T Nation

Help With Maximal Strength

I know, just another “iam nuu, halp me plis!!” thread, right? Well, I hope my spelling isn’t quite that bad, and I hope I don’t make this post overly long, and that I demonstrate at least some knowledge of what I’m asking about. Basically, I’ve read a few “Maximal Size” articles, and I was thinking to myself “Size is good and all, but what about Maximal STRENGTH?”

I’ve been searching through the archives, and man, there is so much information out there these days, that I don’t even know where to start. But sadly, most people seem to be interested in their size, and not their actual strength. I know, the logic goes bigger = stronger, but there are olympic lifters who are no bigger than your Average Joe powerlifting hundreds of pounds. What the hell? (Q1: How does that work, anyway?)

I started off using weights, doing everything ‘wrong’; bicep curls, etc. Lot’s of isolation excersizes. I made some progress, but I was worried about getting too big (I’m only 5’5" man, it dosn’t take a lot for me to look like an Oompa Loompa; even at 155 I’m still a bit too husky. I think the problem is my thick bones) I found a body weight-only website, and a lot of the guys looked really buff and ripped, but not overly big. So, I started doing a bodyweight only routine; mostly squats/lunges, pushups, pullups, dips, etc.

I made some progress and I am very proud of myself. Initially I could only do around 8 pushups. That was less than 6 months ago. After two months I could do sets of 12 pushups. Now, I can do 25 pushups.

My basic goal is to increase my strength and indurance, and to reduce down to around 10% bodyfat (I’m at 15.3%). I know that along with increasing strength, muscle mass will increase as well, but I would like to limit size gains as much as possible while maximizing my strength. I also know that you need to “eat big” to get big, and to “cut” things out of your diet to lean up. But, that got me thinking; why CAN’T you do both at the same time? (Q2)? Because you “need more calories to grow.” But the fat stored in your body is basically calories in cache… so why can’t you use those towards gaining muscle mass? (Q3)

Well so far, My routine basically looks something like this:

Ascending Pushups (start level but gradually raise feet - this hits slow twitch, intermediate twitch, and fast twitch fibers; the sets go from high rep of 20-25, down to low reps of about 6)
Horizontal Pullups (getting my back)
Vertical Pullups
Crunches and Supermans (supermans counter the crunches to maintain correct posture)
Side/Foreward Lunges
Squats
“Stadiums” (running up and down the stadium stairs)
100 Meter Sprints / Jogging
Calf Lifts

My diet is very clean. I’m on the Paleo Diet, and I eat below 60 grams of carbs a day, all coming from fruit and veggies (no grains or soy), but I eat a little more carbs when I excersize because I know I need to restore the glycogen in my muscles. The rest of my diet is fat (from avocados and nuts) and protein (from bison/venison steak, fish, and nuts- occasionally a hemp-based protein shake). I get around 1,500 calories a day, but I have not lost any LBM on this diet and in fact have lost 6 lbs (dropping from 160 to 154) in 2 months, while increasing my general physical abilities, so I know I have not lost muscle mass. And if I have lost some muscle mass, it’s not a very big concern to me, because I have increased the efficiency of strength of the muscle I do have. I work out between 2 - 3 times a week, following an Art de Vany type approach- frequently light workouts, but once a week a very heavy load hitting as much of my muscles as I can.

So basically my major question is:
Am I on the right track so far to leaning up while increasing my strength and endurance?
Should I increase my calories? I don’t seem to be losing LBM, but I have lost a lot of fat weight.
Is 15.3% a good fat percentage?
How do I increase my strength without adding on a lot more size?
Are the excersizes I’m doing good?

Thanks guys, I really appreciate it.

Depending on you def. of getting strong your going to need some external loading lift heavy. the body weight stuff will take care of the endurance not so much the max strength and adapting to that on a neural level.

you mention oly lifters some lifting like then will help, heavy, explosive moves few reps more sets up in the 90% zone

Phill

I would add some weight training.

There’s nothing quite like weight training for getting realy strong.

You mentioned olympic lifters- They lift weights. If you want to be strong like someone else, you should train similarly.

