Here’s a lifting truth I don’t want you to forget:
To build strength you must build muscle, to build muscle you must build strength.
I run into a lot of beginner to early intermediate lifters who catch the strength bug. They find out that that chasing after strength gains is pretty darn fun, and decide to try a “strength training program.”
If this is you, I am about to say something that might sound a bit confusing. But hang tight, I’ll explain.
I don’t want you to train for strength just yet. What do I mean?
Inexperienced lifters who want to jump into strength training assume they must do the following:
- Low Rep Sets. Use a huge amount of low rep sets each week – singles, doubles and triples.
- One Rep Max PRs. Go for a max PR attempt every week, or every other week.
Not so. This isn’t the case at all.
Right now you don’t need a substantial amount of sets under 5 reps. You also shouldn’t me “maxing out” every week, or every other week for that matter. This is not the best way for you to train for strength right now.
Strength Training Guidelines for Beginner and Early Intermediate Lifters
How should you train then? Well, this might disappoint many of you, but you should train pretty much like you would if you were trying to build muscle. Or simply stated, probably pretty close to how you are training now.
For the first several years of training, muscle building and strength training are the same process. You need reps to build muscle, and muscle to build strength. These processes work together, and are not mutually exclusive.
Everything is a weakness, and all body parts are small. You need to build a strength and muscle base.
If you dump a lot of your rep work, you’ll likely slow your muscle gains. The opposite isn’t true though. When you drop low rep sets (1-4 reps) you will still build strength.
So the take home point is (and it’s one to never forget)…build strength using conventional muscle building rep ranges during the first several years of training. This is the most efficient and effective approach.
Build strength using conventional muscle building rep ranges during the first several years of training.
I recommend a simple approach to training at this level: try to improve upon your previous session by beating each set by a rep or two. If you are able to achieve this goal 2-3 times per month, per exercise, you will make great progress.
By focusing on progression of reps like a hungry lion on a fresh piece of meat, you will make rapid strength gains and build a quality amount of muscle. This muscle will, in turn, allow you to move more weight.
There will come a point in time when it makes sense to start utilizing some lower rep sets. I generally recommend getting to at least the following numbers before worrying about any sets under 5 reps:
- 250 pound bench press
- 350 pound squat
- 400 pound deadlift
Note: With deadlifts I do not recommend that less experienced lifters use over 5-8 reps per set. Their form most likely needs work, and I would prefer to see them work with 3 sets of 5 or something similar rather than using sets above 7-8 reps.
This is all subjective, of course. If you feel you have weak deadlifting form and/or a weak lower back, use 5 reps sets for a while.
A Secret Benefit Of Strength Training Using Reps
If you are not thinking about form at all, you need to change this behavior. A lifter should always be refining their exercise form on the major lifts.
Less experienced lifters who believe they have solid form, and refuse to see value in learning more about exercise form, usually have major form flaws. Remember this: as you start to build strength, bad form will catch up to you.
Why do you think so many experienced bodybuilders have shoulder issues? They never bothered to learn proper bench press form.
It’s not their fault though. “Proper form” was always recommend in some vaporous sort of way, and then accompanied by an image of a bodybuilder lifting with horrendous form.
So the secret benefit of rep work is that it allows you more form practice. This reduces the chance of injury, and helps you remain consistent.
Have you been thinking about switching to strength training? Leave a comment or question below, and I will help you figure out which way to move forward.