Strength BuildingFrequently Asked Questions

What are the basic principles of strength building?

Before you start your strength building program, you should know several basic principles:

1. If you want to get bigger, strength training is the way to do it.

Why would you focus on strength training if you want to become a bodybuilder? Here’s the simple answer: when you’re stronger, you can lift more weight with more reps. When you can lift more weight with more reps, you build more muscle.

This is the difference between benching 10kg for 5 reps and benching 75kg for 10 reps. The more reps you can do, the bigger your muscles will get. It’s really that simple.

Here’s another tip: don’t get so focused on your gains that you no longer spice things up. If all you’re doing is trying to lift more reps, my bet is that you’re going to reach a plateau sooner than later. You could also be setting yourself up for an injury. Switch it up by lifting heavy weights one day with low reps and then put the pedal to the metal on your next workout.

2. Train for strength.

This sounds obvious, doesn’t it? It’s as obvious and logical as the saying, “Don’t go into a boxing match with a kangaroo.”

Well, you’d be surprised by how many gym-goers don’t do it. This is because hypertrophy and strength training require the same gym equipment. It’s very likely that you’ll see two guys with completely different goals using the same equipment, and this is where the confusion starts.

So what’s the difference? The difference lies in the combination and arrangement of your exercises, among other factors. Every time you hit the gym, you’re working with these variables:

  • Type of exercises
  • Order of exercises
  • Resistance level or weight
  • Number of sets
  • Rep ranges
  • Rest time

If you train with the right mix of these variables, the quality of your strength building workouts will shoot through the roof. I also want to point out that you’ll notice gains in your strength a lot faster.

Strength training is all about changes in your brain and cells, which happen much faster than the changes that take place within your muscle fibres. Take these variables seriously if you want to see results!

3. Start off with core lifts.

When you’re training for strength, you’re going to want to focus on three core lifts: deadlift, squats, and bench press. If you’re aiming for a powerful full-body workout, the standing overhead press is a good way to go.

Always start off your routine with these lifts. Why? Because at the beginning of your workout, you’re still pumped up and your strength levels are very high. I’ll state the obvious here and say you need this high energy and strength for these lifts.

There are also a bunch of stuff going on inside your body that you might not know about, but this stuff plays a big role in how powerful your workouts will be. Start off on the right foot by doing these core lifts early in your workout and feel your growth hormones and testosterone pumping through your veins!

4. It’s all about teamwork.

I’ve talked on and on about the perks of isolating muscles in bodybuilding, but you need to forget all about that if you’re into strength training. What you need to focus on now is how much you can lift.

You can use what we call “assistance lifts” to strengthen those weak links between the muscles that work so you can do these big lifts. We’ll get to these in a minute.

5. More weight, fewer reps.

If you want to build strength, you need to lift bigger weights. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realise this will mean fewer reps. When it comes to choosing your weights, go with a weight that is between 80% to 90% of your one-rep max.

Aim for a total of 10 to 20 reps. If you end up doing a lot more than these reps without breaking a sweat, your weights are probably too light. Get them up and try again.

6. The assistance lifts

As you can guess from their name, assistance lifts are designed to assist your main lifts in one way or another. Their purpose is to build on those weak points so that your main lifts will improve.

Of course, every persons needs are different—your weak points are probably not going to be the same as the next guys, so know which ones you need to work on then go for it. If you can’t figure it out, get a strength coach who can lead you in the right direction.

Whether it’s the bottom of your lift or the lock-out point, if the whole move isn’t strong, neither are you.

What are the best strength building exercises and workouts?

Before we dive in, let’s take a moment to talk about rest periods.

When you’re building your strength, you’ll need more rest than a bodybuilder. Why? Because you’ll be lifting heavier weights and these weights are going to drain you.

You need to rest so you can keep going. I’m talking about 3 to 5-minute rest periods between your main lifts. If you’re really going for a maximum lift, you need an even longer rest period. Get the idea?

Now let’s move on to the warm-ups. You’re going to lift some serious weight, so don’t take any chances now. Whether you’re warming up for hypertrophy or for strength, you need to ensure your body is ready for a good workout and that your nervous system is raring to go before you even start doing your big lifts.

A simple warm-up could go something like this:

For a medium grip bench press, start with 1 set of 15 reps of a 40kg with 2 minutes rest. Move onto 60 kg and do one set with 8 reps. Rest for 2 minutes. Then give it a go with 1 set of 3 reps of a 90kg. Rest for 2 minutes. Finish off with 1 set and 1 rep of 100kg.