As far as diet goes, I’ve never had a problem with body composition, so I got nothing on that.

I remember reading somewhere that your mass gains were dependent on how many calories you get. Well, if you don’t eat a lot of calories, you won’t gain mass… but you’ll still be able to adapt to heavier and heavier weights? So would it then be possible to (probably very slowly?) keep your calories the same, but still increase your strength dramatically?

maybe i missed something in your post, or maybe i’m pointing out the obvious. but you want to be “strong” but also not too big…like the O-lifters or powerlifters in the lower weight classes. So you decided to do bodyweight stuff because you saw what those guys looked like? You also started by asking about strength, mentioned there’re mainly articles about size/appearance on this site and seemed to be dissatisfied with that.

So why don’t you lift like an O-lifter or powerlifter? High weight, low reps, many sets. Combine that with your GPP/bodyweight stuff. You’ll be strong and probably lean if you keep on eating well.

[quote]PaleoTeegan wrote:
I remember reading somewhere that your mass gains were dependent on how many calories you get. Well, if you don’t eat a lot of calories, you won’t gain mass… but you’ll still be able to adapt to heavier and heavier weights? So would it then be possible to (probably very slowly?) keep your calories the same, but still increase your strength dramatically?[/quote]

Yes ppl in weight classes do it all the time start liftin heavy!! and smart.

Phill

[quote]Phill wrote:
PaleoTeegan wrote:
I remember reading somewhere that your mass gains were dependent on how many calories you get. Well, if you don’t eat a lot of calories, you won’t gain mass… but you’ll still be able to adapt to heavier and heavier weights? So would it then be possible to (probably very slowly?) keep your calories the same, but still increase your strength dramatically?

Yes ppl in weight classes do it all the time start liftin heavy!! and smart.

Phill

[/quote]

Phill’s right. If you want the strength of a lower weight class lifter, train like one. Bodyweight exercises will not aid you much in terms of maximal strength. Ditch the bodyweight stuff and hit the weights. Do heavy weights, but low reps and sets. Keep the volume low.

Of course, you will probably have to up your calories soon. I don’t think 1500 calories a day will cut it for long. At the very least you can wave your calories. 1500 one day, 2000 the next. Whatever works for you yo keep gaining strength while keeping your size in check.

[quote]PaleoTeegan wrote:

So basically my major question is:
Am I on the right track so far to leaning up while increasing my strength and endurance?
Should I increase my calories? I don’t seem to be losing LBM, but I have lost a lot of fat weight.
Is 15.3% a good fat percentage?
How do I increase my strength without adding on a lot more size?
Are the excersizes I’m doing good?

Thanks guys, I really appreciate it.[/quote]

  1. In my opinion, not really. Do heavy compound lifts (squats, deadlifts, bench press) for more strength, keep bodyweight stuff in for endurance

  2. I’d up the calories but maybe throw in a few cardio sessions per week

  3. 15% bodyfat is good, but individuals vary with how they look at certain bodyfat levels. Some look amazing at 15%, some need to get to 10% to look great

  4. Lift heavy to get strong, just don’t let yourself gain weight. Weigh yourself every day on a scale and adjust your caloric intake and expenditure appropriately

I was under the impression that if you are looking to gain strength <by lifting heavy w/low reps> you need a caloric surplus environment. I didnt realize that you can lift heavy, keep calories at maintenance and still get much stronger.
Mike

"Yes ppl in weight classes do it all the time start liftin heavy!! and smart.

Phill "

So it is completely possible for me to experience high strength gains without a lot of hypertrophy?

“1) In my opinion, not really. Do heavy compound lifts (squats, deadlifts, bench press) for more strength, keep bodyweight stuff in for endurance”

Okay, but what I’m worried about is doing some deadlifts and loaded squats, and making my thighs even bigger than they already are (they’re pretty big for someone my height, and they are solid muscle).

I’m still confused now. I thought that high weight, low reps made you hypertrophy? That’s what I don’t want to do, is hypertrophy.

