How to make progress in Strength Training

Calling all strength participants! Please read below for an overview on the key concepts that are underpinning this first term of strength.


It’s been fair to say we have a “keep it simple” approach with a focus on Systematic Overload applied to these movements:


• One large posterior chain movement (the deadlift is the right answer)

• One large lower body push (the squat is the right answer)

• One upper body push (bench press or military press)

• One upper body pull (pull-ups, rows)

• A simple full-body explosive move (kettlebell swings or snatches)

• And something for what I call an “anterior chain” move (an abdominal exercise). I think the ab wheel is king here, but you can also do some other movements best suited for lower reps.


Most of the above fit in our idea that we’re lifting for health not pure vanity. If we choose to  focus on the traditional gym muscles, the pecs and biceps, you WILL see it in the mirror but the really important muscles are the ones you see “when you are walking away.” The traps, the spinal erectors, the glutes, the hams and the calves usually don’t get a lot of media attention. They are the unsung heroes and are some of the primary muscles we aim to make stronger.


That being said, there is nothing wrong with wanting to look good naked! With this in mind, the holy grail to achieve this is the pow-wow combo of fat loss and muscle gain. As long as we have step one in the bag (dump sugar and sleep more), it then step two is about starting a strength training program and applying the following concept:  


“Systematic, consistent loading, as fast as your recovery will allow”.

....That’s the order of the day for Term One of Strength.


Let’s look at that in more detail:


Session one, we learn to deadlift. We were happy to get 20kg lifted with average form. Big high fives all round. Plenty of pats on the back, now let’s get down to business.


The following sessions in term one are spent tightening up technique and at the same time increasing the loads. We are currently on this road and continuing systematic, consistent loading with the result of making big increases in our weights lifted.


At a certain point, enough adaptation has occurred that even 2.5kg per week will seem impossible, so that is the point when complex systems like periodization are required. This will happen quicker than in a young male who is packing in the calories as we recognise that our demographic is different and weight gain just isn’t a priority. It is hoped that the last couple of weeks, people will start to plateau naturally. So, the point being to the above is, where do you think we would be if we started out on some complicated structured program?" I’ve said before when asked about goals for term one that there are no goals. If you really had to squeeze me, it’d be turn up, train hard, rest easy. They aren't S.M.A.R.T goals but fit my aim of keeping it simple in this initial introductory period.  


Volume: We are also increasing the reps from week five onwards in a systematic and consistent fashion so we create volume and density in our sessions at the same time as increase intensity via loads. This moves us through to a hypertrophy rep range by the end of the term and completes a full cycle as this is the rep range we were training in on the first session. Long reps for increasing lean muscle mass. Good grip strength and mental fortitude.


So, by now, everyone is getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. We’re pushing the weight and the reps up each week (when it’s getting easier) and by the end of the term we’re in a position to bring the rep range down and estimate one rep max (1RMs).


Term Two for those who return will see some periodization, sitting deep in the guts of strength training repping 3-5 reps now that we have built up a foundation level of conditioning and dialled in our good technique. This is the point where we aim to set goals based on our 1RMs set above, using assistance exercises, increased intensity and good form to us there safely and in a timely fashion.


Please feel free to ask any questions in class about any of the above and a huge well done to all those who have been training consistently since since the start of Oct.