Can you get stronger without getting bigger? In my experience a lot of people think that you have to spend hours in the weight room doing burnout sets to failure in order to get stronger. While this can work over a short period of time, you will plateau very fast and in my opinion create a physique that is incapable of performing any kind of athletic activity at a high level. This is something that I see a lot of people messing up in the gym. I repeatedly hear young guys discussing how they’ve hit a plateau in their lifts and they decide to try to simply increase the number of sets/reps, total volume, or simply keep doing the same old thing, hoping that they’ll magically get stronger. This is a HUGE mistake, especially if your goal is to have a lean physique of average size, but with extraordinary muscle density.
Reduce your sets and reps to increase strength and muscle tone To get really strong you need to lift the heaviest weights you can manage with perfect form, for very few reps. I recommend 3-5 reps. 1-3 reps for pure strength, 5 reps for a little muscle as well. A good rule of thumb is to get out of the gym feeling stronger than when you came in. If you feel fatigued or sore, you did too much. I like keeping the total number of sets under 14 total. Keep rest between sets to about 1-2 minutes. I know it sounds crazy but trust me, you will bust through your current plateau and build strength steadily like this. This is an awesome way to gain strength without size for a lean Special Forces body.
Why more is NOT always better Most people think that simply doing more work = better results, and I was definitely stuck in that category until a couple of years ago. Basically, increasing the total number of sets, or just trying to do more work will mean that you’ll build strength endurance and muscle mass, but you’re pure strength gains will stagnate quickly. Remember those muscle bound dudes in high-school and college with “inflata-lats” and ridiculous cut-off t-shirts who seemed to subsist on a diet of protein shakes and chicken breasts (Think like half the cast of “Jersey Shore” lol)? This is the look you will create with high volume lifting and it is simply not functional or attractive. If you combine this lifting method with a high carb, high calorie diet and you’re just asking for a puffy and bloated look. Say no to cosmetic lifting, and train for function. The lean and dense Special ops body will follow.
Train like a Recon Marine to get a Hollywood body This is a really popular method of lifting in military units that have to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. They can’t afford to be tired or sore from a 2 hour lifting session, but they still need to be incredibly strong and conditioned. Recon Marines and Navy SEALS are 2 Special Forces units that are a great example of the body type and level of conditioning this training produces. They are generally of average size, but with outstanding muscle tone and strength-to-bodyweight ratio. I’ve been training like this for about 3 years now, and I have nearly doubled my strength levels. I used to have trouble lifting 50lb dumbbells for a single armed row, and now I can easily pull a hundred with each arm at a bodyweight of 160lbs. Whenever I start to train guys for the military the first thing we do is limit our time in the weight room as much as possible. After a few weeks you will feel like a badass lifting heavier weights than half the people around you and then leaving while everyone else is still slogging through their burnout sets.
All the best, Charles Malina