Trying to gain strength? If you’ve been in the gym for very long at all, you know that plateaus happen—and getting stronger gets harder.
As we explained thoroughly in our guide on building muscle and gaining strength, in natural athletes (people who don’t take performance-enhancing drugs like steroids) strength and size have a very high, directly proportional relationship. As you build muscle, you will naturally get stronger. And as you build more muscle, you will naturally be able to move more weight. This is a simplification though—if you are interested in the hard nuts and bolts read the guide above.
Knowing that strength and size go hand in hand, our choices for exercises come down to 3 options:
While these are not the only exercises you should be doing, they most certainly need to be the main ones. Because they are compound movements, they work your entire body and every muscle in between (even bench if you are using proper form). With the law of diminishing returns in mind, this means we can get the most results possible for the least amount of effort from focusing on these.
And if you are a more advanced lifter, you don’t really have a choice. If you waste your recovery efforts on accessory exercises and bicep curls, don’t expect to gain much muscle or strength. On the flip side, just focusing on the above lifts alone will yield tremendous results (only if you are using a proper daily undulating periodization program).
At this point, we know two things:
- Strength and size are highly correlated in non-juiced lifters
- The most strength and size is gained by performing the 3 traditional compound lifts (squat, bench, deadlift)
By watching your form on the various lifts, you can then determine where your sticking points are and then work to correct those specifically—maximizing your time and results in the gym.
If you haven’t already, now is a good time to record your lifts and begin to evaluate where your sticking points are. Once you have a video of each lift, you will be able to narrow down on the specific exercises you personally need to get stronger.
Getting Stronger on Squats
Getting Stronger at the Bench Press
Getting Stronger at Deadlifts
Improving the deadlift relies heavily on the “segment method” we talk about here.
If you are an intermediate or advanced lifter, it is also important to follow a program that uses intelligent periodization (altering sets and reps at specific times in your training to cause maximal stimulation for muscle growth and strength gain). The 8 week powerlifting program is a great place to start during the off-season if you are looking to build muscle while also increasing strength.