The Pillars of Strength Training

I can’t tell you how maddening it is to walk into a gym and see people standing on a balance board with one leg while juggling kettlebells. Seriously! What the hell? I will never make fun of any individual trying to get themselves into better shape but I will definitely continue taking runs at the ludicrously overcomplicated workouts that are being pushed by “experts” these days.

Why are workouts becoming more and more unnecessarily complex, you ask? The reason can be found in the marriage between the fitness industry having a very low barrier to entry, a potentially high monetary return and a very competitive market. This means that anyone can become a “fitness expert” or “master trainer” in a matter of weeks and begin charging all-too-trusting people quite a bit of money (what other jobs can start you at $80+ an hour?) However, there’s that whole insanely competitive market thing. Queue the circus fat burning workouts in the name of differentiation. Make sense?


The irony is that the bodybuilding community (I’m talking the actual hardcore, stage-competing, oftentimes steroid-endorsing community) has stuck to the same handful of workouts since before the days of Arnold. I know you don’t have any interest in looking like a bodybuilder but I’ve learned a lot of what I know by watching these folks do what they do. Hormonal boosts or not, they certainly know a thing or two about putting on muscle and since putting on muscle is a key ingredient in creating a state of permanent fat loss, I’ve been taking notes for 20 years.

When it comes to making the most of your time spent in the gym, there are foundational principles that must be in place. Sure, there are a million and one ways to mix up a workout but I recommend you build the pillars first. Building your foundation on the principles below will allow you to get more out of spending less time in the gym. I hope that excites you as much as it still does for me.

Doing the Right Things x Consistency x Time = Progress

The rules are simple. Apply each of these 3 principles below to every strength workout you do for the rest of your life! I promise you far better results from less time spent in the gym.

  1. Train Subjectively Heavy - It doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 80 or if you're using 18 or 80 pounds, the weight you use should challenge you enough to force you to fail between 8-15 repetitions. Of course, there are exceptions when you’ll work in lower or higher repetition ranges but the vast majority of your sets should live in the 8-15 range. If you find you’re able to do more than 15 reps, increase weight the next set. If you find you’re failing before 8 reps, lighten up the next set.

Simply put, this is the muscle building (hypertrophy) range. Science shows this to be true and so do results. Remember, the more muscle you put on, the better regarding fat loss. You will not get big, especially if you’re eating in a caloric deficit. Instead, you’ll train more efficiently and earn a permanently elevated metabolic rate (fat burning rate) over time.

  1.   Include Compound Movements - Every workout should be built around compound or    multi-joint movements. Squats, Deadlifts, Pull-ups, Push-ups, Shoulder Presses, Dips and Leg Lifts are all examples of compound or multi-joint movements. These big exercises require the most muscle fibers to cooperate to complete the movements. The more muscle fibers needed, the more calories burned and the more muscle building hormones released. Suffice to say that when it comes to training efficiently, these exercises are king.

Yes, you’ll still be performing single-joint exercises like bicep curls but only after you’ve invested a good amount of the day’s energy into the big ones.

  1.   Static Holds and Slow Negatives - Time under tension is the final piece to your foundational principles. The longer a muscle is under tension, the better. This point is probably the most simple to implement but the most often overlooked tool in the playbook.

Since a bicep curl is universally understood, let’s use it as the example to illustrate our point. You’d begin by standing with a barbell in both hands. Curl the bar up to the shoulders quickly but pause just before the high point where there is still a lot of tension on the bicep. Hold that point for a full 2 seconds, squeezing all the while, then slowly lower the bar back to the starting position, taking about 3 seconds to do so.

THAT, my friend, is how you’ll be performing just about every exercise you do from here on out. You’re going to have to go a little lighter on the weights as these techniques make any movement exponentially more difficult. But, in fact, the goal with any rep or any set should be to make it as difficult as possible. Difficulty creates change. Change is what we’re chasing.

Build your pillars and your workouts, your body and your enjoyment of the process will reach a whole new level.

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