of 5 reps, then 1-3, maybe 8 when it’s due.

Multiple training sessions per day. Detailed meal planning and preparation. Intensive recovery methods, like ice baths and such, that almost feel harder then the training itself. This is what the path looks like the higher up you go. Things get slow as the incline get’s steeper and steeper. The training will get very hard. You can’t keep that up forever. So, do something better if you want to keep getting stronger and stronger.

2. Make things harder then they have to be

This was a lesson that I learned years and years ago as a student at the University of Memphis. I was pulling maximal banded deadlifts in the power rack of our lab. The load was extreme for me – there was about 500 pounds on the barbell, coupled with about 250 some odd pounds of band tension at the top of the movement.

This is an extreme method, something you would do way down the road when repetitions and increased loading alone were no longer enough to improve your pulling strength. You would make it harder, right? Increasing the load creatively where you could, forcing the adaptation.

My buddy Loren Chiu, who is now a tremendous professor of Biomechanics at the University of Alberta, took a break from his laboratory tinkering to come over and offer some advice. “I get why you would do that. It works. But have you ever tried making the lift harder so that far less weight was required? You can’t keep doing that stuff forever. You need some other ways to get strong for the long-term.”

He was right. You need plenty of really heavy attempts if you want to acquire the skill of strength (it takes practice just like anything else). But the whole secret to being really strong, for a really long time, is that you have to balance this with the lighter, but not easy stuff.

Here’s what you should do. For every really heavy session, do at least one “tougher than necessary” training session. What does that look like? Well, it depends on your goals. It might mean pausing at the bottom of your squats, or going down at a really slow speed. Both things would lower the load you could lift, but you would still get stronger. That’s wise.

What are some other great alternatives? Just use your imagination. Use pauses at various points of the range of motion, holding position, then resuming and finishing your lift. Try that the next time you deadlift, or maybe throw in a pause at the bottom of your jerk. If you’re not in position, you’re going to know pretty damn quickly. Time doesn’t lie.

Squat with the bar higher on your back, or with your feet closer than usual. Use a box if you’ve never done it, and ditch it if you’re to comfortable with it. Do what is awkward.

Hold the barbell longer in your hands. Squeeze it. Instead of loading up more plate, lift the weight with more speed, better form, more intent. In short, don’t be frustrated if you’re having trouble getting stronger. There’s still so much you can do to make progress. Just try going in the other direction for once.

Make things hard on yourself.

Learn on


Chris Moore is a writer, recovering meathead, fledgling raconteur and rabid imbiber. He's also cohost and resident potty mouth on Barbell Shrugged, a weekly podcast devoted to Crossfit, strength, fitness and all things brash. His experience is drawn from over twenty-years spent training for and competing in American Football, Powerlifting, a bit of strongman and a dash of mixed martial arts. Also, it's possible that he's had one too many cups of coffee. A caffeine fever is a hell of a thing, you know?

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