Why do people start a training program? To get in shape? To be healthier? To look fabulous? To relieve the guilt of not exercising? It could be any of them, or perhaps it’s something else. Whatever their reason, they should train for strength. I have to admit, this is a tough sell. Usually, getting strong is not even a consideration for the typical gym member. Strength is way down on the list, more likely, it’s not even on the list. Truth is, getting stronger should be your top priority. Your main focus when you decide to “get in shape” should be to get as strong as possible.
Selling folks on getting strong is very difficult for a myriad of reasons. One, they just haven’t considered the importance of being strong, or are unaware of its importance. Two, they don’t connect being strong with looking great, instead they typically associate being “thin” or “skinny” with looking great. Third, strength conjures up images of big bodybuilder types- the exact opposite look the typical gym member is after- you know, the old “I don’t want to get big.” Fourth, getting strong takes hard work and old fashioned grit that seems to have been drained out of the gene pool. There are more reasons to be sure, but let’s proceed.
Strength is simply the ability to produce force against an external resistance. However, there is an additional, perhaps call it an adjunct definition of strength that has become one of my favorites- Strength is the capacity of an object or substance to withstand great force or pressure. That definition resonated with me, and is one of the reasons I put strength training ahead of all other forms of exercise. Getting strong makes you tough and better at handling the storms of life. Getting strong on a proper strength training program forces you to plan, document, and keep meticulous notes on your training. Being strong will give you a confidence that weaker person will never enjoy. Getting under a heavier and heavier bar 3 days a week isn’t a breeze. It takes guts. In that sense, it actually takes strength to get strong.
There is no downside to getting strong. It literally has zero drawbacks. Life is instantly better when you are stronger. In fact, the stronger you are, the healthier you are-without exception. Being strong allows you to traverse through your world with less effort and energy expenditure than a weaker person. Every step you take, every time you stand, or jump, or climb, or get out of the car, or go up the stairs, or carry the groceries, or give someone the Heimlich, you being strong, can do it better.
You see the sad existence of those that are weak. I am not trying to be deliberately unkind here, but weak people oftentimes don’t look like they should look. Arms are flabby, skin is loose and jiggly, the gait is not what it could be. The body is not meant to exist in this sub optimal state, and it shows. Conversely, when you are in the presence of a strong person, you will notice that their posture is usually excellent. Their muscles are firm and “toned” (I know, tone is a lousy word, let’s just say tone is the residual tension in the muscle that gives it that firm look). They look ready for action, and they look confident. Dare I say in simple English, strong muscles look a hell of a lot better than weak muscles. It’s not even a close call. Strong people look great because they are displaying the optimum muscular physiology. Things are right in the human machine.
If you, deep down, could care less about anything else in your gym endeavors except looking great, I still implore you to get strong. You will look better when you are strong. Your clothes will fit better, and if this matters to you, you will be more confident and garner respect from others. The very act of getting strong in and of itself is beneficial. Yes it will be hard. Yes there will be days, many in fact, that you’d rather go to the dentist and the DMV than get under the bar. Tough it out. It’s worth it.
Getting strong is simple. Every job requires tools. In our case, the tools are barbells. The list of exercises is short. We need exercises that use a lot of muscle and a lot of weight through the greatest range of motion. Wrist curls and tricky stuff with cables is out. Squats, deadlifts and presses are in. Now you must provide the body with a reason to get strong. Getting strong is about adaptation. We must provide the muscles (and bones and ligaments and tendons) a stress and then allow them to recover- then stress them again with a slightly heavier weight. The stress is the weight on a barbell on your body as you move through space or move the bar through space by applying force to it. The body reacts to the stress by adapting, getting a little stronger. Then we stress it again after we recover. Simply put, we stress it a little bit more each time we train by adding weight, then resting it, feeding it, and letting it recover for a couple days, Alas! You just got stronger.
Many gym members ask me, Isn’t “regular exercise” good enough? Those things are great if you enjoy them (and don’t interfere with your barbell training), however they will not build muscle and will certainly not build strength. Tennis? Great. Cycling? Wonderful. Yoga? Have at it. But remember- These sports and activities will not make you stronger. No chance.
If you decide to get strong, it will be the best decision of your life. Your time on this planet of ours will vastly improve. You’ll likely live longer. You’ll suffer fewer accidents. You will undoubtedly look better. It all gets better.