How to Get Stronger

By Daniel Ji


The overview:

1. Regularly practice the Major Movements/exercises your body can safely perform

2. Push your body out of its comfort zone WHEN your body and mind are not overly stressed. ‘Out of comfort zone’ meaning:

  • using more resistance or heavier weights for strength exercises
  • doing more volume (sets and reps)
  • moving more powerfully or with more speed

3. Include exercise variation:

  • free weights and machines
  • accessory and isolation exercises
  • Endurance and stamina building exercises

4. Recovery is just as important as exercise when getting stronger:

  • take care of your muscles and soft tissue with stretching and mobility as well as foam rolling and massages
  • get plenty of good quality sleep to let your body recover
  • consume a balance of protein, carbs and fat from good quality, real foods
  • Manage your mental and emotional stress

It’s oversimplified, I know…

But it’s the big picture before jumping into the details.

There’s one more thing we need to clear up before the actual steps on how to get stronger.

What do YOU Mean by Get Stronger?

I’ll share the technical definition of strength but how is this “strength” going to affect YOUR life?

  • Do you mean get stronger as in feeling more energetic at the end of a full day of work?
  • Being able to lift that 5 gallon jug of water onto the dispenser without worrying about hurting your back?
  • 5Lifting 5 more pounds in a particular exercise you’ve been training?
  • Having the stamina to repeatedly do a task at work or around the house without getting exhausted?
  • Or maybe it’s to have the confidence and reassurance that you’re doing everything in your power to safely move and keep your body functioning well for decades to come…

Take a step back and think hard about your desired outcome and what’s actually motivating you to pursue this goal…

Because this will show you what type of program you should follow over a long period of time.

What is the definition of Physical Strength?

In this article by the founder of CrossFit , Greg Glassman defines Strength as, 

  • “The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply force.”

This journal excerpt by Everett Harman, Ph.D.in the Strength and Conditioning Journal gives a more detailed definition,

  • “The most precise definition of strength is the ability to exert force under a given set of conditions defined by body position, the body movement by which force is applied, movement type (concentric, eccentric, isometric, plyometric) and movement speed.”

Whew! That’s a mouthful… 

So what does that mean in simple terms...?

‘Strength is being able to use your muscles to move your body and external objects.’

Exercise for the average should be very low risk to no risk at all if executed properly

You can commonly find two main categories that define building strength:

  1. Getting stronger for the health and function of your body
  2. Pushing your limits to get as strong, as fast, and as powerful as possible for a sport or for performance 

You can also see them on a spectrum where on the left you have a sedentary lifestyle where you’re not building or maintaining… and even losing strength every week.

Then, as you move towards the right you have, getting and maintaining strength for your health...

And at the far right you have building your strength to its max potential.

Building strength has its risks when you go too far right on this spectrum.

However…

The risk isn’t in the movements or exercises.  

Nearly everyone performs the same movements whether they have never exercised a day in their lives or they are professional athletes.

Average people and elite athletes have the exact same muscles that move their bodies in exactly the same ways.

So can I just follow any program I find on the internet?

Well… the devil is in the details.

How I Program Strength Training As A Coach/Trainer

It starts with:

  1. Your goal - What you want and why you want to accomplish it
  2. The Program you'll follow - Your specific needs considering where you're starting

Goal: Health and Function of Your Body

If you sit smack dab in the middle of the spectrum and want to maintain health, strength and function of your body…

That’s very simple!

  1. We assess your movements and flexibility to see where you might have limitations (weakness, tightness, and imbalances)
  2. We follow a balanced program of major movements and add specific exercises to address any limitations you might have
  3. As you get stronger and more comfortable with the major movements we gradually introduce your body to more challenging movements, resistance, and assistance exercises 
  4. The goal is to maintain a balance of all the movements and muscles

Goal: Sport or Performance

With this goal having a healthy and well functioning body, which is stated above, is the minimum requirement.

This requires a lot more attention to detail, not only in exercise and recovery but in nutrition, sleep and stress management.

The movements are more precise as you start lifting heavier weights because technique, leverage, physics and a lot of science can be applied to maximizing the strength of the human body.

You can think of this process in three steps:

  1. Maximize your health with optimal nutrition, sleep, and stress management.
  2. Use exercise to strengthen your muscles, joints, and cardio respiratory system to prevent injury but as a starting block for the actual performance training.
  3. Focus on exercises that improve specific movement patterns and muscles for your sport for performance, and exercises that help compensate for overuse those patterns and muscles.

