How to Get Stronger: Absolute Strength


I’ve written about How to Get Strong before, but here’s a quick summary.

2 Main Factors in Getting Stronger:

  1. Hypertrophy – Add more muscle mass, lift more weight.
  2. Skill Mastery – Get better at a movement, lift more weight.

Obviously, if you add muscle mass you’ll probably get stronger. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone…

But getting more efficient at a movement will make you stronger at that movement as well. 

In fact, teaching your body HOW to move as efficiently as possible is probably where most of you should be spending the majority of your time.

And this is one of the simplest training tenants that even the CrossFit zealots know.
In the CrossFit world (and by CrossFit world, I’m talking about the good coaches who know what they are doing) they preach:

Mechanics —> Consistency —> Intensity

Which means when you’re training, you should focus on mastering the movement FIRST, then perform that perfect movement consistently, then and only then, increase your intensity.

So if you run into a coach who won’t let you back squat until you can perform a bunch of perfect goblet squats, don’t get mad, those are the good ones!

Building strength and capacity using this continuum is not as sexy as banging big weights and throwing your chin over the bar, but it is the way to ensure long term improvement, performance increases, and a big reduction in injuries.

Ok, so now that we have that quick summary out of the way…

When you’re trying to get strong there are basically “4 types of strength” you need to train.

  1. Absolute Strength 
  2. Strength Speed
  3. Speed Strength 
  4. Absolute Speed

In this article, we are going to talk about the first one: Absolute Strength

Let’s break it down

Absolute Strength

Training absolute strength is where most people (yea, that means you) should be spending 80% of your training time.

And the good news is, you’re probably already familiar with it.

When we talk about training absolute strength we are talking about grinding through the big compound lifts & heavy loads.

Example: The Deadlift

Grinding out a heavy single or double is necessary for improving your absolute strength.

With that said, this is all relative to the individual athlete and their personal training history, so let’s work through an example.

Using the deadlift as an example, let’s program a simple absolute strength workout for two different athletes

(Beginner & Advanced) using those two principles I mentioned above (Hypertrophy & Skill Mastery).

Athlete #1 – Beginner, little/no experience with the deadlift
Movement: Deadlift 

  • A: 2 sets x 10 rep @ empty bar 
  • B: 2 – 3 sets x 5 reps slowly adding weight until you get to a weight you can do for 5 reps, but probably not 7-8 reps
  • C: 5 sets x 5 reps @ weight from “Part B”

So let’s break this down real quick.

In “Part A” the focus is to “warm-up” but also to pattern that perfect deadlift pattern without any intensity.

We’re building skill and myelinating those nerves pathways – Can you perform all 20 reps perfectly?

In “Part B” we are still warming up but we are also challenging that movement pattern with a bit of intensity — Can you still perform the reps perfectly? (We’re at 35 reps now!)

In “Part C”  we are now into our training sets and here, for the beginner, we are performing a higher reps workout (25 Reps) to build muscle mass while still challenging his/her mechanics & consistently with even more intensity.

Ultimately, the goal of this deadlift session is to improve Muscle Endurance, Motor Coordination, and Movement Sequencing (55-60 reps of one movement!) while also starting to work a bit of Strength Endurance by adding load and staying in that 5-7 rep range.

Athlete # 2 – Advanced, has been deadlifting for a few years (or more)
Movement: Deadlift

  • A: Spend 10:00 warming up to a 2 Rep Max
  • B: 5 x 2 @ 90%+ 

In “Part A” we give the athlete the ability to work on their own to warm up to a heavy double (The 10:00 time limit is really only there to keep them on track and moving since there is almost always more work to do in this training session!).

[SIDE NOTE] Also, I don’t care if my athletes hit their previous rep max here, just a daily rep max
Research shows that your 1 rep max can vary by up to 20% day today, so if I tell them to chase a previous rep max one of two things might happen:

  1. You may not hit that previous max which, in my experience, really messes with people psychologically – Often ruining the rest of the workout, or
  2. You may stop short – Not maximizing your potential for that training session.

Ok, back on track…

Then in “Part B”  the focus is on grinding through 2 solid reps at just a bit less than that daily max, five times.

When performed correctly the advanced athlete here gets 10-15 super high-quality, high-intensity lifts in during the working sets of this strength session. 

We’re also working on maximal contraction & strength endurance – I’ll talk more about the “Muscle Endurance Tree” in a future article.

So as you can see, depending on the “training age” of the athlete we have two very different approaches for working absolute strength — But the goal and result are the same, both athletes get stronger.

And even though this example was pretty simple – just focusing on one movement & one “type of strength” – A lot of factors go into creating a program that is appropriate and effective to each individual. 

Which is why I have no problem shamelessly plugging our Individual Coaching.

Key Takeaways
Beginner Athletes: 

  • Spend the majority of your time practicing perfect movement
  • Then slowly start challenging that movement with intensity
  • Your strength training foundation should be made of absolute strength work & muscle endurance

Advanced Athletes:

  • Perfect mechanics ALWAYS matter, check your ego and save yourself from injuries
  • Absolute strength should still make up 80% of your strength training
  • Although you’ve “earned” the right to train maximal contractions, don’t forget the foundation is still built on muscle endurance and strength endurance!

And if you want help developing a program specific to you, apply for individual coaching here.

Ready to build some serious strength?

Like GI Joe said, learning is half the battle, well, the other half is doing.

You can read a million article on strength training but unless you apply the concepts you’re never going to add weight to that bar. So if you’re ready to get serious about your training and pack on some of that confidence building, I can do anything strength & muscle you want then you need to check out one of the programs below.

Good: 4-Week Strategic Squat In this one, you’re gonna squat. In fact after the first week I guarantee you’ll think I hate you & have something against people with functioning legs. #doyouevensquatbro

Better: 8-Week Strategic Strength This program is exactly what you think it is. You’ll spend three days per week working on getting stronger. You’ll squat, press, and pull your way into a stronger, healthier, more functional body. And you can follow the bonus cardio days added in or combine this with your current endurance or conditioning training without an issue.

Best: 8-Week Custom Strength Coaching Get your own personal coach to design a program custom to you & provide the instruction, coaching, and accountability you need to dominate the barbell & really life in general.

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