A couple years ago I was a mess – fat & sloppy-looking, with absolutely no muscle mass. And when I say no muscle mass, I mean no muscle mass. I couldn’t do a single pushup – not even with my knees on the ground. A bodyweight squat was impossible – I’d fall over. I couldn’t do a chinup; I could barely even hang from a bar for more than 5 seconds before it would start to hurt. I was weak and pathetic.
I had a messed-up perception of what “strong” even was – I used to think 20kg (45lbs) was “a lot of weight”. At jobs where I had to pick things up, if something was 15kg, I’d have to muster all my energy and use my whole body to pick it up – and usually end up with back pain.
Enough was enough. I decided to get my shit together, bought a gym membership and started paying a powerlifting coach, and last year managed to do this:
Now I can pick up 200kg with barely any effort, as in the photo above. It’s taken me about 2 years to get to my current strength levels, and the journey has been more than worth it – especially for the discipline I’ve built. My current max lifts are (as of March 2019):
Squat: 122.5kg (270lbs)
Bench: 87.5kg (193lbs)
Deadlift: 170kg (375lbs)
I’m a long way from where I want to end up, but I’m now stronger than 99% of average guys walking around. The confidence you gain from knowing that is astounding – every bit as important as the confidence gained from knowing you can always get laid.
It also makes sex a whole lot more wild – you can pick girls up and carry them into the bedroom, throw them around a lot easier, pin them down, and generally be a hell of a lot more dominant. Best of all, you can pick them up in the air and bounce them up and down on your cock:
You’ll gain confidence from knowing you’re not so much of a pushover in a fight (though I don’t recommend getting into any…) Your day-to-day life is a million times easier; things like carrying groceries, moving furniture, doing manual labour, etc become incredibly easy and actually fun (because you get to show off – who doesn’t love doing that?). The stronger you get, the more accessible the world becomes.
Oh, and the stronger you are, the more muscle you’ll have & the better you’ll look. What a nice side-effect.
So how do you actually get stronger?
Get a coach
As I went over in my You Should Get a Strength Coach article, hiring someone else to motivate you is a sure-fire way to get stronger. Make sure you hire an actual strength coach (or a powerlifting/weightlifting coach) – don’t just go to a personal trainer. You’re trying to get strong, not “fit”.
Your coach will also be able to give you a training routine (usually something like “Stronglifts 5×5”), tell you how many calories to eat, etc. And they’ll teach you good form, so you won’t injure yourself.
My coach is a powerlifting record holder in my country – so he really knows his stuff – and he’s made a massive difference to my motivation and consistency. Paying a coach means you’re basically “outsourcing personal responsibility” and paying someone else to keep you accountable. When you first start, tell your coach, “If I ever complain, or tell you I don’t want to be here, or tell you I’m tired and want to go easy, I need you to yell at me and absolutely kick my ass.”
Plan Your Routine
Paying a strength coach/weightlifting coach is the best way to sort out your routine, and takes the guesswork out of it. If a newbie, they’ll probably recommend something like Stronglifts 5×5, Starting Strength, or similar. You’ll be focusing most on the core exercises (Squat, Bench, Deadlift).
I personally started out just doing Squat, Bench, Deadlift for 5 sets of 5 reps, all in 1 workout – I’d do that same workout 3 days a week. After 1.5 years of sticking to just that, I moved on to this “Upper/Lower Split” routine.
Set Targets to Reach
Setting targets is mandatory if you want any sort of success when it comes to gaining strength. Set yourself a squat weight you want to hit, as well as bench and deadlift targets. If you’re a total beginner like I was, your first set of goals will be pathetic – because you likely have no idea what your body will be capable of. My first round of goals were:
Squat 50kg (110lbs) for 5×5 (5 sets of 5 reps)
Deadlift 60kg (133lbs) for 5×5
Bench 45kg (100lbs) for 5×5
I definitely set the bar (pun intended) very low. But at the time I set those goals, I honestly wasn’t even sure if I could ever achieve them. As I said, when you’re starting out, you generally have no idea what your body is capable of. If you’ve always been weak, you’ll just assume you’re “not meant to be strong”.
Set your goals, talk to your coach to make sure they’re realistic, set a (very rough) deadline, and then make it happen.
Grab a Workout Buddy (Who’s Also Focusing on Gaining Strength)
A workout buddy makes your workouts a million times more fun, and they’ll help push you when you need it. You’ll also find yourself getting competitive – especially if their lifts are way above yours, you’ll be desperate to catch up as quick as possible.
I have one mate who goes to the gym with me at least once a week & is a brilliant motivator, and 2 other mates I go with every now and then.
Just make sure you grab someone who’s just as strength-focused as you are; someone who takes it seriously and won’t just waste time distracting you in the gym.
Regardless of which program you go with, your goal will always be to add weight to the bar over time. This is known as progressive overload, and is all you need to focus on if strength is your goal. “Am I getting stronger and lifting heavier weights each workout?”
You can track workouts using an app – I useStrong.
Some workouts you won’t gain any strength (you’ll only lift the same weights for the same reps as the previous workout), but as long as you’re gradually getting stronger over time, you’re on the right path.
One thing I struggled with in my first year and a half was just how slow strength gain and muscle gain can be. It’s taken me a solid 2 years of consistent (3-4 gym sessions a week) effort to get to where I am. And it’ll likely take me another 3-5 years to get to my longterm strength goals.
Gaining strength is a slow process; especially if you’re starting out very weak. You won’t go from zero to hero in weeks or months; you need to measure progress over years.
Be patient. Your consistent efforts will pay off over time, even if sometimes it feels like you’ll never get there.
You’ll have to learn to love the journey, as cliche as that may sound. Enjoy the process of pushing yourself in the gym, enjoy the process of adding a kilo or 2 to your lifts whenever you can. Enjoy the process of smashing goals you previously thought totally impossible.
“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”
Getting stronger is one of the coolest things you can ever do – especially if you’ve always been weak. If you’re anything like I was, you have a skewed version of what “strong” is – as I said, I used to think 20kg was “heavy”. It’ll blow your mind what 200kg feels like in your hands… it feels amazing. Physically dominating an extremely heavy object is a rush like no other.
Go get it, tiger.
If you’ve got any questions about strength training or the gym in general, drop them below and I’ll answer them. Or send me an email if that’s easier.