The risk when building strength is in the volume and intensity of training, and the overall health of the person, which affects how they recover from the training.

Let’s first look at the major movement categories that build the foundation before understanding how they are put together in a program.

The Major Movements are Foundational Exercises You Can Use To Start Getting Stronger At Home

Major Movements  

Lower Body - The main categories of movements are Squat, Hip Hinge, and Single Leg exercises.

Upper Body - The main categories of movements are the different angles of Pressing and Pulling exercises.

Core - The main categories of movement areas are Front(anterior), Back(posterior), Side(lateral), Rotating and Internal muscles(transverse abdominis and pelvic floor).

Squat (Air Squat)

Hip Hinge (Deadlift)

Single leg exercise (Reverse Lunge)

Upper Body Press Forward (Push Up)

Upper Body Press Upward (Shoulder Press)

Upper Body Press Downward (Dip)

Upper Body Pull Backward (Ring Row)

Upper Body Pull Upward (High Pull)

Upper Body Pull Downward (Pull Up)

Core - Anterior (Lying Knee Raise)

Core - Posterior (Floor Glute Bridge)

Core - Lateral (Side Plank) (*on knees or feet)

Core - Rotation (Band Torso Rotation)

Can you see how the major movement categories help your body build strength in a balanced approach?

Great!

So before we talk about how many sets and reps or how many times you should be doing these exercises...

Let’s make sure your body can actually move well enough to perform all of these movements.

What do I mean by that...?

Can your joints bend or move in all the angles most healthy joints should be able to move?

For instance, your ankles, knees, and hips bend(flex) when you’re doing the squat…

We can look at each joint and see if the ankles, knees, or hips have any restrictions from flexing properly.

That’s where flexibility and mobility training comes in.

Flexibility and Mobility 

Flexibility is your body’s ability to get into maximal but safely stretched angles for each joint.

Mobility is your body’s ability to use the muscles to actively get into these maximally stretched angles.

Flexibility and mobility training helps develop and maintain proper movement over time...

But it’s a good practice to see what type of training your body is ready for each day.

Flexibility and mobility is necessary to maximize your strength but also to reduce the risk of injury.

Here are the basic stretches to get started.

Calves

Hamstrings

Quadriceps

Hip Flexors

Glutes (Butt)

Groin (Inner Thighs)

Abs

Lower back

Chest

"Lats" / Back

Triceps

Shoulder

You'll find endless pages and images on google when you type in stretches, flexibility, mobility, etc…

But here’s the main idea to take away from this...

If you don’t stretch and move your body into positions that they are normally capable of…

If you don’t use the strength that you currently have, let alone work to improve it…

Those capabilities will decrease over time... decades, years, months, weeks...

The good news is.

That also means you can start to improve and maintain those abilities right away!

Stretching helps reduce restrictions, but it has to be complimented with strengthening the muscles and tissue in your body.

Restrictions can be linked to these 3 main reasons:

  1. Lack of movement
  2. Weakness
  3. Repetitive limited movement

They usually go hand in hand.

If you don’t move, the muscle gets weak.

Stretching and soft tissue work is the first step to address restrictions.

The second step is, your body needs to be strengthened...

Your body can try to protect itself from weakness and risk of injury by causing restrictions and tightness.

That’s where strength training programs come in.

How to Understand Strength Programs

What Do Most Strength Programs Have in Common?

If you dig deeper and ‘google’ strength training, you’ll find that a lot of results are based on programs for strength athletes like powerlifters or weightlifters (aka olympic weightlifters).

Some common programs or methods are the 5x5, Wendler Method, Starting Strength, Conjugate Method from Westside Barbell, Poliquin Clusters, Russian and Eastern european methods...

There’s a lot of science, decades, and sweat put into testing these programs and they hold tremendous value.

However...

Let’s look at these programs in the context of who they were made for and their purpose.

  • They were made for seasoned, elite athletes getting ready for competition
  • The objective is to get as strong as possible and lift as heavy as possible
  • Lifting is a priority in their lives so eating, sleeping and recovery is a must, to support this level of training
  • Use of Performance Enhancing Drugs is common knowledge in these sports, but regardless of that, these athletes are genetic anomalies to reach the levels they do
  • These athletes typically have younger bodies

What are the commonalities of these programs?

