IF YOU’RE LIVING a life of Awesome, you need to be strong. Awesome people never know when they’ll be called upon to carry a child out of the path of a rampaging elephant at the zoo (or subdue said elephant), lift a helicopter off of a pinned citizen, or wrench open a submarine’s missile room door in order to avert nuclear disaster.
Even more common are the everyday occurrences. Don’t you want to be able to hoist the box of copy paper off the high shelf? Or carry in all of the groceries in one trip? Or chase that grizzly bear out of the office break room again? And who keeps leaving salmon in the break room, anyway?
You need to be strong. So how do you get there?
Getting strong is easier than you think. This guide will teach you the basics for acquiring real, practical strength. This isn’t a guide to make you into a bodybuilder or a pro athlete, but by following these tips you’ll lay down a foundation of strength from which you can start branching out based upon your needs.
It’s important to realize the goals we’re after here. “Getting strong” doesn’t necessarily mean “getting tons of muscle”. It’s very possible to be very strong while not being very large. If you’re after a lot of muscle, great, but realize that you’ll have to work for it. This guide is meant to make you strong, regardless of size.
STEP ONE: GET YOUR MIND RIGHT
If you want to get strong, you’re going to need a strong mind in order to maximize your results. Sure, you can get stronger by halfheartedly chugging along and following the upcoming recommendations, but we’re here to be Awesome.
That means you have to be prepared to push yourself out of your comfort zone a little. If you’ve never seriously tried to get strong, or tried and given up, or just decided getting strong is too much work, a bit of a mental overhaul is in order. You’re going to have to work hard. Deal with it. But I bet once you figure out what you’re doing, you’ll enjoy the journey. Getting strong is satisfying in a way that few things in life are. You get very real, direct feedback every time you really knuckle down and use your strength. Henry Rollins explains this masterfully.
So don’t let yourself make excuses–pick a strength goal, however small that may be initially, and get after it. Is getting strong tough? Sometimes, yeah. Most worthwhile things are. Is getting strong worth it? Absolutely.
STEP TWO: MOVE HEAVY STUFF AROUND
If you want to get strong, the bottom line is that you’re going to have to move some heavy stuff around. No, heavier. If that sounds intimidating, don’t worry–there are lots and lots of ways to move heavy stuff around and get stronger. Find what works for you.
One of the greatest things about the journey to getting strong is that there are so many ways to do it. You don’t even need to set foot inside a gym and lift weights if you don’t want to. As long as you are committed to a program, you’ll get stronger. Period.
Lots of people out there have already done the research and put the work in developing programs that absolutely make you stronger (Starting Strength, Stronglifts, You Are Your Own Gym, Convict Conditioning, Crossfit, Raising the Bar, just to name a few), so don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Find a program that sounds good for you and then do exactly what it says for at least six months. If you’re just starting out on your quest to get strong, now’s not the time to tinker around or make stuff up. That comes later. Seriously, put a reminder in your calendar for six months (or more) after you start some sort of organized progressive strength program, and evaluate where you are after that. Maybe you’ll have different strength goals at that point, but the importance of following a program when starting out cannot be overemphasized. It gives you structure and takes a lot of the burden for staying motivated or having to be creative off of your shoulders. If you do well with other people around to keep you accountable, use a program that includes a group environment or a personal trainer. If you’re good at staying self-motivated, pick a program that you can do solo. But follow the program.
On a related note, keep track of things. People have a tendency to inaccurately remember the past once things change, so take the time to document your strength gains. Keep a journal of how much weight you can move, or how many times you can perform a movement. Take pictures of yourself periodically. Track your weight (although the scale is my absolute least favorite way to monitor progress). Just make sure that you have an accurate system for tracking your progress. This is important for those times when you don’t feel like you’re getting stronger–you can look back and see how far you’ve come. It’s also important because it will identify your weaknesses and focus your training further down the line. Keep track. For real.
STEP THREE: NUTRITION
Much like losing weight, gaining strength is fueled by your nutrition. Can you get stronger while eating like crap? Sure, to a point. You won’t maximize your strength potential until you’re eating properly, though.
Just like strength programs, commercial nutrition programs abound. However, my recommendation for nutrition for getting strong is the same as my recommendation for losing weight: eat real, whole, non-processed foods. Veggies, meats, some fruits and nuts, good fats, dairy if you tolerate it. Stay away from grains and sugars; you want food that provides nutrients. Again, find what works for you. If you’re trying to add some more muscle or weight, eat more. Possibly a lot more.
That’s how to get strong in a nutshell. This basic guide will get you well on your way to having Awesome strength. Take that first step. Figure the rest out later.
I hear the same questions and comments over and over from people who want to get strong but may not know where to start, so let’s tackle the most common ones right now.
“I’m a girl (or guy) who doesn’t want to get big and bulky like some bodybuilder. Shouldn’t I just stick with some light weights and jogging?”
No. Move heavy stuff around. Getting big and bulky is hard for the vast majority of people. People who get 70’s huge are usually trying very hard to do so, training long hours and eating at a very large caloric surplus. And if you’re female, the odds are you’re not genetically capable of getting “bulky” just from lifting weights alone. Seriously, lift some weights. You’ll look better. Besides, it’s not like you’re going to pick up a barbell and instantly look like Arnold. Adding muscle takes time–if you notice you’re putting on more than you would like, adjust your workouts accordingly.
“I want to get strong, but I don’t want to shell out all that money on a gym membership. Besides, gyms are intimidating and full of meatheads.”
So don’t. You don’t need to go to a gym to get strong. You can work out anywhere. Look into bodyweight or at-home programs that use little to no equipment. You’ll get plenty strong that way. As far as gyms being intimidating and full of meatheads, don’t worry about it. For the most part, the “meathead mentality” is fading in most gyms I’ve been in; there seems to be more of a shift in the last couple of years towards just being healthier in general. If you go to a gym, remember that you’re there for you, not for other people. Get your work done, get out.
“What supplements should I be taking? There are so many.”
To start out with, probably none. If you have your nutrition down, you probably don’t need any supplements. I take a multivitamin a few days a week, and very occasionally have some whey protein (like one scoop every few weeks, only when it’s much more convenient than eating something right then), but unless you’re looking for extraordinary performance gains (think competitive bodybuilding) you’ll be fine with just eating. Also, drink enough water. You’ll get strong.
“Getting strong is too much work. I’m too busy. I just don’t have the time.”
Don’t take this the wrong way, but that’s bullcrap. If you make getting strong a priority, you’ll find the time. And “the time” is much less than you might think. Can you spend hours and hours every week working out? Sure, if you’d like. I used to do targeted, focused exercise for more than 15 hours per week. I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been, though, and I spend 3-4 hours in the gym per week. I just make sure that when I go I’m (1) efficient, and (2) intense. You can get strong with even less time than I spend; there are tons of workouts that take 10-15 minutes and are very effective. Don’t say you don’t have time. That’s just an excuse, and Awesome people don’t make excuses.
“I seriously have no idea what I’m doing, or how to start. And I’m just not athletic enough to get strong.”
Just start. Research a strength program. Find a personal trainer. Have a friend who knows things help you. I don’t care if you’re a grandmother who’s never exercised in your life, you can get strong. You’ll learn as you go. Take the first steps and make adjustments from there as you learn more. I thought I knew everything there was to know about working out when I was 20, and now, way too many years later, I’m still learning all the time.
Now get out there and get strong!