Now you’re ready to tackle some of those bigger weights. You can thank me later.

So which exercises are best for strength building?

1. Push-ups

If you’re a complete newbie, you might not need more than the weight of your own body to start your strength building journey. Your weight (or even part of it) will be more than enough for you to handle at the beginning. Push-ups work your triceps, shoulders and chest, and you can choose between doing them on your knees (if you’re just starting out) or not.

2. Bodyweight Squats

Even if this just uses your bodyweight for resistance, it’s still an absolute killer on your hamstrings, quads, core and glutes. Once you’ve conquered this, add some weights for good measure.

3. The Pull-ups

This isn’t a beginner move, so be patient with yourself as it will take you a little time before you can pull yourself up on a pull-up bar. But it’s really great for your core and biceps, and it’s an exercise that’s sure to impress anyone at the gym (if your form is correct, that is).

4. Barbell Squats

So you’ve got the bodyweight squats down pat. Now what? Try it with a barbell! These are really great not just for building strength but also for your overall mobility.

5. Deadlifts

This is the exercise that will most likely come to mind when you think of strongmen. To do deadlifts, start in a standing position with your feet placed shoulder-width apart. Then bend down and lift the barbell. Easy, right? No. Form is really important in deadlifts if you want to see results and prevent injury. If you’re a beginner, it’s worth getting someone to help you get your form right.

6. Bench Press

Here, you’ll be working again with a barbell but this time, you’re lying on your back on a bench. If you’re benching heavy weights, do yourself a favour and get a spotter.

7. Overhead press

Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart, grab a barbell and lift it up to just below your chin, then fully extend your arms and lift the bar over your head. Slowly lower it back to your below-chin-level and raise it up again. Repeat.

What's the best strength building equipment?

You don’t really need equipment right at the start if you’re using your own bodyweight to build on your strength, but the right stuff helps keep things interesting, which is important for strength building.

1. Dumbbells

Dumbbells are a staple of just about any strength or muscle building routine. If you’re just starting out, it’s probably a good idea to get your hands on a set of 20kg dumbbells. They might look simple, but you can do more than 30 different types of exercises with them. If you’re going for adjustable dumbbells, you can vary the weights, but if you’re getting the traditional fixed rubber dumbbells, you’re stuck with the weight it says on the side.

2. Barbells

Barbells are great for strength building because they hold more weight than dumbbells. They’re also really handy because once you’ve grown used to the weights on them, you can just add more. We stock a range of barbells, from elite olympic bars, to standard bars designed for beginners – all of them are of superb quality. If you’re only a beginner you won’t need to splash out on a competition powerlifting bar, but if you’re a competitive powerlifter you’ll probably need to spend the extra.

3. EZ bars

EZ curl bars are barbells which have curves or a zig-zag portion in the middle. The curved portion makes it more comfortable to hold when doing bicep and tricep exercises. And we all know bicep curls are the ultimate upper body exercises.

4. Weight Benches

Ah, the weight bench. What would we do without it? It might not seem like a necessity right off the bat, but trust me when I say that benches are one of the most essential pieces of gym equipment ever invented. Need proof? Well, bicep curls sure are easier if you are doing them comfortably seated down on a bench than bent-over! A multi-functional bench will help you train with your barbells or dumbbells in a safer and more comfortable way. They are also important for bench pressing, leg extensions and shoulder presses. When choosing a bench you need to decide whether you want a flat bench (which will stay in the flat position), or an adjustable bench (for incline and decline movements).

5. Kettlebells

Kettlebells are shaped like big balls with a looped handle at the top. They’re really great for strength training, especially for your arms, shoulders, back and legs. A must-have for any serious trainer who wants a stronger body!

6. Pull-up bars

Remember those pull-ups I talked about earlier? Well, if you want to give them a try, you need a bar to do it. Pull-up bars can be attached to your power rack or wall. They are a safer and more comfortable alternative to tree branches from your local park.

7. Resistance bands

Resistance bands are all the rage nowadays. Why? Because they’re super effective and they don’t take up so much space. If you know how to use them properly, you can tone pretty much any part of your body. They are made from heavy-duty rubber and may be sold as closed bands or strips with two handles on both ends.

Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is real strength. The road before you will be tough, but it pays to stay committed to your strength goals.

Your body’s strength will help you achieve just about any other goal—whether it’s losing weight, killing it at the next Olympic weightlifting competition, or winning in the upcoming Arnold Strongman Classic!

What is a Rep?