  1. The programs focus on using 80-100% of the 1 rep max or a percentage of the maximum weight you can lift for 1 repetition
  2. The repetitions used are typically within 1-6 reps for each set
  3. Some of these programs have scheduled lower intensity, lower volume and percentage of 1 rep max days to help the body recover

The specific approach to each program is fun to try at different times but the overarching theme is to build a good foundation... 

Then use 85-100% of your 1 rep max to build strength.

Where Do We Start When Building Strength?

So how can we use the structure of these programs as guidelines when the goal isn’t necessarily to keep getting stronger for competition…

But to continue exercising and progressively getting stronger or maintaining strength in a safe and healthy way?

  1. Spend more time building and maintaining your General Physical Preparedness(GPP) or base level of fitness
    1. Learn, relearn and practice the major movements repeatedly
    2. Practice variations of the major movements 
    3. Train with accessory exercises 
    4. Build and maintain your cardio respiratory endurance (heart and lungs)
    5. Maintain and improve areas with flexibility/mobility issues
  1. Follow a strength building program when you’re physically and mentally ready
    1. You’ve taken plenty of time to learn and practice the major movements
    2. Your life stress level is manageable or low to moderate
    3. You’re eating plenty of and a variety of good quality, real food
    4. You can recover and sleep well most nights

Hold on… 

I thought we were talking about ‘How to get STRONGER’??

What’s the deal with all these other details and health stuff...?

Ok, think about it for a second… Is the plan to get stronger and then stop...?

Or do you want to at least maintain your strength or even continue to gain strength over the years?

Do you want to be safe and injury free throughout your strength program and in the future?

Study’s like this show us the causal relationship from past injuries leading to future injuries.

Even the smallest injury like a rolled ankle or pulled muscle can cause chain reactions of compensations in your body, altering how your body moves starting from that one “small injury”.

Taking your time to build strength over time gives you a chance to:

  • Find potential injury prone areas and address them
  • Balance strength will all major movements and muscle groups
  • Give your body and yourself time to adapt to strength training

Assess Your Health Before Getting Started 

*When working with a trainer, you will typically go through a PAR-Q (Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire)

Some common questions are:

  • Do you have any heart conditions?
  • Have you ever lost balance or gotten dizzy or light headed?
  • Do you smoke or drink alcohol? And how often?
  • Can you recall any bone or joint problems?
  • Are you on any medication?
  • What injuries have you had in the past?

These questions matter because when you’re exercising, you are stressing and challenging your body so it has to maintain its strength or improve it.

If you have health issues, you want to slowly and safely introduce exercise for your body.

Getting a check up by a doctor is recommended.

Having a qualified and caring trainer or coach can make your introduction and progression with exercise smooth.

You will typically sign a waiver that says if you haven’t gotten cleared with your doctor for exercise, you are assuming all risk with exercise whether it be injury or death.

If your lifestyle looks like:

  • sleeping less than 6 hours a night regularly
  • Eating mostly processed food, junk food, fast food, not real food
  • Drinking soda, a lot of coffee or caffeine, not enough water, sugary drinks
  • Smoking or have other unhealthy habits
  • Move only to go to the restroom, to the car, to your desk, very minimally

Before jumping head in, into an exercise program, I implore you to get a check up immediately and start changing these habits.

You might feel “ok” and “healthy” or your doctor might even say you’re "healthy"…

But it’s a fact that if you don’t give your body what it needs or if you have harmful habits like what’s listed above…

Your body is FIGHTING to survive rather than thriving.

If your body is already giving you warning signs like:

  • Random aches or pains
  • Tiredness, lethargy, hard time focusing
  • Minor health issues relating to digestion, skin, hair, or anything that seems like it’s not functioning properly…

Your habits are something in your control and can be used to help address these warning signs.

Obviously, more serious health issues should be diagnosed and addressed by qualified professionals.

Health is needed if you want to get stronger and stay strong.

How Do Beginners Gain Strength? Here’s the Simple and Safe Approach

1. Warm up

All workouts start with a 5-15 minute low intensity cardio movement

  • Power walk, biking, jogging, rowing, standing ski erg, etc…

Why?

  1. Increased blood and liquid flow for oxygen and energy distribution for the soon to be hard working muscles
  2. Warm up your body temperature to help the muscles, joints, and other tissue like fascia move more smoothly 
  3. Prepare and calm your mind to focus on the next task at hand, exercise

2. Stretches / Mobility / Soft Tissue work

Soft tissue work

If you know you have soft tissue restriction I recommend starting with that first.

