When it comes to getting stronger, there are a number of rules you have to follow. These rules will ensure your hard work doesn’t go to waste, and that you get the best results possible from your training. Those rules alone are worthy of an article all to themselves, but here’s the simplified version:

  • - Lift heavy weights – 85% or more of your one repetition maximum (1RM)

  • - Low reps – 1-5 is your range, 3-5 being optimal for most lifters

  • - Long rests – 3-5 minutes between sets to allow for full recovery

  • - Progressive overload – keep on adding weight to the bar, week by week

  • - Compound exercises – focus on movements, and not muscles

This last point is crucial for your success; biceps curls, triceps kickbacks, and calf raises won’t make you strong. Instead, you need to focus on exercises that involve multiple joints and muscle groups. This will allow you to lift the greatest amount of weight in the safest possible way, and will train your body the way it works in nature – as a single cohesive unit, rather than lots of muscles working independently.

There are a huge number of compound exercises to choose from, think hundreds and not dozens, but some are better than others for developing strength. Here are five of the best lifts for getting strong.

1. Deadlifts


A post shared by EHPlabs (@ehplabs) onNov 19, 2017 at 2:13pm PST

When it comes to building strength, the deadlift is hard to beat. In fact, if you could only ever do one exercise, this is the one to choose. Deadlifts work almost every muscle in your body, especially your legs, hips, lower back, and upper back. Your arms also get a good workout, and if you deadlift without straps, you’ll develop a vice-like, unbreakable grip too. If you want to get strong, the deadlift MUST be part of your workout routine.

Good deadlift variations include:

  • - Barbell deadlift

  • - Sumo deadlift

  • - Trap-bar deadlift

  • - Deficit deadlift

  • - Rack pulls

  • - Paused deadlifts

  • - Romanian deadlifts

2. Squats


A post shared by EHPlabs (@ehplabs) onNov 17, 2017 at 2:19pm PST

If you want strong legs, you need to squat. Deadlifts might recruit more muscles, but the squat is the best way to overload and develop your lower body. The squat is also a fundamental movement pattern that most of us perform many times a day – sitting and standing being prime examples. It’s also a crucial part of many athletic movements, such as jumping and landing. In short, no matter what your training goal is, squats will get you there faster.

Good squat variations include:

  • - Barbell back squats

  • - Front squats

  • - Overhead squats

  • - Box squats

  • - Goblet squats

  • - Paused squats

3. Overhead presses


A post shared by EHPlabs (@ehplabs) onOct 30, 2017 at 9:43pm PDT

Pressing weights overhead used to be a classic test of upper body strength. With the advent of the bench press, this movement fell out of fashion, but it’s still one of the best ways to get stronger. Overhead pressing, especially in the standing position, will develop full-body strength. You’ll also learn the importance of full-body tension which will help you improve all your other lifts too. After all, when you press a weight overhead while standing, your body becomes the bench.

Good overhead press variations include:

  • - Barbell overhead press

  • - Dumbbell overhead press

  • - Push press

  • - Log press

  • - Bradford press

  • - Handstand push-up

4. Chin-ups/pull-ups


A post shared by EHPlabs (@ehplabs) onNov 14, 2017 at 2:37pm PST

If you want a stronger back and biceps, you need to do chin-ups and pull-ups. Rows are good too but, for many lifters, lower back strength is the limiting factor. With chin-ups and pull-ups, you’ll be pulling vertically instead of horizontally so this is no longer a problem. For the record, chin-ups are performed with an underhand grip, while pull-ups are done with an overhand grip. Despite these differences, chin-ups and pull-ups are interchangeable.

Good chin-up and pull-up options include:

  • - Bodyweight only – up to 6-8 reps

  • - Weighted – for when you can do several sets of 6-8 reps

  • - Band assisted – if you can’t do bodyweight chin-ups or pull-ups yet

  • - Negative only – with or without extra weight

  • - Parallel grip

5. Bench presses


A post shared by EHPlabs (@ehplabs) onNov 9, 2017 at 2:30pm PST

If you want to develop serious pushing strength, the bench press will help. Because you get to press from a very stable position, you should find you can lift more weight than with the overhead press. The main disadvantage of the bench press is that it tends to isolate your upper body from your lower body. If you are training for sport, the overhead press is arguably more “functional”, but the bench press has the potential to be the better strength builder. Of course, there is no need to choose one or the other; just do both!

Good bench press options include:

  • - Barbell bench press

  • - Dumbbell bench press

  • - Incline, flat, or decline barbell or dumbbell bench press

  • - Reverse grip bench press

  • - Paused bench press

  • - Board press

  • - Floor press

If you adhere to the rules of effective strength training, build your workouts around these exercises, and eat and rest to support your training, you will get stronger. Your progress might be slow, but strength, like Rome, was not built in a day! Keep adding pounds to the bar, and you WILL get stronger.

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