how to get stronger

One of the primary reasons that lifters get into the iron game is to get stronger.

Nobody wants to be weak.  Being physically weak is bad enough, but being mentally weak is even worse.

I was physically weak throughout grade school, middle school, and high school.

Big guys would bully me.  I couldn’t do a pull-up, I struggled with dips, I could not stop anybody in the paint in basketball, and I had the body frame of a scarecrow.

But mental toughness was not a big red flag for me.

I always had heart despite my lack of size.  I played football my senior year as the most underweight kid on the team.

I was definitely not a stud in football, but I finished the entire season without quitting the team.  I took pride in knowing that I finished something that I committed to doing.

Even though I got hammered in practice and rode the bench on game day I did not quit.

But to be transparent I did have a moment in college where I was mentally weak and actually quit a track workout.

It took years to extinguish the flames of anguish from quitting on that day.  I had to continuously put myself in unfavorable conditions to rebuild my mind and body.

And through many years of pushing plates I have gotten dramatically stronger mentally and physically.

Pound For Pound Champ

Strength can be defined many ways in training.

The two basic types of strength are absolute strength and relative strength.

Absolute strength is defined as the most weight you can lift in a specific exercise for one rep.  Relative strength is defined as how much weight you can lift in relation to your body weight.

Your overall body structure, arm length, leg length, and your genetics also have an impact on the exercises you will be naturally strong or weak in.

Both types of strength are important, but your relative strength has much more value.

If Denzel Deadlift weighs 165lbs and can deadlift 465lbs but Barry Back weighs 200lbs and can deadlift 500lbs, who is actually stronger in the lift?

To find out you would divide the amount of weight lifted by the person’s body weight.  Whoever has the higher number is pound for pound the stronger lifter or athlete.

The formula below is for determining a lifters’ relative strength index:

The Amount Of Weight Lifted / The Bodyweight Of The Lifter = Their Relative Strength Index

Barry Back can deadlift more total weight, so he possesses more absolute strength.  But in comparison to his bodyweight, his number is not as impressive as Denzel Deadlift.

Barry Back deadlifts 2.5 times his body weight while Denzel can deadlift 2.81 times his body weight.  Denzel Deadlift has more relative strength.

If Charley Chest, who weighs 200lbs can bench press 275lbs and Percy Pecs, who weighs 165lbs can bench press 235lbs who is stronger?

Percy is stronger despite not having the absolute strength that Charley possesses.   His relative strength index is 1.42 compared to 1.375 for Charley Chest.

And finally we have Gina Glutes, who weighs 150lbs and can hip thrust 450lbs.  We also have Donna Donk, who weighs 135lbs and can hip thrust 405lbs.

In this case they have equal hip thrust strength because they can both hip thrust 3x their bodyweight.

In the beginning of my lifting career I couldn’t out lift anybody.  At almost 6ft tall and weighing 130-135lbs in 2001, I was the definition of the weak skinny guy with the bird chest.

Over time, I got stronger because I was putting in a consistent, quality effort with my training.  My bodyweight settled in around 160lbs-173lbs as I became a man and my pound for pound strength grew exponentially.

Pound for pound I started to completely dominate a lot of the bigger guys I used to lift with and most lifters in general.  I’ve always lifted with bigger guys because seeing them use heavier weights pushed me harder.

But the real eye-opener for me and some of those big guys came when I totally surpassed some of them in absolute strength.

I did not do anything special.  I just gave that consistent, quality effort over time.

Levels To The Game

There are levels to the strength game depending on what sport or activity you are involved in.

The strongest people in the world compete in powerlifting and strongman.

These strength athletes are the strongest men and women on the planet if we are looking at pure numbers.

There are certain football players like most lineman who possess superior strength.

Every position in football does not require elite strength, but there are many players in the game who have supreme strength.

And there are even some bodybuilders who have enormous levels of strength.  Ronnie Coleman and Franco Columbo are among the strongest bodybuilders to ever step on the stage.

Most lifters do not have a desire to gain elite strength like a powerlifter and that is fine.

But most lifters also do not want to live their lives as the guy who can’t do a pull-up or the woman who can’t do a push-up.  It’s an embarrassment to the game!

There are two things you must do in order to prioritize strength in your training program.