  • Foam rolling
  • Mobility stick
  • ‘theragun’/similar muscle loosening tool

Static Stretches

Typical recommendations for static stretching are after workouts and 30-60s. Hold

But there are plenty of experts and athletes who like to thoroughly stretch before exercise or performance because this helps you address all the major joints to see if there are any limitations or restrictions on that day.

Dynamic stretches/warm up, Mobility Exercise, and Activation Exercises

Depending on the type of workout you’re doing and the level of intensity this is where you would include Dynamic stretches/warm up, Mobility Exercise, and Activation Exercises

This can be a whole blog post on it’s own, but this is essentially where you start activating the muscles and movements to be used during exercise.

3. Strength Training

The table below is an example of organizing the major movements so you train them all once within a week of training.

They’re organized this way so you’re doing a lower body, upper body press, upper body pull, and core exercise each day.

To keep things simple, let’s say we’re following the order of exercises below and going through the four phases above.

Learning Phase

  • You’ll go through the learning phase at the very beginning of your exercise journey, which can be up to 3 months
  • After that you don’t have to dedicate months to this phase but your warm up for each workout should be relearning the movements that will be used for that day
  • Resistance / Weights should be minimal to very light so you can focus on learning the movement rather than struggling to lift the weight

Strength Endurance Phase

  • The goal is to practice good technique, which we learned during the learning phase 
  • You start introducing light resistance to strengthen the muscles, tendons, and tissue while helping the muscles get used to shuttling in blood and fuel for future use.
  • Resistance / Weight - less than 65% 1RM
  • When first starting you don’t have a 1RM so you can go by your effort level

Building / Hypertrophy Phase

  • This is where we begin to challenge the muscles with heavier weights and limited rest
  • This will encourage the muscle to build some strength and get “toned” or grow in size 
  • Toned or growing in size is the muscle adapting so it can perform the same workload more easily next time
  • Resistance / Weight - between 65-85% 1RM or effort level

Strength Phase

  • The goal is to challenge your muscles, all soft tissue and your nervous system so they adapt and get stronger
  • Most ‘strength programs’, like the ones listed earlier in this post, provides details about this phase of training
  • Resistance / Weight - above 85% 1RM or effort level

MONDAY

WEDNESDAY

FRIDAY

General warm up  (explained)

*should be above a normal walking pace but not at workout intensity

General warm up (explained)

General warm up (explained)

General warmup 

3-5 Minutes

Power walk/ bike / row / jog

General warmup 

3-5 Minutes

Power walk/ bike / row / jog

General warmup 

3-5 Minutes

Power walk/ bike / row / jog

Stretches (explained)

*Do a stretch for each major muscle group

Stretches (explained)

*Try out different stretches on different days

Stretches (Explained)

Stretches

30-60s. hold for each

Calves, Hamstrings, Quads, Hip flexors, Glutes, Inner thighs, Abs, Back, Chest, Lats, Rotation, Shoulders, Triceps, Neck

Stretches

30-60s. hold for each

Calves, Hamstrings, Quads, Hip flexors, Glutes, Inner thighs, Abs, Back, Chest, Lats, Rotation, Shoulders, Triceps, Neck

Stretches

30-60s. hold for each

Calves, Hamstrings, Quads, Hip flexors, Glutes, Inner thighs, Abs, Back, Chest, Lats, Rotation, Shoulders, Triceps, Neck

Major Movements  categories (explained)

-Squat

-Upperbody Pull Backward

-Upperbody Press Forward

-Core Anterior 

*Finish all the sets of one exercise before moving onto the next so you don’t overwhelm your body by working several muscle groups consecutively.

Major Movements: categories (explained)

-Hip hinge

-Upperbody Pull Downward

-Upperbody Press Upward

-Core Posterior

*3 x 5 means, perform the exercise 5 times or repetitions (reps) and do 3 sets of those 5 reps with the suggested rest in between sets 

Major Movements: categories (explained)

-Single leg

-Upperbody Pull Upward

-Upperbody PressDownward

-Core Lateral 

*The 5-10 reps is there because doing 5 reps for some will be plenty challenging while some will be able to do 10 reps

Major Movements exercises

Air Squat 3 x 5-10 rest 1-2 min.

Ring row 3 x 5-10 rest 1-2 min.

