Follow these 10 rules to ensure you aren’t leaving strength gains behind…

I was inspired by Coach Fletch’s great article last week about 13 ways to improve training and recovery, and because I like rules, I thought I would come up with my own list of 10 Key Rules for Strength Training.

When I say I like rules, I don’t mean parking tickets get me hot under the collar. I really mean that I like things to be black and white, as it leaves no second guessing. There are still foggy areas in the world of strength and muscle building, but there are also set principles of training that determine whether we will be successful in our quest for strength.

If you aren’t getting stronger and you think that everything is in check, then have a read of the following 10 rules for strength training and consider whether you are adhering to them all.

1) Master the Basics

Too many people get sidetracked by the fluff. You know what I mean by fluff, the fancy isolation work or the latest gadget. If a barbell squat is good, then a barbell squat on a bosu with a kettlebell on your head must be even better, right?! Unfortunately not. Most people could probably make the best gains of their lives if they just stuck to the basic compound lifts.

Compound lifts are the ones that use multiple joints, multiple muscle groups and allow you to lift the most weight. It’s no coincidence that they also have the biggest impact on your body! More muscle means your body burns more calories – everything else being equal, you will lose fat.

If you aren’t sure what compound lifts are then squat, pick heavy things up from the floor, press things and use some sort of row and you won’t be far off. Don’t be in a rush to lift more and more weight – master the technique, learn to create tension and the strength gains will follow.

2) Train for Balance

Unless you are an athlete you should look to be balanced in your strength programme, but even athletes need to appreciate that something they are missing in their strength training might be holding them back. The reasons for being balanced are obvious – if you create imbalance then there will always be a strong and a weak component. Eventually, the structure will break.

Consider someone who bench presses every session but never does any pulling work – their pecs and anterior delts will become so overpowering that the shoulders will get pulled forward. This will cause postural change and the muscles in the upper back will eventually start crying out in pain. The pecs will stop working properly. And finally, you end up with problem shoulders. Ouch! You can choose any antagonistic body parts and reach the same endpoint.

Rules for Balance:

  • Train a hinge, squat, push and pull – this will cover all bases.
  • Pull twice as much as you push.
  • Horizontal pull more than you vertical pull.
  • Include a loaded carry

Remember, balance also refers to left and right too, so use unilateral exercises to promote stability throughout the body.


3) Train Your Glutes and Core

I have explained in a previous article how a stronger core will improve everything you do in the gym. Well, the glutes should be held in equal regard. The glutes are your powerhouse, they allow you to move with power and grace, they improve your performance (take that any way you will) and they protect your lower back.

A plank first and foremost requires tension in the core AND glutes. A push up is a moving plank. An inverted row is an upside down push-up. A deadlift and swing are standing planks, a military press is a plank with arms overhead. I think you get the picture. Just work the glutes.

Besides this, I’ve started to realise that if you strengthen the glutes and stretch the hips, most of your movement problems disappear 🙂

4) Everything is Connected

The human body is an incredible design. Every part of your body is interconnected. Do your knees cave in on squats? Then fix the hips and ankles. Does your lower back hurt? Then stretch the hip flexors. Pain in your hamstrings? Then foam roll your calves. What I’m saying is, look after your body and it will look after you. If it’s tight, stretch it; if it’s weak, strengthen it; and if it hurts then rest it. You are only as strong as your weakest part

5) Train Consistently

Strength is a skill, and skills need to be practised. Don’t expect to set the world on fire by training once a week. Consistency trumps effort. The people who make the best progress all have something in common – they train consistently and put the hard work in. It’s not about busting your balls 5 times one week, then not turning up for the rest of the month. It’s about being smart and putting the time in regularly. Strength training is a marathon, not a sprint.


6) Intensity beats Volume

We are talking about strength here. Strength is built optimally with heavy weights, low volume and long rests. Muscle is built with moderate weight, high volume and short rests. In the case of strength, then less is certainly more.

Does this mean strength can’t be built with high reps or lighter weights – hell no – but we are talking about optimal strength gains. Strength underpins everything. Volume and Strength are inversely related; strength training takes a toll on our battery (CNS), and therefore we need to moderate the number of reps that we do at that intensity (>85%). This is why de-load weeks are important additions to our programme every 4 to 6 weeks.

Volume is a fantastic tool to promote muscle growth, to spare the joints (lower intensity) and it can also be a pleasant distraction from the mental drain of strength work.

7) Don’t MAX out

Testing your 1-rep max fatigues the body and it takes your muscles and connective tissue into uncharted territory. If you are a competitive lifter then you are saving this moment for competition, but if you a recreational trainer – like most of us – then use it sparingly. 3 or 4 times a year is plenty. Arguably, older lifters and inexperienced lifters would be better served with a 3 to 5 rep max since there is less chance of injury or a technical breakdown.

Training is practice, maxing out is testing. We should be training 99% of the time, not maxing out every session. Always leave a rep or two in the tank, and finish a set strong and with sound technique. The strongest people in the world do not train to failure, so why should we? How many sprinters do you see running until they collapse, how many swimmers do you see swimming until they sink to the bottom of the pool? Train your body to succeed not fail.

8) Stick to a Programme

I’m not going to explain this one. Just stick to a programme for its duration (usually 6 to 12 weeks) and reap the rewards. You might be surprised how hard this is for the average man/woman. In this age of distraction, people seem to think that the best programme is the one that everyone else is doing, but I promise you… Find a programme, stick to it and you’ll be amazed by the results. 531, Starting Strength, Power to the People, Stronglifts or anything by DeFranco are all excellent places to start

9) Rest at least one day a week

Rest at least one day a week, probably more. Walk, stretch or mobilise on your day off. That’s all you need to know.

10) Eat, Sleep and De-Stress

Training takes up one hour of your day.The other 23 hours are made up of eating, sleeping and getting stressed. These are all linked. Don’t sleep enough and you get stressed, get stressed and you don’t sleep, eat badly and your gut gets inflamed, you get stressed and you don’t sleep.

I cannot emphasise enough how important these 3 factors are in influencing your strength and general health.

Eat – Try and eat well 80% of the time. Watch how much AND what you eat. Drink water. Eat protein with every meal, consume plenty of fruits and vegetables. Don’t forget your healthy fats

Sleep – Sleep for 7 to 9 hours a night. Get up at a regular time.

De-Stress – Meditate, stretch, have fun, do the things you love and stop worrying about the things you cant control!


Be bulletproof,

Coach Craig.

Author - Craig Peterson - Personal Trainer & Mentor

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