In strength building, a rep is short for repetition. This means one complete performance of the exercise in question. One rep of bench press is lifting the bar off the rack, lowering it in a controlled fashion to your chest and pressing back up to the starting position.

When you have completed multiple reps, then start your rest, the completed reps are referred to as a set. Sometimes you have a target number of reps for your set. Other times you complete as many reps as you can.

Is Pilates Strength Building?

Pilates could be considered strength building in that you are using your muscles in a controlled fashion. However if strength building was your primary goal, few people would recommend pilates.

Pilates could be used in conjunction with a weights-based strength building program. It is great for mobility and core strength.

Is 20 minutes of Weight Training enough?

20 minutes of weights is better than no weights for building strength. 20 minutes might be enough if it didn’t include a warm up and warm down.

If you did 4 x 20 minutes (excluding warm up and warm down):

1. Press exercise – bench press, incline press or military press.
2. Leg exercise – squats, leg press or hack squat.
3. Deadlift – barbell or hex trap bar
4. Pull – Lat pulldowns, seated rows or barbell rows.

This type of training would not be optimal for a strength program. But if you only had this amount of time in your schedule, then it would have to do.

If you did not have time for 4 sessions per week, you could just perform the sessions you had time for, then perform the rest the following week. Just make sure that you perform the remaining lifts the following week.

Does Cardio conflict with Training?

You can train cardio whilst on a strength program. Rugby league teams would be doing this in the pre-season. However, your program must be correctly structured. You would not want to do a heavy cardio session prior to a strength workout.

The other factor would be recovery. You must make sure that you are eating enough quality nutrients and getting enough rest. You need both to recover from types of training as well as fuel the workouts.

Don’t try and combine cardio with a strength building workout. Skipping or burpees between a set of heavy squats will reduce your strength. Plus, won’t be the best form of cardio. Try and focus on one or the other.

As to what is the optimal arrangement, this you will have to work out yourself or be guided by an expert. It will depend on the type of strength and cardio work you are doing. Doing some sprints, the day after a heavy squat day could be counterproductive. Sprinting after bench day makes more sense.

This is why it is important to monitor both your strength and cardiovascular performance. If they are both improving, you are on a good wicket. When you are stagnating, you need to change. Am I eating enough, getting enough rest or getting injured?

Improving your cardiovascular performance will assist in your strength gains. Just don’t overdo it!

Is Strength training Aerobic?

While a set of heavy set of squats will get you blowing like a kettle, strength training is not regarded as aerobic. Strength building is anaerobic – it is fuelled by energy stored in your body. Aerobic exercise is fuelled by oxygen.

You can perform strength training with little to no rest between sets. Even then you will find that you won’t be able to lift the weight before you run out of breath.

Does more Reps build Strength?

The optimal number of reps for building strength would be around 5 reps or lower. Reps higher than this are more targeting muscle growth.

If you are new to training, you will build strength on higher reps than 5. Your muscles are not used to load, so any exposure will stimulate muscle growth. Over time your muscles adapt. That is when you have to “shock” them by treating them to heavier weight. As you progress, the shock has to be bigger and that is when you drop down to the 5 rep range if you want to get strong.

How to train for Size vs Strength?

Training for size requires more volume than training for strength. To get stronger you must lift heavy weights. As the weight gets heavier your reps will naturally go down. You are getting stronger when you don’t have to drop the reps as much. Or you better your one rep max.

When you are training for strength you are normally doing 5 reps max. Some say that is because powerlifters can only count that high.

If you want to build muscle, you need to break the down. This is achieved past the 5 reps used for strength. Bodybuilders will normally operate between 6 to 15 reps depending on the exercise.

Can I do Strength Training at Home?

Strength training is often better performed at home. Nearly all quality strength building programs require following a carefully laid out cycle. You need to perform specific exercises, in order over months. You need to meticulously document your progress to make sure you reach your strength goal.

Gyms that are not dedicated strength facilities may have limited squat racks or bench presses. It might be hard to find an area to deadlift. You find yourself having to chop and change your workout depending on the availability of gym equipment. This makes it real hard to stick to your plan.

The beauty of strength type training is that you only need very basic equipment. A barbell, weight plates, flat bench and a good quality power cage or squat rack is all you need. You could become an absolute BEAST on this very basic equipment.

With your own set up at home, you can do the precise exercise with the exact weight, whenever you want. No waiting for equipment or rushing through your squats because there are people waiting. Having just the basics, you are forced to do bench press, squats, deadlifts, and chin ups. There is no leg press for the day when you think that you are not up to squats.