Developing Physical Strength: part I

Abs and biceps are nice and all, but let’s be honest—when we see someone in the gym lifting huge weights and showing off their raw power, it’s much more impressive. As a girl, I may appear unassuming in the gym, but that all changes when I get under the weight. At 5’9” and 155lbs my personal records include a 150lb shoulder press, a 215lb bench press, a 285lb squat, and a 340lb deadlift. Sure, I may not be the strongest person there—but the looks on some of the guys faces when I outlift them is priceless.


If the numbers I put up aren’t reason enough to take in all the wisdom I’m about to drop on you—I should say I’ve only gotten this far by training consistently for over ten years and by having had three different strength coaches in that time. Sometimes it pays to listen to the advice of someone who’s more experienced than yourself, and even now I still learn a lot from more seasoned athletes. Before we go any further, it goes without saying that you should get cleared for physical exercise by a medical professional. Did you do that? Oh, okay, then let’s continue.


There are four key elements to being successful in strength training, or really any sport:


1.   Lifting smart

2.   Eating smart

3.   Persistence

4.   Effort


A lot of you might think ‘lifting smart? Doesn’t she mean “lifting hard?”’ Today, a lot of people give it their all in the gym, but there are still enormous differences in individual results, so what gives? Well, it’s because a lot of you are putting in effort, but not doing it in a very smart, productive way. Going balls-to-the-wall every session without any exercise structure, periodization, tempo, or proper form is a recipe for stagnation—or even injury. Fix this immediately by a) finding a workout template online or getting a coach, b) changing your rep and set ranges, as well as your exercises, c) changing your tempo—the pace of your reps, and d) being totally neurotic about using proper form.


There are plenty of great strength training workout templates, including 5x5, 5/3/1, the Candito training programs, and my favorite—the Bulgarian style of training. Bulgarian training is completely unlike the others mentioned. It involves lifting every day…. the exact same exercises…working up to a one-rep max. Whaaat?! It may sound crazy, but myself and many others who have actually given it a chance have seen phenomenal results following that training style. I would NOT recommend it to complete novices though, since I’d suspect it would lead to muscular imbalances if you hadn’t already built an excellent foundation of overall strength.


There are lots of different ways to do the Bulgarian method, with people even making their own iterations of it, like Bulgarian lite. I, however, am a purist and use the following template, which is how I think it could best be performed by natural athletes.


To be performed every day (choose one of each):


Push exercise: shoulder press/bench press/incline press/push-press/decline press

Pull exercise: pull-up/chin-up/barbell row/T-bar row/DB row/lateral pull/Deadlift

Leg exercise: back squat/front squat/power clean/lunges/Romanian deadlift


So, let’s just say you chose shoulder press, T-bar row, and front squat. Your workout would look something like this:


Shoulder press     50%x10, 60%x6, 70%x4, 80%x2, 90%x1, 95-100%x1

T-bar row            50%x10, 60%x6, 70%x4, 80%x2, 90%x1, 95-100%x1

Front squat          50%x10, 60%x6, 70%x4, 80%x2, 90%x1, 95-100%x1


The percentages are of your one-rep-max (ex. If your max squat is 300lbs then 50% of that is 150lbs).


When the intensity and frequency is so high, warming up and cooling down are way, way more important. Seriously, I’m not playing around here—do your stretching or you’ll regret it. ‘But Victoria, how do I stretch properly?’ Oh, I’m so glad you asked! I’m not going to pretend this is the law or anything, but your warm up and cool down should collectively be about as long as the workout itself. 1-hour workout = 1-hour warm up/cool down.


Warming up the right way:


First, take a hot bath or do some light cardio to get some blood in the muscles. Then do 10-15 minutes of dynamic stretching followed by 10-15 minutes of band work. Make sure you take each movement slow—don’t think ‘I need to do 10 reps of knee raises so I’m just going to pump these out as fast as possible’ because that makes doing them worthless. This isn’t technically part of the warm up but make sure you execute each exercise slowly and with perfect precision so you can stay injury-free.


Cooling down the right way:


You just finished hitting PRs (personal records) on each lift and you’re totally burnt. As you start walking out of the gym that little voice in the back of your head says ‘but wait anonymous person! Remember what Victoria said? We have to do cool downs, so no matter how badly you want to be a lazy fool and skimp your cool downs, we have to do them anyway!’ You huff and walk back into the stretching area of the gym, realizing how silly you were for almost forgetting. Okay, all joking aside, cooling down is actually a lot easier than warming up. Do a round of static stretching, massage or roll out your legs and back, and THEN you can go home. There, get in a cold bath or shower, then take an NSAID or CBD oil to reduce inflammation.


If there’s any desire for a part II, where I cover diet then I’ll write that. I may write it anyway just for fun, but it’s not on my immediate to-do list. I hope anyone reading this got something from it and feels inspired to give strength training a try if they haven’t already. 


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