[quote]PaleoTeegan wrote:
"Yes ppl in weight classes do it all the time start liftin heavy!! and smart.

Phill "

So it is completely possible for me to experience high strength gains without a lot of hypertrophy?

“1) In my opinion, not really. Do heavy compound lifts (squats, deadlifts, bench press) for more strength, keep bodyweight stuff in for endurance”

Okay, but what I’m worried about is doing some deadlifts and loaded squats, and making my thighs even bigger than they already are (they’re pretty big for someone my height, and they are solid muscle).

I’m still confused now. I thought that high weight, low reps made you hypertrophy? That’s what I don’t want to do, is hypertrophy.[/quote]

O.K. man, lets keep it realy simple then.

Two Choices-

  1. Start lifting.

  2. Stay weak.

Which one do you want?

[quote]mike51183 wrote:

I was under the impression that if you are looking to gain strength <by lifting heavy w/low reps> you need a caloric surplus environment. I didnt realize that you can lift heavy, keep calories at maintenance and still get much stronger.
Mike[/quote]

Without gaining any muscle mass at all, your gains in strength are limited to neural adaptation or simply learning better technique…which is limited. It isn’t like someone can just get stronger forever without ever gaining anymore muscle mass. It seems the OP is confused about this and will be very disillusioned in the future once he isn’t a newbie anymore and isn’t making much further progress.

Have you read Pavel’s stuff? In “Power to the People”, he sketches out how to gain a lot of strength but not a lot of size…

If you want to save $25, though, I think he just says what others here have already said. Heavy weight, few reps, few sets. To get BIG, I believe he says to eat a ton and do more sets.

I don’t know how this works, but it seems pretty well established that it does work. Give it a shot and see if it works for you.

[quote]PaleoTeegan wrote:
"Yes ppl in weight classes do it all the time start liftin heavy!! and smart.

Phill "

So it is completely possible for me to experience high strength gains without a lot of hypertrophy?

“1) In my opinion, not really. Do heavy compound lifts (squats, deadlifts, bench press) for more strength, keep bodyweight stuff in for endurance”

Okay, but what I’m worried about is doing some deadlifts and loaded squats, and making my thighs even bigger than they already are (they’re pretty big for someone my height, and they are solid muscle).

I’m still confused now. I thought that high weight, low reps made you hypertrophy? That’s what I don’t want to do, is hypertrophy.[/quote]

What is the big deal about hypertrophy? You weigh only 154. Ed Coan is one inch taller than you and usually weighs around 235-240. He doesn’t look absurdly huge.

However, if that’s what floats your boat, you can certainly get stronger without significant hypertrophy. Lift heavy, low reps (3-5) and low sets (2-3). If you just do deadlift and a press that will cover most of the muscles you will want to be strong.

Lift heavier and heavier regardless of your diet. Give your muscles a reason to grow. Look up articles by Christian Thibaudeau ~

Either way you aren’t really going to get bigger muscles if you’re keeping your calories/protein down.

[quote]kinein wrote:
Lift heavier and heavier regardless of your diet. Give your muscles a reason to grow. Look up articles by Christian Thibaudeau ~

Either way you aren’t really going to get bigger muscles if you’re keeping your calories/protein down.[/quote]

You also won’t keep getting stronger forever.

“What is the big deal about hypertrophy? You weigh only 154. Ed Coan is one inch taller than you and usually weighs around 235-240. He doesn’t look absurdly huge.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am very impressed with the dedication and discipline it took for people like Ed Coan to build the physiques they have, I myself am not looking to be that big. And yes, as far as my taste goes, Ed Coan is positively huge. If I weighed that much, I might be immensely powerful for my height, but I probably wouldn’t be able to wipe my ass without my girlfriend’s help.

Plus, all that extra weight can’t be great on the cardiovascular system.

“However, if that’s what floats your boat, you can certainly get stronger without significant hypertrophy. Lift heavy, low reps (3-5) and low sets (2-3). If you just do deadlift and a press that will cover most of the muscles you will want to be strong.”

By “heavy”, do you mean basically lifting that maximum amount that I can lift?

