Why You Need to Get Strong First

“Strong people are harder to kill than weak people and more useful in general”
- Mark Rippetoe

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Here’s a big picture question for the ages:

Are you strong enough to survive the zombie apocalypse? Could you fend off the zombies and be prepared to do the same thing the next day… and every day after that?

The zombies may not be coming tomorrow, but you never know. (Zombies can sneak up on you.) My point is that it’s always best to prepare for the worst so you can be ready for ANYTHING life throws at you.

When it comes to fitness, strength is the foundation that allows you to do everything else better. That’s why you need to get strong first.

The secret sauce to achieving your goal (whether it’s building muscle, losing fat, or optimizing performance) is just getting stronger.

You’ll learn how to do exactly that in a moment, but right now….

What Is Strength, Anyway?

So what is Strength anyway?

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Relative strength is how strong you are compared to your size. All else being equal, smaller guys will have higher relative strength than bigger guys. They’ll find it easier to do strict pull-ups, for instance. And they may find it easier to do three times their body weight as big guys. But they still won’t be able to deadlift as many pounds as big guys, which is a measure of…

Absolute strength, the maximum amount of force exerted, regardless of the athlete’s weight or body composition.

But it’s best to think about strength as more than just the ability (or importance) of deadlifting 700 pounds.

What you really need is BOTH absolute strength AND relative strength. You’ll build muscle and lose fat while optimizing athletic performance.

You’ll also live a longer and healthier life, which comes in handy for fighting off those zombies day after day.

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It starts with building a solid foundation. And one thing leads to another.

By developing greater absolute strength, you also build more relative strength.

And developing absolute strength is built around a solid foundation of resistance training. Through resistance training, you are able to develop and improve motor control and nervous system adaptation. Technique improves with better motor control. As technique improves, you are able to lift heavier by increasing strength over time.

Your Four Week Progression

Let’s say you’re working on achieving your first push-up or pull-up. Start by assessing if you can even support your own body weight, a test of relative strength.

Do this simple assessment. Test how long you can hold a push-up plank or hang from a pull-up bar.

If it’s less than one minute, try this four-week progression 2–3 times per week for 3 weeks training every other day on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday for example. On week 4, reassess to see how you’ve progressed.

Week 1:

A. Straight Arm Push-up Plank: 20 sec x 3 sets; rest as needed

B. Passive Hang: 20 sec x 3 sets; rest as needed

Week 2:

A. Straight Arm Push-up Plank: 30 sec x 3 sets; rest as needed

B. Passive Hang: 30 sec x 3 sets; rest as needed

Week 3:

A. Straight Arm Push-up Plank: 45 sec x 3 sets; rest as needed

B. Passive Hang: 45 sec x 3 sets; rest as needed

Week 4:

A. Straight Arm Push-up Plank: Max Hold for time

B. Passive Hang: Max Hold for time

You hit one minute and then some! Awesome! Now, start to develop absolute strength through resistance training.

Include pressing exercises like bench presses and shoulder presses and pulling exercises like barbell rows and lat pulldowns that are multi-joint and work several muscles or muscle groups at the same time. You can do this simultaneously while training relative strength qualities of the push-up and pull-up.

Here’s a 4-week example. You can do this as a 4 day split training Day 1 and Day 2 on Monday and Tuesday and repeating it on Thursday and Friday for 3 weeks. In Week 4, bring training frequency down to just two days and assess your push-up and pull-up on Day 2.

Week 1

Day 1:

A. Dual DB Neutral Grip Bench Press: 12–15 reps @ 3010 x 3 sets; rest as needed

B. Bent Over Barbell Row: 12–15 reps @ 3011 x 3 sets; rest as needed

Day 2:

A. Bench Push-up: 5–10 reps @ 31A1 x 3 sets; rest as needed

B. Supinated Chin Over Bar Hold: 20–45 sec x 3 sets; rest as needed

Week 2
Day 1:
A. Dual DB Neutral Grip Bench Press: 10–12 reps @ 3010 x 3 sets; rest as needed

B. Bent Over Barbell Row: 10–12 reps @ 3011 x 3 sets; rest as needed

Day 2:

A. Push-up Negative: 5–10 reps @ 51A1 x 3 sets; rest as needed

B. Supinated Pull-up Negative: 5–10 reps @ 51A1 x 3 sets; rest as needed

Week 3
Day 1:

A. Dual DB Neutral Grip Bench Press: 8–10 reps @ 3010 x 3 sets; rest as needed

B. Bent Over Barbell Row: 8–10 reps @ 3011 x 3 sets; rest as needed

Day 2:

A. Push-up Negative: 5–10 reps @ 31A1 x 3 sets; rest as needed

B. Supinated Pull-up Negative: 5–10 reps @ 31A1 x 3 sets; rest as needed

Week 4

Day 1:
A. Dual DB Neutral Grip Bench Press: 6–8 reps @ 3010 x 3 sets; rest as needed

B. Bent Over Barbell Row: 6–8 reps @ 3011 x 3 sets; rest as needed

Day 2:

A. Push-up Attempt

B. Supinated Pull-up Attempt

Why do a progression like this?

You’ll use resistance training and bodyweight training to develop both absolute and relative strength through increased training volume. You’ll develop motor control and nervous system adaptation to get stronger over time.

Strength Is for Everyone

Being strong improves every physical capability and gets you out of pain.

If you’re a regular Joe, being strong improves cardiovascular and physical capacity. You’ll be able to walk longer, climb the stairs more easily, and help a friend move.

If you’re a competitive athlete, like many of my clients, you’ll improve sports performance, whether it’s CrossFit competition or running the Boston Marathon.

On top of the physical benefits of strength, being strong also builds mental and emotional confidence and resilience. It leads to a longer, happier, and healthier life.

Everyone has unique goals. You may want to deadlift 700 pounds, you may just want to be able to hike with your kid on your back.

Being strong first is how to get started.

Written by

Erwin Regidor is a scotch-loving personal trainer and online fitness coach living in Shanghai. He loves the Dodgers, Lakers, French Bulldogs and Filipino food.

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