I will always promote the idea of getting stronger, first and foremost. This requires me to show normal gym rats why they should train to get strong, and why they shouldn’t emphasize the high volume bodybuilding approach that they mimic off other dudes in the gym or read in all of the muscle magazines. I am not slamming bodybuilding routines; in fact they can be very valuable and I still use them in my program. But what I am saying is that for those of us not trying to compete in a bodybuilding show, high volume training sessions should only be a very small portion of our training program.
Alright, now that that is out of the way, lets kick this thing off!
Training for strength kinda seems like a no-brainer. After all, lifting weights at the gym is allegedly called strength training.
But how I see people train most of these days is far from it. In reality, what I usually see is people lifting like bodybuilders (85% or less than their one rep max in high volume sessions) in order to get a more visually pleasing body. The vast majority of us are not bodybuilders! So why are you training like one?!?! Nothing wrong with trying to look good and get bigger, but there is a better way to go about it.
Increasing your “base strength” levels will lead to long term mass gains and can be accomplished by simply training to get stronger.
Base strength is the low end level of any given person’s strength ability, like the weight a person can do, for say, 20 reps without warming up. So if a guy can squat 600lbs at max effort, his base strength may be squatting 300lbs.
Ok, so what does having great base strength mean for mass gain?
Well, if you are like most smart lifters, you follow some form of periodization, usually a strength phase followed by a hypertrophy phase. And if you are simply trying to get bigger or get a more impressive physique, you are probably emphasizing the hypertrophy phase. Perfectly logical.
However, lets think about this in a different way. Training for mass gain you are operating at 85% or less of your one rep max for reps of 6-12 a set for the most part. But what if your 85% could be done with much more weight? Wouldn’t you put on more mass because you are using more resistance? You betcha!!
At the end of a 12 week cycle, who is going to have a bigger chest? The guy who can bench 225 for 12 reps a set, or the guy who can bench 185 for 12? The 225 guy obviously because his base strength levels are much higher.
Make sense? This is why I emphasize training for strength. The more we improve our base strength, the more weight we can use during hypertrophy training, meaning the bigger we can get.
Lesson learned? Do not neglect the “strength” part of strength training. Cut down the reps, crank up the resistance, and train like an athlete. You must train to get stronger, regardless of your overall goals. Strength is the foundation for which all fitness achievements are built upon.
Stay tuned for part 2 over the weekend, where I give bodybuilding its credit as a supplemental tool to your training program! I will also give you a pro-con list to these 2 vastly different training approaches.
Food For Thought
There is also a flip side to this concept but I have yet to see it tested or proven one way or another. If an athlete can improve his base strength levels by 50lbs (for example increasing his bench from 200lbs to 250lbs), will his absolute max strength improve as well? Will training for base strength lead to an ability to surpass previous one rep maxes?
I suspect the answer is no, but the body is an amazing thing. This may be something I evaluate in the future and try on myself.