How To Build Strength The Right Way And Efficiently
February 12th 2020
As I have been strength training over six years, approaching seven, I never really thought about where strength came from.
Is it neurological or does it depend on the size of your muscles?
Is it genetics or do you need to work hard?
All these questions and more will be answered.
Probably the best question to answer is how should you start to build your strength so that you can avoid unnecessary failure.
Sure, there must be failures but once you are guided with an experienced eye, it makes the path much more smooth and you can push to greater heights faster.
Where does strength come from?
Your strength comes from your nerves’ ability to recruit muscle fibers throughout your body. So, the more neural connections you have, the bigger your muscles are, the more efficient your neural pathway connections are, the ceiling for your strength will be much higher.
What determines your strength?
Genetics and past training experience will initially determine your strength. However, your training, muscular growth and neural connections afterward will also play a major factor.
Let me provide you with an example.
You may be familiar with Eddie Hall, the first person to lift the half a ton deadlift (500kg).
He later revealed in an interview that he possesses the Hercule gene, which hinders the production of myostatin.
Myostatin is a protein that slows down muscle growth in the body. This is what prevents all humans from looking overly muscular and developing god-like strength.
As you can see, genetically, Eddie Hall was gifted. He had an upper leg over his competitors.
However, you cannot take away any of the hard training he had to do in order to win the 2017 World’s Strongman Competition and to be the first to deadlift 500kg.
You see his results but you did not see all the sacrifices and hardship he had to go through.
Destroying his body multiple times a day for 10 years.
Eating until almost throwing up each day.
Close to $1000 of treatment each week.
If you treat your body, your strength goals, and your progress as serious as Eddie Hall, who knows what your limit truly is?
There is no reason why you cannot get started today if you have not already.
There is no reason why you cannot complete everything in your workout and hit new PRs in the gym each week.
If you can walk, breath and use the bathroom, you have the ability to break records and to increase your strength.
And if you are interested in what type of training you need to do, stick around to read about the different types of training.
Does strength come from your nervous system?
Yes, strength comes from your nerves recruiting muscle fibers. Your brain sends an electrical impulse to your muscles, while it travels down the nerves.
Depending on how many signals sent, the frequency of the signals, your motor neurons’ efficiency to activate your muscles, your strength levels will be determined.
Is strength determined by your muscle size?
A larger muscle has the potential to develop more strength but this is not always the case.
A larger muscle can be viewed as untapped potential since no motor neurons have been established to recruit the newly developed muscle effectively.
How is strength built?
Strength can be built in multiple ways:
- Creating more muscle
- Building more neural connections to your muscles
- Activating your motor neurons more frequently
Of course, you can be gifted the ability to be strong through your genes. But for most of the human population, let us not focus on factors outside of your control.
Building more muscle is key
For the potential for strength, you need bigger muscles.
A bigger muscular cross sectional area allows for the nerves to have access to more muscle fibers to be recruited.
Once recruited and trained, strength can be displayed.
This is one reason why you may see a bodybuilder that is weaker than a powerlifter.
A 220lbs bodybuilder looks impressive but lifts less than a 181lbs powerlifter.
This leads us to the second bullet.
Heavy training = building more neural connections
The lifter’s ability to move maximal loads on anything for a single repetition is dependent on the lifter’s nervous system.
This is not solely dependent on the lifter being strong but also good at being strong.
This means that proper technique is necessary in order to move maximal weight with minimal strength leaks.
This utilizes the lifter’s leverages and makes the movement very efficient.
How could any of this be done? Through heavy training…
It is really as simple as that.
Do not believe me?
Here is a video of Richard “The Ant” Hawthorne deadlifting over 600lbs at around 132lbs bodyweight:
Need an upper-body example as well?
A 400+lbs bench press at around 154lbs bodyweight.
These are examples of greatness of what you could expect from doing heavy training.
You convinced me, what type of training should I do?
Typically, Strongman or powerlifting training are the two different styles of training someone would do if they are serious about lifting heavy and building strength.
Everything is heavy. Everything has a lot of volume.
You will gain a lot of muscle because you are forced to train hard, and eat a lot.
Atlas stones, farmer’s walks, sandbag carries, tire flips….
These are just some of the exercises that might be available at your gym or home gym.
However, you will find that a lot of Strongman competitors also train “powerlifting style” as well.
Strongman may train incorporate powerlifting movements as accessories during the competition programs
In the off-season, it is just easier to give their body a break while still training hard by doing powerlifting movements.
This type of training focuses on the squat, bench press and deadlift.
It is frequently used by athletes in all sports due to its versatility and easiness to get equipment.
Strongman has awkward and heavy blunt objects which may not be suitable for all lifters.
However, powerlifting movements bring down the barrier of entry and are very beginner-friendly.
Usually, for heavy training, weights will be at least 75% of your 1 rep max.
Reps should be between 1-5 reps; with 5 reps being a staple for strength gains. A lot of beginner programs have lifters doing 3 sets of 5 reps.
This actually reminds me of the exact program I am doing - training with powerlifting movements by also doing Strongman events as my accessory lifts.
What program is this flexible for you to choose your own accessory movements?
Currently, I am doing 5/3/1 and while it does not have a Strongman plugin, I am learning as I go as I manipulate my weeks as I perform my Strongman accessory lifts - sandbag carries, farmer’s walks, axle presses (fat gripz on a regular barbell), etc.
It is not perfect but it is hard training.
It must get done if I want to get stronger.
Activate your motor neurons more frequently
You can continue to build more strength if your ability to activate your motor neurons more quickly and efficiently is improved.
What does this look like?
You lifting something heavy for a very fast repetition.
For instance, lifting 75% of your 1 rep max in the squat, bench press or deadlift for a fast, speed rep that looks like a warmup weight is doing this exact job.
Keep lifting as fast and as explosively as you can and you will be training your motor neurons to activate efficiently.
Final thoughts, how will it take to develop strength?
The million-dollar question…
It depends on so many factors, some that you were born with.
Others, you will need to determine by training for at least a decade.
I am confident that if you train as intelligently and as hard as you could for 10 years, you will be in the top 1%. Maybe even in the top 0.01%.
Now, whether you choose to compete against the best in the world, that decision is up to you.
Know that it will not be easy and there will be a ton of “sacrifices” you will need to give up.
No more alcohol, partying, sleeping late, going out, tons of family time, etc.
Tons of bad habits that you need to get rid of.
Spending hundreds of dollars on treatments to help with faster recovery.
And this is just the financial and lifestyle changes we scratched the surface of.
Do your research and be educated about what you are committing to.
But also be decisive and commit fully. No one achieves anything great by just giving it 50% of their efforts.