1) You Have To Lift Heavy (Relatively)

In today’s iron culture many lifters and athletes avoid lifting heavy.

The funny part is that despite them being afraid of moving some real weight, they want to be strong.

The classic, fake hustle excuse is that “I read an article that said I could get injured while lifting heavy.”

Well you could get injured if you slip in the shower but you are still showering every day.  At least I hope you are.

I hope this never happens but you could get injured driving your car if you are involved in an accident.  But you are still driving every day.

We cannot let fear dictate what we are going to do.  Lifting heavy, like most activities has a risk involved, but the rewards far outweigh the risk if you lift correctly.

You don’t get to be strong without moving some heavy weight.  To remix a quote by a famous iron philosopher, “Everybody wants to build a great body, but nobody wants to lift heavy.”

Now, we are not talking about lifting weights that are too heavy.

You trying to lift weight that you have no business lifting today is the worst move you can make in the iron game.  Doing that will substantially increase your chances of getting injured.

But the weights that you are lifting should be challenging.  If 135lbs is heavy for you in the squat today, then so be it.

As you continue to lift, 135lbs will become 185lbs, and 185lbs will become 225lbs, and 225lbs could become 275lbs.

Max Out

Now getting stronger does not mean that you need to max out like a powerlifter.

In fact, most lifters don’t ever need to do a one-rep max.  The one-rep max test serves very little purpose for most lifters.

A better way to test your strength would be to use the 3 rep max test because you would have more leeway with the weight you are using.

The most common lifts that most guys try to max out on are the bench press (by far the most popular) and the deadlift.

I’ve seen this ego show over my years in the iron game and I have witnessed my share of meatheads blowing out their backs and severely straining their pecs.  One guy even tore a pec and it turned purple on site.

Now, you could get injured doing anything in the iron game because injuries are just a part of the game.

I’ve suffered injuries in the game from sprinting, jumping, and cutting.

I have had some dings from lifting over the years but I have only suffered one serious lifting injury.  This was due to being severely overtrained in 2012.

But lifting heavy weight with horrendous form dramatically enhances the chances that you will end up in the ER.

Most lifters unfortunately use lousy form when they work out.  Using the same bad form in a max out lift typically results in strains, pulls, and sometimes even tears.

The best way for you to consistently gain strength over time is to lift relatively heavy weights in the 3-7 set and 3-5 rep range.

When you lift in the 3-5 rep range, you give yourself enough wiggle room to avoid injury.

The weights will definitely be heavy, but not heavy enough to where you are not controlling the weight.

My RP-21 training system is designed for serious gains in muscle and strength.  The rep range that you will use for the majority of this program is in the 3-5 rep range.

2) Follow A Progressive Strength Training Program

Most lifters who go to the gym are not following any type of training program that keeps them accountable.

The average trainee shows up to the gym and just does whatever they feel like doing that day.  This is the definition of a fake hustler in the iron game.

When you lift in this fashion, you are not bound to progression.  When you are not bound to progression you will stay the same and then eventually decline.

The most predictable way to get stronger is to follow a progressive strength training program that holds you accountable and binds you to consistent progress.

If you complete 7 x 3 with weighted pull-ups and have 10lbs attached to the chinning belt this week then next week it’s time to try at least 11.25lbs or 12.5lbs.

If you complete 6 x 5 with RDLs with 225lbs then next week it’s time to try at least 230lbs.

Progress is the name of the game.  It’s not possible to lift more weight in every single workout, but in the majority of your workouts you should be lifting incrementally heavier.

All of the classic training programs focus on progression.  It is no surprise that these strength programs have built some spectacular bodies over time.

Some examples of these programs are:

• The RP-21 Training System (get the full training program here)

• 5/3/1

• 5 x 5

Using these low rep training programs will allow you to use more weight when you do your higher rep sets of 8-10.  When you can use more weight for more reps you will build more muscle.

Your commitment to any of these programs will ensure that you get stronger.


If you consistently lift heavy weights in the 3-7 set and 3-5 rep range you will get significantly stronger.

If you do it for long enough you will be stronger than 99.9 percent of the lifters in the world.  Only the elite lifters will be stronger than you at that point.

And if you so choose, you could start a journey to chase them.  Who knows what could happen?

I’ll holla at you next time.
The People’s Trainer

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