Strength is something you learn by example.
I was incredibly fortunate to have Dr. Mike Stone as a mentor during my college years. He’s one of the world’s leading experts in human performance, but more than that, he was always wide open and giving.
What better quality could you hope fore in a role model?
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One visit with him stands out in my memory. We were in his living room, eating large bowls of Scottish beef stew and watching old Iron Mind training hall tapes. The good Doctor would often comment on the lifter, their training style, maybe some noteworthy quirk in their technique. I would just sit back and soak up everything that was said. It was the best kind of school.
The biggest lesson came from one of the smallest, but most accomplished weightlifters of all time, Naim Suleymanoglu. Pocket Hercules was built for the sport, no doubt. He also had free access to every luxury and performance aid the Turkish government could afford. But still, that doesn’t explain why he was so great. Those kind of resources were never all that uncommon.
“No one trained harder than Naim.” Dr. Stone told me. “His coaches would drag him to his bedroom and toss him in the rack at the end of a hard day’s training. He would sleep as long as necessary, then do it all over again the next day. That’s what it takes,” he said with great effect.
“If you want to be strong, you have to work very, very hard.”
Naim in action.
For most of my lifting career I assumed that harder meant heavier. It is true, after all. The strongest athletes are typically those that have completed the most quality repetitions, with the most total weight.
Strength is a skill, something learned with effort and time. Practice and the accumulation of work hours play a huge role. The only question is how you go about doing it, right? What’s the quickest path? That’s what we’re all looking for.
My strategy when I was much younger, and pain free, was to find ways of sneaking more weight onto the barbell. I did heavy partial lifts from boxes, boards and pins. Basic overload stuff. I really liked supra-maximal squats and pulls with heavy elastic bands, anything to drive up the intensity up to an extreme peak.
It was all very hard and very effective, but it wasn’t very sustainable. If you go heavier and heavier for long enough you’ll plateau. Keep pushing without a real change and you will grind down, it’s only a matter of time. So how can you keep making progress? How can you keep getting stronger?
I still think Dr. Stone is 100% right. You cannot get super strong without working very, very hard. But there are many ways to go harder in the gym that don’t require any more load. This is just the sort of approach you need to take if you’ve been going really heavy for a while and are stuck.
Back the weight down by 10-15%, whatever you want. Still apply an intense focus to each and every repetition. Move the barbell with better and better technique. More importantly, move it faster and faster, as fast as you can. That intent to move as hard, fast, and efficiently as possible will make you very strong and very explosive. When you’re ready to train heavier again you’ll be prepared to perform much, much better. Trust me.
Another option for making things harder is to just increase the difficulty of the movement you’re training. For example, I can get stronger in the squat by lifting more and more load, or I can just try squatting deeper and pausing for longer. Couple that with the speed work and you can easily increase strength without going all that heavy.
What’s more, the fatigue and wear is minimal. You’ll be stronger and feel much better. That’s a lesson that only seems more and more important the closer I get to the Masters level.
Long pause squat onto foam. A video posted by Chris Moore (@barbellbuddha) on
There are many ways to get stronger. I think you should take full advantage of all of them. That’s how you’ll get the best result. This article should give you some ideas to start with, I hope.
If you’ve got questions just leave them in the comments below. I’d be glad to help out anyway I can.
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