How to get Big and Strong

Falk,_Benjamin_how to get big and string like Eugen Sandow (1867-1925)A bigger muscle is a stronger muscle. I’m not saying a bigger person will always be stronger than a smaller person (physics/leverage/neural components matter), but as far as weight training goes, when you get bigger, you will also get stronger.

Weight training (done right) stresses the muscular system and causes hypertrophy (muscle growth). Hypertrophy is how the body becomes better able to tolerate the stress. At it’s core, that means bigger muscles = stronger muscles.

How many Repetitions?

In order to get bigger and stronger you have to stress the muscle. The most important factor is the amount of weight on the bar and how close that weight is to your maximum, with that maximum being the weight you can do for one repetition.

If you can bench press 200 pounds 1 time, 180 pounds would be 90% of your one-rep-max (1RM). The weight you exercise with is directly related to the potential for microtrauma (damage to the muscle). It’s the healing of this microtrauma that causes the the muscle to get bigger and stronger.

A heavier weight is better, but that creates a problem; if it’s too heavy, you can’t do much work with it and cause a reasonable amount of microtrauma – hence, it mainly stresses the neural components more than the muscular. That means doing your 1RM as a workout is not as beneficial as doing a lighter weight 4-6 times.

The key lies in finding the balance between weight and the number of reps. For example, a weight you can do for 25 reps has to be a lower percentage of your 1RM. That means less microtrauma per rep (because the weight is lighter), which means less stress, which mean less size and strength gain.

To get around this, a workout is usually configured into sets, with a set being a a group of repetitions. So if you bench pressed 150 pounds 5 times, rested 1 minute, did 5 again, rested 1 minute, and then did 5 again, you would have done 3 sets of 5.

By doing exercises in sets, you can keep the weight closer to you max and still get a more repetitions. That means doing those 25 repetition by doing 5 sets of 5 with a weight that is closer to your 1RM. This way you’re able to go heavy enough to stress the muscle and cause microtrauma and , as a result, make size and strength gains.

I Want to get BIGGER!

Getting bigger is caused over a period of time by strategically causing microtrauma through progressive loads (increasing the workload by raising the weight). That means getting bigger and stronger requires training over an extended period. However….

Enhanced neural capability means being better able to move through this process. This is most evident in new weight lifters, who usually sees great gains in size in strength in a relatively short time (months instead of years). The main driver here is rapidly developing neural adaptation. In other words, the body becomes more efficient at contracting the muscle (muscle memory) so more weight can be used more quickly which means more microtrauma which means more gains in size and strength.

So what’s the best way to gain muscle mass?

The body is a system and adapts best as a system. This is what makes big, compound lifts like squats, deads, rows, cleans, presses, and snatches very effective.

With a compound movement, you’re using a large portion of your body’s musculature to move a heavy weight through a fundamental range of motion. This stresses a large portion of the body’s musculature all at once and solidifies the body’s capability to work well as a single unit which means muscle growth for the entire body.

What’s the Most Efficient Way to Get Bigger?

Focus on the lifts with the highest potential for hypertrophy. Don’t be concerned with isolation lifts – do the big lifts, not the ‘curls for the girls’. Ideally, work the full body doing the big lifts three times per week.

With any sport, you train by doing it a lot, until it’s second nature. The nervous system and your body adapt to performing the motions and become better at it. In weight training, that means more weight on the bar which means more microtrauma which means…. well, by now you should know what it means.

So do big, compound lifts three times per week, with a day of rest in between (like a Mon/Wed/Fri schedule).

What About Food?

The other essential ingredient to getting bigger and stronger is food. If you aren’t gaining weight while you are weight training, it means you aren’t eating enough. Size gains, over the mid to long term and as long as you are eating appropriately, are in line with your strength gains.

It Doesn’t Sound Very Complicated

It’s not, really. To get big and strong:

  • The body is a system, train it as a system with the big lifts
  • Use enough weight (percent of 1RM) to cause microtrauma
  • Regular, frequent, periodic training will encourage the body to adapt
  • Eat enough calories

Here’s a sample exercise program I’ve seen people use to make great size and strength gains. Do 5 sets, increasing the weight each set. For the sample workout, I’m using these 1RM numbers. All exercises are done with a straight bar:

  • Squat: 250
  • Bench Press: 180
  • Close Grip Pulldowns: 180
  • Deadlift: 275
  • Incline Press: 165
  • Clean and Press: 100
  • Seated Military Press: 90

Here’s the Week 1 workout:

  • Monday
    • Squat: 5×105, 5×130, 5×155, 5×180, 5×205
    • Bench Press: 5×75, 5×95, 5×110,5×130, 5×150
    • Close Grip Pull Down: 5×75, 5×95, 5×110, 5×130, 5×150
    • Clean and Press (from the thigh): 5×45, 5×55, 5×65, 5×75, 5×85
  • Wednesday
    • Squat: 5×100, 5×130, 5×155, 5×155
    • Incline Bench Press: 5×85, 5×100, 5×120, 5×135
    • Deadlift: 5×140, 5×170, 5×200, 5×225
    • Seated Military Press: 5×40, 5×55, 5×65, 5×75
  • Friday
    • Squat: 5×105, 5×130, 5×155, 5×180, 5×205, 3×210
    • Bench Press: 5×75, 5×95, 5×110,5×130, 5×150, 3×155
    • Close Grip Pull Down: 5×75, 5×95, 5×110, 5×130, 5×150, 3×155
    • Clean and Press (from the thigh): 5×45, 5×55, 5×65, 5×75, 5×85, 3×90

On Friday, your last set of three is done with the previous weight plus 2.5% (rounded to the nearest 5). If you get three reps at that weight, then you add 2.5% to all the weight you used on the on that week’s Monday for the next Monday. So as an example, here’s how you would calculate the weight to use for Squat in Week 2:

  • Monday
    • Squat: 5×105(105+2.5%=107), 5×135(130+2.5%=133), 5×160(155+2.5%=158), 5×185(180+2.5%=184), 5×210(205+2.5%=210)

You calculate the weight for the rest of the exercises the same way. Whenever you fail to achieve 5 reps, stay at that same weight for the next workout. Same goes for the 3 reps on Fridays – if you can’t get three, repeat the Monday workout for that week.

Good luck and get bigger!


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