Box Push up 3 x 5-10 rest 1-2 min.

Crunches 3 x 5-10 rest 1-2 min.

Major Movements exercises

Romian Deadlift 3 x 5-10 rest 1-2 min.

Band lat pulldown 3 x 5-10 rest 1-2 min.

Shoulder Press 3 x 5-10 rest 1-2 min.

Bridge 3 x 5-10 rest 1-2 min.

Major Movements exercises

Assisted Reverse Lunge 3 x 5-10 rest 1-2 min.

Shrugs 3 x 5-15 rest 1-2 min.

Assisted Dip 3 x 5-10 rest 1-2 min.

Side Plank 3 x 10-30s. Each side rest 1-2 min.

Cooldown (explained)

*Choose a cardio movement

Cooldown (explained)

*It should feel like a light cardio session, it shouldn’t feel too easy

Cooldown (explained)

Cooldown

5-10 Minutes

Power walk/ bike / row / jog

Stretch major muscles used

30-60s. hold for each

Cooldown

5-10 Minutes

Power walk/ bike / row / jog

Stretch major muscles used

30-60s. hold for each

Cooldown

5-10 Minutes

Power walk/ bike / row / jog

Stretch major muscles used

30-60s. hold for each

________

I go into detail about what the First 2-3 months of a beginner workout program looks like in my comprehensive Free Starter's Guide.

I also cover details on flexibility, mobility, major movements, accessory exercises, and healthy lifestyle habits as a beginner in my free course, Free 7-Step Starter’s Guide here.

________

“How Can I Get Stronger Faster? Why Am I Not Getting Any Stronger?”

As much as we’re conditioned to like fast results and instant gratification, we all learn that things take time…

  • Delicious home cooked meals
  • Writing an article, book, or report
  • Building anything - car, house, business, relationships

This is especially true for changing habits.

  • Eating healthier, whole foods
  • Exercising or simply moving more
  • Quitting a bad habit
  • Changing how we think and what we think
  • How we talk to ourselves in our minds

Things aren’t always as simple as we’d like... 

Sometimes we don’t know where to start…

Leading us to get discouraged, overwhelmed, and lost. 

I gave you the framework for which exercises to use and what the program with those exercises will look like but... 

They are but part of the solution.

Join me in this thought exercise...

  • Strength is your body’s way of adapting to a challenge (something as small as picking up a cup or something as hard as pushing a stalled car… in our case, exercise)
  • Muscle, soft tissue and the nervous system is mainly what gets stronger when your body is challenged
  • Your body needs energy and nutrients to perform these exercises AND it needs energy and nutrients to recover from the exercise to get stronger
    • The quality and quantity of the source of energy affects the quality of energy used during the challenge/exercise and during your body’s recovery from it
  • Your body also needs rest (sleep and time away from exercise) to recover and rebuild the body, so it’s actually stronger and ready if presented with another similar challenge (exercise)
  • Stay with me here...
  • Everything else in your life is also demanding energy from you:
    • All the other “normal” functions in your body demand energy (nails and hair growing, digestion, body temperature regulation, repairing that paper cut you got… EVERYTHING
    • Every decision you make, mental effort and stress uses up energy from your body as well
  • Here is the main point...
  • You can only get as strong as the amount of your overall energy you can dedicate to getting stronger

Read that again.

If your overall health is in good shape (rest/recovery, nutrition, mobility, and stress management) and still not seeing strength gains?...

You’re likely ready for detailed programs and to get hyper vigilant about the exact percentages of weight you’re using.

But you can get stronger with a simple and understandable strength program if you need to work on improving your overall health.

Health is the Foundation

It might not sound “sexy”... or “exciting”... and definitely doesn’t seem like “fast results”.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion and if they choose to use exercise as a short term fix to what they think is a temporary problem…

Who am I to say otherwise but…

If you get where I’m going with this article and understand that everything that happens to your body is connected…

Overall health is the long term solution for weight loss, fat loss, getting toned, gaining muscle, running faster, running longer, annnnnd you guessed it...

Getting stronger.

Jump into my Free Course: 7-Step Starter’s Guide where I lay out helpful tips about nutrition, sleep, and stress management to help get long term results.

But for starter’s, think about exactly why you want to get stronger…

If you need to get stronger quickly or you want to get stronger and maintain your strength for as long as possible.

Use whatever motivation or inspiration you have at the moment to put those emotions to action.  

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