strength training

Training Yourself

At one point, you were taught how to do every single thing you know how to do.

Once you were taught something, you had to train yourself to become better at it.

You trained yourself to brush your teeth.

You trained yourself to tie your shoes.

You know that you must train to get stronger. To build muscle. To lose body fat.

To be able to lift 100 pounds, you have to train yourself to do it.

At first, it might be challenging to lift 50 pounds. But you know you’ll never get to 100 if you don’t keep training.

So you keep training, and eventually you are able to lift 100 pounds.

Whatever it is that you start but always have trouble sticking to, happens because you are not approaching it as training.

On day one, two, and three of your diet you may have no trouble staying on track. But at the end of week one, and into week two is when things begin getting difficult.

You think to yourself that this just “sucks,” but it is really that you are right in the heat of training.

This is how it should feel. And it should feel like this for a while. For a lot longer than you think it should.

You have to train yourself to be disciplined.

You have to train yourself to eat right.

You have to train yourself to drink more water.

You have to train yourself to get enough sleep.

It will never be easy to lift heavier and heavier weight.

It will never be easy to run faster or to jump higher.

Don’t expect being able to eat the right things or being able to avoid eating the wrong things to be easy.

That is training.

Testing Your 1-Rep Max

When it comes to weight training, nothing is more exhilarating than maxing out.

And although the basis of maxing out is simple, there is more to it than just loading up with a bunch of weight and going at it. There is some strategy that should go into a max-out session.

The purpose of testing your 1-rep max (1RM) is to determine the maximum amount of weight that you can lift for one repetition of a given exercise.

Below is the typical protocol I like to follow for working up to a 1RM…

  1. Ideally, you should begin with a 5-10 minute light-paced general warm-up.

    Then you should start to drill the lift you are testing, beginning at a light intensity, and gradually ramping up to a higher intensity.

  2. Start with 1-3 sets of 5 (using a weight you could actually do 20+ times).

    The purpose of these sets is only to groove the movement and to get some blood flowing through the system. You don’t want to be expending much energy on any of these sets.

  3. Then move on to 1-3 sets of 3 (using a weight you could actually do 10-15 times).

    You should start to feel the weight, just a little bit, on these sets. At no point should you have to grind out reps. Each 3 reps of every set should feel crisp and relatively easy.

  4. Finally, start taking singles the rest of the way up.

    Your first couple of single attempts should still feel pretty smooth. If I must choose a number, you should actually be able to do 5(ish) reps with your first single. If you’re barely making your first attempt(s), you have over-estimated an appropriate first attempt, or you have wasted too much energy on your work-up sets (or even a combination of both).

  5. Once you start taking singles, it is pretty straightforward from there. If you successfully lift the weight, add weight, repeat, and continue to do this until you cannot add any more weight. Whatever the heaviest weight you have lifted one time is, is your 1-rep max.

This is only general layout for how to go about maxing out. I have more detailed suggestions that I would share if anyone is interested. Let me know in the comments!

More Frequency

I think one of the best ways to force an adaptation in the body is to use higher frequency. 

Want to get better at running long distances? Run a mile every day.

Want to get your legs stronger? Squat every day.

Want your chest to get bigger? Do push-ups every day.

The only way your body will change (whether it be performance-based or aesthetic-based) is to do enough work to elicit the necessary training response. You might as well be accumulating work as often as you can.

If the typical recommendation to never train a muscle two days in a row comes to mind, know that your body is highly resilient. It will figure out how to function under whatever environment you put it into.

More isn't always better, but sometimes more is better! 

Complex Thursday

On Thursdays at Drew Murphy Strength, the theme of our 5:45 pm group workout is COMPLEXES. We call it Complex Thursday, and these workouts are a lot of fun.

In fitness terms, a complex is when you perform multiple exercises, one immediately following another, without setting down the implement you are using. Complexes can be done using many forms of equipment, but we tend to use barbells for most of the complexes we do. Strength and muscle can be built through the use of complexes, but I find them to be the most useful for conditioning and for refining technique. 

Here is a sample complex that uses dumbbells as the implement:

8 DB Curl

8 DB OH Press

8 DB Front Squat

8 DB Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

With variables such as exercise selection, exercise order, and repetitions for each exercise, the number of complexes one could design would be infinite.

I typically like to design complexes in a way that the exercises flow nicely together. Using the same exercises from the example above, here is an example of a complex that I wouldn't consider to have great flow:

8 DB OH Press

8 DB RDL

8 DB Front Squat

8 DB Curl

Here, you would start with the weights at shoulder height. After doing the presses, you would drop them down to do RDLs. After those, you would need to bring them back up to do front squats and eventually finish the complex with curls. Unless you intentionally wanted the added challenge and awkwardness of bringing the dumbbells up to and down from shoulder height, this would be a poorly designed complex when compared to my original example.

In the original example, the dumbbells are already at shoulder height after completing the last curl, making it nice to go into overhead pressing. After your last overhead press, you are able to keep the dumbbells at shoulder height to complete your front squats. You finish the complex with RDLs, which require you to drop the dumbbells back down to a hang. Bringing the weights down at this point is not a big deal because you will need to do so anyway to set them all the way down and step away from the set.

Another thing I keep in mind when designing a complex is to try to keep the stronger movements toward the end. This is because you can afford to perform a stronger movement under more fatigue.

Looking again at the "poorly designed" complex, doing curls at the end of the complex doesn't make sense because that is actually the weakest of the 4 exercises in the complex. By the time you got to the curls, there is a chance you would be too exhausted to finish the complex.

Back to the first complex, we begin with curls and gradually work through stronger movements. As you become more and more fatigued throughout the complex, you perform an exercise that requires less effort the deeper into the complex you go. For this reason, complexes should feel challenging but do-able.

Lastly, I find that complexes encourage optimal technique, as that is what is required in order to complete some movements while fatigued. Sound technique will carry you through a complex, whereas poor technique will cause you to hit failure during a complex.

If this method of training intrigues you, stop by on a Complex Thursday and give it a try. Also, make sure to wear black!

Chase Strength, Good Things Will Follow

I am biased toward gaining strength. 

It's why I chose to name my business Drew Murphy Strength

Even though I prioritize building strength over everything else, I acknowledge that many others don't value strength as much as I do. In fact, I would say that for the majority of people who work out, the appeal of looking better outweighs the appeal of getting stronger. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Don’t get me wrong - I want to look good too. And the great news is that increasing strength will take care of that for us. Actually, building strength will improve just about everything in your life. The problem I see with just chasing aesthetics is that it does not necessarily improve other health markers.

Here is a sample roadmap of positive adaptations that can occur through strength prioritization...

You lift heavy weights. 

You lift heavy weights consistently. 

You begin to get stronger. 

You can now begin to do more things. 

You can work out harder. 

You can lift heavier and heavier weight. 

You begin to expend more energy as a result of working out harder and lifting heavier weights.

More energy expended equals an elevated base metabolic rate.

You begin to lose body fat as a result of your elevated metabolism.

As you lose body fat, your health improves.

You become better equipped to take on everyday tasks.

As a bonus, you begin to look better.

If you ask me, simply putting your head down to focus on getting your entire body stronger is the best way to achieve whatever fitness goal you desire. Strength brings everything along with it. 

Just being fixated on aesthetics does not guarantee the same improvements that getting stronger does.

There are plenty of ways to improve aesthetics at the expense of losing strength.

Provided you follow a healthy diet and sleep regimen, it will be difficult to not look better as you get stronger.