When you consider all the programs that exist and what has created some of the all time greats of strength and size there are a few unquestionable truths:
- Significant weight - Sounds simple but not easy to do week in week out. Studies have demonstrated time and time again that light weights just don't recruit enough muscle fibers to create the type of stimulus you need for muscle strength and growth. Work with weights in the range of 65% to 95% of your 1RM in the range of 3 to 6 reps.
- Volume - when starting out make sure you are completing the appropriate amount of volume. 1 hard set of a maximal weight just won't cut it. When you hit the maximal "straining" weight repeat that set 2, 3 ,4 or even 5 times. As your strength increases and your ability to handle the volume improves there are a number of techniques you can use. One particular favourite is the 1 movement workout for time. For example the squat. Get in the gym and just do squats for time eg - 40 to 60 minutes using maximal weights for sets of say 3 reps. This is the stuff that will develop serious power and strength.
- Periodization - Big word but simple concept. Even the vary elite will vary their intensity (% of their 1RM), Volume (amount of total work) and Frequency (how often you subject yourself to intensity and volume). Simple fact is that if you continually ramp up the intensity and the volume and you either do this too quickly or for too long, one of two things will happen and neither are desirable. Either you will reach a point where you can't perform the total number of reps and sets needed and as a result you may actually start to lose strength or even more undesirable, your body will break and the increased intensity, volume, frequency or all combined will lead to injury. As a result you need to periodize your training over micro and macro cycles ranging from say 4 to 12 weeks. The general principle been you start with a lower % of your 1RM for multiple sets and higher frequency to a point say 12 weeks later where your frequency and total volume is decreased but your intensity is close to 100% of your 1RM.
There is a common strength training quote which is "you can't out train a crappy diet". This is for all intents and purposes right. If you genuinely seek improved strength and size you can't do it by just eating garbage. There is no doubt that the "see food diet" of seeing food and eating it will help you put weight on but what it will result in is non value adding weight. What you want to be ensuring is that you add quality lean muscle tissue and be providing enough nutrients for recovery as well as to fuel your next work out. I have blogged about the principles behind the right strength diets before. In a nutshell your best form of diet will be to cycle your carbohydrates from days of very low to occasionally very high with more days than not been low. When you start feeling sluggish or say one day a week have a high carbohydrate meal or a number of meals for that day and then go back to the low carb day. This will spike your metabolism and almost reboot your system from the 5 or so days of low carb, helping to keep you lean.
On top of this carb cycling is ingesting enough protein. The average individual requires about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. Studies have demonstrated however that a resistance training individual should have between 1.2 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. Depending on your diet this may be difficult or simple for some. One easy way is to ensure you supplement your main meals with a simple protein shake 1 to 2 times a day and at the minimum either pre or directly post your workout. lots of conjecture abounds about "nutrient timing" and whether it is pre or post that is most important. Frankly most of this is generated by the supplement companies duping naive trainers into thinking you need pre, intra and post workout supplements, truth is if you take in the amino's just before or immediately after your workout the results are not going to be noticeable except for the fact you are supplying the right fuel around about your workout time.
Ensure on top of these 2 fundamentals of carb cycling and the lean proteins, get plenty of fruits and vegetables and you are well on the way to developing the type of strength you are seeking.
I could write much more on the fundamentals of developing superior strength, things like the mental approach, the exercise selection, whether or not you need a training partner and the list is endless. The fundamentals above however are the real foundations of strength and the mortar that holds it all together is consistency. Nothing will happen overnight and the really strong in this world are the way they are because they have consistently practiced the above keys to strength over many, many years. A well known strength coach in the US, Phil Stevens, relayed a story on the Iron Radio podcast of a girl who he had been training for 6 months and asked Phil "how long before I become awesome" and his reply was, "Let's see where you are at in a decade". Train hard, train heavy and train for years. Only then can you genuinely say you are strong.