Example: If my maximum I can brenchpress (is that a crappy excersize?) is 200 lbs, then I should do 200 lbs 2-3 times, until my body adapts to that and it becomes easier, then I can increase to 215, etc etc?

Should I limit that to maybe once a week, and the rest of the time do normal bodyweight excersizes for endurance, etc?

Also, could someone please explain to me how a “deadlift” works? Thank you for all the help guys.

Listen: You currently weigh 155 at 15% bodyfat. You want to get to 10% bodyfat. You have 23 lbs of fat right now. You need to have only 15 lbs of fat. This means that you need to lose 8 pounds of fat and replace it with 8 pounds of muscle.

This is not as simple as it seems. You will need to get much stronger in order to do this, especially at the big lifts, which not only help build muscle mass, but they throw your metabolism into overdrive.

Lifting heavy doesn’t mean that you should only lift heavy. It is good to vary rep ranges. Some days pyramid, some days do higher reps, some days do lower reps, when you’re feeling strong max out, etc. I would say heavy is 5 reps and lower. Some would say greater than equal to 90% of your 1-rep max.

A deadlift involves simultaneous hip and knee extension, which works the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and spinal erectors. The forearms, traps, lats, calves, abdominals and obliques get taxed pretty well too.

[quote]PaleoTeegan wrote:
“What is the big deal about hypertrophy? You weigh only 154. Ed Coan is one inch taller than you and usually weighs around 235-240. He doesn’t look absurdly huge.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am very impressed with the dedication and discipline it took for people like Ed Coan to build the physiques they have, I myself am not looking to be that big. And yes, as far as my taste goes, Ed Coan is positively huge. If I weighed that much, I might be immensely powerful for my height, but I probably wouldn’t be able to wipe my ass without my girlfriend’s help.

Plus, all that extra weight can’t be great on the cardiovascular system.

“However, if that’s what floats your boat, you can certainly get stronger without significant hypertrophy. Lift heavy, low reps (3-5) and low sets (2-3). If you just do deadlift and a press that will cover most of the muscles you will want to be strong.”

By “heavy”, do you mean basically lifting that maximum amount that I can lift?

Example: If my maximum I can brenchpress (is that a crappy excersize?) is 200 lbs, then I should do 200 lbs 2-3 times, until my body adapts to that and it becomes easier, then I can increase to 215, etc etc?

Should I limit that to maybe once a week, and the rest of the time do normal bodyweight excersizes for endurance, etc?

Also, could someone please explain to me how a “deadlift” works? Thank you for all the help guys. [/quote]

Not sure you are right about the cardiovascular system. I have just seen a news item on a study which shows that strength training is beneficial to elderly patients with heart failure.

Deadlift explanation and video:
http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/GluteusMaximus/BBDeadlift.html

Bench press is fine.

With that low a volume and no assistance exercises, you could easily lift five times a week. It will only take you 15 minutes max.

Don’t lift your max. Pick a weight you could do an extra couple of reps (at least) with. If you were doing triples, then your 5-rep max would be a good place to start. If you were doing sets of five, I would start with your ten rep max. This gives you some room to move up. Increase the weight in small increments (5 lbs). When you get to the stage where you fail on the last rep, you can either keep going with reduced reps or (probably better at this stage) drop the weight back down (not to where you started, but maybe 10 lbs higher) and repeat the whole thing again.

Hope this answers your questions.

Decide what you want to do. If you want to get a bit stronger at select exercises, train the hell out of them with low reps and your strength in THESE movements will increase to some extent. At 150 lbs, youre never going to be anywhere near as strong as a 150 pound chinese weightlifter no matter what you try. You can reach that level of strength by adding a certain amount of mass.

And if you want to be slim and trim and look like a typical 5’5" guy (without adding mass as you want to do), chances are you’ll STAY as strong as the average 5’5" guy, bein able to do 3-4 pullups nd 15-20 pushups. But you’ll be at harmony with yourself and have no “excess” weight to complicate your life (read no trouble using toilet paper like the rest of us have on this site).