Man bench pressing with a spotter
Credit: wikipedia commons - US Army/

Move heavy weights with compound exercises to get strong!

If your workout goal is to add strength fast, you need to follow a few simple rules.   The first rule is to lift heavy.  The second rule is to use compound exercises.   The third rule is to have adequate rest between workouts. You should train heavy and follow the first two rules at least two times a week, but three times a week is better.  More than three heavy workouts a week is counterproductive.


Before embarking on any kind of heavy lifting regimen, you have to warm up.  I often use a treadmill or an elliptical machine at the gym for my warm up.  I don't have a set minimum time for warm up.  The idea is to perform some type of aerobic activity long enough to work up a sweat and increase your heart rate.  You should feel refreshed and ready for more work after five or ten minutes.

Heavy Lifting

What constitutes heavy lifting is different for each person.  What is heavy for me may be easy for you.  All of us have differing abilities.  Lifting heavy means doing each set of a given exercise for no more than five repetitions to failure.  Merely doing five reps easily is not the same as doing the exercise to failure.  You have to push yourself. 

I prefer three sets per exercise, sometimes five if I am feeling ambitious.  Usually, the first set is a slightly lower weight and the next two sets are more challenging.  The idea is to challenge the fast twitch muscle fibers through progressive overload.  Your body adapts to the stress of heavy weights through the nervous system recruiting more muscle fibers for a given exercise and also through increased muscle mass.  Often, intial gains in weight training occur from nervous system adaptation.  Increased muscle mass occurs later.

Compound Exercises

Compound exercises are those that involve more than one muscle group.  The kings of the compound exercises are squats and deadlifts.  Both of these movements involve multiple muscle groups.  While these exercises primarily work the lower body, the upper body is also involved.  For squats, the core muscles are engaged to support the weight.  The dead lift requires grip strength and challenges the back muscles as well.  I have trouble doing the dead lift more than twice a week because it generally leaves me tired the next day.

Popular upper body compound exercises are bench press, military press, pull ups, bent over rows and dips.  If you perform sets of each of these in a workout you will have pushed your entire upper body.  If pull ups or dips are too difficult for you to do, most gyms have assisted pull up and dip machines to make them easier. 


In order to fully enjoy the benefits of your hard work, you must have adequate rest.  Each heaving lifting workout damages the muscle fibers just a bit and the strength gains occur during the rest period in which the damage is repaired.  If you workout too much, then the muscle fibers will not be repaired and you will not gain strength.  Further, too many workouts per week will lead to injury. 

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