Getting Stronger Isn’t Complicated. It’s Difficult. There’s a Difference

It’s pretty frustrating for me to watch all these men and women in the gym who so desperately seem to believe there’s this secret — some program, some technique change, some drug — that’s going to transform them into an absolute monster in the gym.

I promise you: there are no secrets.

And the longer you believe that there are secrets, that there are these hard-and-fast rules that are going to solve all your problems and help you break all your PRs? Well, the longer you believe that, the more time you’re going to waste that you could have spent training hard.

You want the be-all, end-all quickest way to get strong? Here it is:

1. Learn Basic Technique

Look, you don’t need to be Mr. Two-Inch ROM like your favorite IPF star to get strong. That dude is strong because his body is well-situated to use a ginormous bench arch or an ultra-wide sumo stance. If yours was built that way, you’d already know.

Instead, develop a technique that feels natural to you, and that allows you to add weight to the bar consistently and safely (i.e., without getting injured). Don’t get more hung up on your technique past that. It doesn’t need to be textbook pretty — God knows my squat isn’t pretty — it just needs to work.

2. Find a decent program.

Need a decent program? Here are some great options to choose from:

  • A traditional 4-day powerlifting split, with a squat/legs day, a deadlift/back day, and two bench days
  • Any 5×5 full-body variant (like Stronglifts or Madcow)
  • My Think Strong program

Which one you choose doesn’t matter! As long as it’s based on the time-tested principles of progressive resistance and periodization — which all of these are — it will work. Don’t get hung up on your program past that.

3. Train your @$$ off.

This, obviously, is the part where most everyone fails, and that’s because training hard is, well, hard. I can’t teach you to dig deep and push yourself past your limits, day in, day out, no matter how much your body and mind are screaming for you to stop.

At the end of the day, you have to want it badly enough to push yourself to that level; if you don’t, you don’t. Sorry.

4. Eat.

Might seem strange coming from a guy who’s not a super heavyweight, but you need to pay just as much — if not more — attention to your diet if you want to get strong as if you want to get big. That doesn’t mean you need to eat more, obviously, but you do need a diet plan that’s appropriate to your goals.

That’s not hard. Make sure you’re getting at least a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. Make sure you’re eating enough calories to grow if you want to grow or few enough to shrink if you want to shrink. Try to eat healthy — you’re doing enough damage to your body with all the heavy weights. You don’t need to beat it up with a boatload of fries, too.

Don’t get hung up on your diet more than that.

5. Make small changes.

Alright, if there’s a secret, here it is. Everyone knows you have to train right, eat right, and work hard. But I do think a lot of people start to struggle when things stop working, and I understand that.

Because even if you’re doing everything else right, eventually, you will stall. It’s what Dave Tate calls “the Dead Zone”,

The Dead Zone changes everything because what used to work no longer works, what used to be easy is now hard, and frustration can boil over. You have to have faith that your consistency will pay off, and most often it doesn’t.

However, if you make it through the Dead Zone, like the character in the movie, you come out on the other side with a type of wisdom, one that you wouldn’t develop if everything came easy to you. And it’s this wisdom that makes a serious lifter deserving of the “serious” title.

The first thing the Dead Zone teaches you is that strength development is not linear.

It would be awesome if we could just add 5 pounds a week to our bench, but we can’t – which is why we don’t have gyms full of ten-year trainees benching 1,000 pounds.

But emerging from the Dead Zone means that you understand that while your poundages weren’t improving, as a lifter, you were still improving.

So that “miracle program” you discovered that finally put 50 pounds on your bench in 8 weeks? You understand that it wasn’t a miracle program at all – what you were doing for two years before that program had just as much to do with it, as it was laying the foundation for those gains to occur.

There’s no guarantee, unfortunately, that just by putting in your time you’ll get through the Dead Zone. Most long-term lifters don’t – which is why there are thousands of 20-year lifters who look like they joined a gym a year ago.

When you hit the Dead Zone — when you’re on the brink of getting to that advanced level — it’s not time to start program hopping. It’s time to start making small changes. Try one new thing every workout. If it helps you to get better, then great — stick with it, and next workout, try something else. If it doesn’t help, forget about it, go back to whatever you were doing before, and again, next workout, try something else.

This is the secret because if you decide to just change everything up, or switch programs completely, then one of two things will happen:

You’ll start to progress again, or you won’t.

And regardless of which it is, you won’t know why you started to make progress again, or why you continued to stall. You changed so many variables that you don’t really know what ones helped and what ones didn’t. So the next time you plateau, you’re stuck with the same 50/50 proposition — and it’s even worse than that, because the stronger you get, the more your program needs to fit your body specifically.

No wonder so many people never get stronger.

But if you resolve to change just one thing at a time, evaluate that change, and continue this iterative process of improvement over the long term, then by the time you reach the advanced level, you know exactly what works for you and what doesn’t — and you have the tools necessary to continue getting stronger, until you’re winning championships and setting world records.

Sounds a lot better, huh? It is. Don’t get hung up on complicated. Keep it simple, and get strong.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Feature image from @phdeadlift Instagram page.