The Most Important Strategy For Growing Stronger(And Bigger)

Milo of Croton growning in size as his calf grows into a bull

There are countless methods for working out, and just as many “gurus” spouting advice, but I’m here to tell you to tune out all the white noise.

If you want to know the real secret to gaining strength and building muscle then keep reading.

I’m going to tell you the single most important thing you can do to become seriously strong. 

 

Progressive Overload

Progressive overload is the simple idea of doing more than you did the time before. There was a great Greek wrestler, Milo of Croton, who would defeat opponents with his crushing embrace during matches. He claimed to have gained this strength by carrying a calf every day. As the calf grew heavier Milo progressively grew stronger.

You don’t need to buy a calf to grow stronger, but you do need to follow in Milo’s footsteps. Each workout you do should be more challenging than the last, and you can use the following five variables to achieve progressive overload:

 

Resistance: this is the simplest variable to manipulate. Add more weight, keep the other variables the same, and you have achieved progressive overload.

Volume: volume is sets repetitions for total amount of repetitions for a given exercise. Increase one or both to overload

Tempo: this is how long it takes you to complete a repetition. There are countless variations of tempo, but the idea here is that taking 4  seconds per rep is much harder than 1 second

Rest Period: to increase the intensity of an exercise, decrease the rest period. This allows the muscles less time to recover and makes each set much more challenging

Frequency: the more times over a given period that you train a muscle the more it will grow, to a limit. Recovery between sessions is always necessary. Aim for 2-3 sessions per muscle group per week. Compound exercises are essential for this(and any strength training program for that matter)

 

I coach people to focus on increasing resistance, and manipulating volume to achieve progressive overload. Combined, these two variables make up Volume Load, or as I like to refer to it, “total tonnage”.

 

How to Calculate Volume Load:

Weight x Sets x Reps

Example: Bench Press

100lbs x 5 sets 5 reps = 2,500lbs lifted

 

How to Achieve Progressive Overload via Manipulation of Resistance & Volume:

If you increased any of those variables you will increase your tonnage for the exercises, thereby achieving progressive overload.

Workout 1: 100lbs x 5 sets 5 reps = 2,500lbs lifted

Workout 2: 100lbs x 5 sets 6 reps = 3,000lbs lifted

Now that was a 20% increase in volume load. For beginners this is a completely realistic jump, but as you become stronger your ability to increase tonnage from one workout to the next decreases.

 

An intermediate lifter might progress the tonnage like so:

Workout 1: 200lbs x 5 sets 5 reps = 2,500lbs lifted

Workout 2: 205lbs 5 sets x 5 reps = 2,625lbs lifted

This will equate to a 2.5% increase in pounds lifted for this exercise.

 

An advanced lifter must get more creative with their manipulation, and advanced lifters will often tweak 3 variables to achieve progressive overload. A series of workouts may look like:

Workout 1: 250lbs 5 sets x 8 reps = 10,000lbs

Workout 2: 250lbs 5 sets 10 reps = 12,500lbs

Workout 3: 250lbs 5 sets 12 reps = 15,000lbs

Workout 4: 255lbs 5 sets x 8 reps =  10,200lbs

Workout 5: 255lbs 5 sets 10 reps = 12,750lbs

Workout 6: 260lbs 5 sets 12 reps = 15,300bs

Using this protocol an advanced lifter will only increase their total tonnage by 2% every 4th workout. This method of increasing the tonnage for two workouts and then dropping it for the third equates to a 2 steps forward, 1 steps back method of progression. This flattens out the progressive overload curve as appropriate for an advanced weight lifter.

 

The real difference between beginner, intermediate, and advanced programs is how quickly their tonnage progresses. This is why it is important to use a beginner program when you are a beginner. Beginners will make strength gains quick and beginner programs progress just as quickly!

Traditionally it was thought optimal that rep ranges of 1-6 were for strength gain, 7-12 for hypertrophy(muscle building), and 13+ for endurance. Newer research is making things slightly confusing as long-held beliefs are being challenged and these rep ranges are shown to be irrelevant. What truly matters is the amount of work done(volume load).

I’m not a research buff, but I can promise you this: progressively increasing your volume load will lead to strength and size gains. I guarantee it.

This is the simplest and surest method to achieving real strength.