In Pursuit of Strength: 10 Underrated Strength-Building Principles

By: Josh Bryant

Derek Thistlethwaite

Back in the day, bodybuilders were required to perform feats of strength in addition to their posing routines!   

Before the arrival of drugs, even purely aesthetic-driven trainees realized a dichotomy did not exist between strength and physique but, in fact, strength was the base.

And, hell, if you are the bouncer at the kick’n stab bar, next to the Indian Smoke Shop off the Big Cabin exit on the Will Rogers Turnpike, you ain’t going to be throwing out tetchy mullets if you are weak!

Numerous studies show correlations between running speed and jumping ability; so athletes that want to perform their best and remain injury free better be strong!

Strength sports ranging from CrossFit, Olympic lifting, Strongman and pure limit strength like Powerlifting are rapidly gaining in popularity.   To be successful you better be strong!

Bottom line is, if you train with weights, getting strong is important.

As someone who has set strength records and coaches many of the strongest people in the world, I am going to share with you the 10 most underrated strength-building tips.

Warm-up Properly

The benefits of a proper warm-up are well documented, ranging from more efficient movement patterns to increased mental readiness to dozens more.

At Planet Fitness, warming-up might include static stretching or eating pizza quickly, but if you want to get as strong as possible, you need to warm-up with submaximal weights at the lift you are going to perform.

If you are going to squat, warm-up by squatting; use this same logic for cleans and bench presses, or any lift, for that matter.  Warming-up in specific manner will get you mentally and physically ready to dominate.

An added benefit is additional volume.  Volume is weight x sets x reps, so squatting the bar for four sets of five reps is an additional 900 pounds of training volume (45x5x4=900). This is a superior way to warm-up and a good way to sneak in extra training volume without adding time to workouts. 


Strength is a skill.  You will most effectively display this skill when fresh.  You can lift the most weight at the beginning of a workout when your energy levels are high. 

The take-home point is you need to start your training session off with a multi-joint movement, i.e., a core movement like a row, press, squat or pull.  These movements build the most strength, require the heaviest loads lifted and demand the highest levels of coordination.   You will derive the greatest benefit and yield the best performances by prioritizing the most important core movement first in your workout.

Reverse Pyramid Training

Everything takes a back seat to heavy weight when building superhuman strength; all else is folly!  

The best way to get strong is with reverse pyramid training, meaning doing your heaviest work first when energy levels are highest at the beginning of the workout.

Instead of a strength training pyramid up to your heaviest set(s) of the day, warm-up and then make the top priority the top set(s) by hitting it(them) first.

An added benefit is Post Activation Potentiation (PAP) which refers to the enhancement of muscle function following a high-force activity.  Soviet sports science legend, the late Yuri Verhoshansky, tactfully explains PAP in lay terms, “When you perform a 3-5 rep max, followed by a light explosive set…to your nervous system it’s like lifting a can of water when you think it’s full.” The weight feels lighter and moves faster!

More Sets, Fewer Reps

You shouldn’t train for a 40-yard dash by logging countless miles of “road work.”  The same logic applies to strength!

Limit strength is measured by a one-repetition maximum (1 RM). 

This means, in training, you need more first reps; so instead of thinking three sets of 10 reps, think 10 sets of three reps.  This equates to the exact same amount of volume, but you get over three times as many first reps.

More sets equals more first reps and more practice to build and display the skill of strength.  Furthermore, laboratory settings have demonstrated this type of training allows for greater force and power production. 

Grease the Groove

Pavel Tsatouline, in his book, Power to the People, talks about how important it is for a neurological groove to fire in a certain sequence and intensity. Basically, he is saying practice the same movement over and over with correct technique to build the skill of strength.

Some folks believe that it takes 10,000 correctly performed repetitions to master a movement.  Every rep you perform in training, from your first warm-up to your heaviest set, provides an opportunity to perform a rep correctly.  

Take advantage of the opportunity to literally get better every rep!

Compensatory Acceleration Training

The more explosive a lift, the stronger it will be! Your muscles and your central nervous system do not know the actual amount of weight on the bar while lifting; they know muscle tension and force produced!  

Force = Mass X Acceleration. Lifting your lighter sets with maximal acceleration through the entire range of motion is called compensatory acceleration training (CAT), the brainchild of the late, great, Fred Hatfield. Greater amounts of force exerted into the bar will create higher amounts of muscle tension. This will, most importantly, build strength, but also aid in muscle hypertrophy because you recruit a higher amount of fast-twitch muscle fibers (the ones with the most potential for growth). 

When training your core multi-joint movements, after you warmed-up, whether the weight is light or heavy, have the intent to move it as fast as possible!  You will produce higher amounts of force, the weight will feel lighter and “the intent” will produce limit and explosive strength adaptations. 

Train Paused Reps
On the negative phase of a lift, you store elastic-like energy. These elastic-like properties helps you initially as you begin the positive portion of the lift. Once this wears off, the free ride is all over. 

One way to overload the bottom portion of a lift is to stop at the bottom for one to two seconds, stay tight and then explode up. This is making the muscles do all of the work. Don’t do this in place of your regular core movements but in addition. Think of this as a supplement, not a substitute.

Avoid Tobacco, Alcohol and Narcotics

Perpetually being the life of the party can mean a perpetual sentence to being the omega male in any respected strength circle!

Numerous studies show these products can adversely affect performance!  I am not saying you can’t ever have a beer but the reality is a couple beers will acutely lower your testosterone levels; think what would happen if you drink on a regular basis

Periodize Your Training

Periodization is simply purpose-driven training.  You will not bench press 500 raw and run a five-minute mile.  

Prioritize and plan training accordingly. This can be tough to do, so it can be helpful to seek a qualified coach. Commit to becoming strong by making strength your number one training objective; think heavy weight, low reps and keep the cardio to a minimum.

Concurrent training is the most common kiss of death at commercial gyms where folks hope to get as strong, explosive, lean and muscular as possible–all at once. It never works. 

Manage training objectives instead of riding a concurrent road to physical flaccidity and mental drudgery.

Mental Movies

Brain activity proceeds movement!

Correct movements should be watched on a movie screen in the theatre of your mind before they are executed.  Former Eastern Bloc Sports Scientists put this into practice nearly three-quarters of a century ago; hence the Soviet Sports Machine was nearly untouchable.

Take 10-15 minutes a day to watch mental movies of yourself lifting with optimal form.  Find a quiet spot, turn the lights off, lie down and relax; visualize yourself as vividly as possible, integrating sight, sound and feeling.  See yourself performing your strength movements with optimal technique in a dominating style.  

A study conducted by Jud Biasiotto at the University of Chicago was done where he split folks into three groups and tested their free throw percentage.

After the established baseline, Dr. Biasiotto had the first group practice free throws every day for an hour.

The second group only watched mental movies of themselves making free throws but did not actually practice, the third group did nothing.

After 30 days, all three groups were retested. The first group improved by 24 percent, but shockingly, the second group improved by 23 percent without ever shooting a free throw.  As expected, the third group did not improve.

See yourself doing right and you will do right!

Final Thoughts

There is no sure-fire way to develop superhuman strength.

Most people like to contrast differences between successful people. Instead, I looked for commonalities amongst the strongest people in the world and developed this list that you can implement immediately.

Enough talk, time to hit the pig iron!

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