Workout Tips

2018 Starter's Guide - Goal #2: Training for Strength

Master the main lifts and start to move big weight with this plan.

2018 Starter's Guide - Goal #2: Training for Strength
Edgar Artiga / M+F Magazine

There are a couple of misconceptions about strength athletes-primarily, they have lackluster conditioning and a physique that resembles an Idaho potato. While a body like Schwarzenegger's and marathon-level conditioning are unrealistic among strength athletes, most of them have solid gas tanks and muscle on muscle on muscle. (Don't believe us? Google Stan Efferding and Chris Duffin.)

Strength training is about one thing: cutting the BS from your routine. While bodybuilders train all their muscles from multiple angles and obstacle course racers use many tools to adapt to a variety of challenges, strength athletes break their training down to three movements-a press, a squat, and a hip hinge (usually the deadlift). Forget concentration curls. And don't even think about one-sided sandbag walks. To be as strong as possible, you need to master those three movement patterns, and base all your accessory work around them.

Below, C.J. "Murph" Murphy-a certified sports nutritionist, the owner of Total Performance Sports in Malden, MA, and a former competitive strongman and powerlifter-outlines exactly how you need to train and eat to start moving big weight.

Training Guidelines

1. FOLLOW THE RULE OF 25: "Beginners should aim to get about 25 total reps for their main lifts," Murph says. "How do we get there? Well, you could perform three sets of eight reps-that's higher volume with less intensity. The next week, do five sets of five reps-that's moderate intensity. Then do eight sets of three reps, which is going to be low volume but really intense. If you really want to accumulate tonnage, then 12 sets of two reps is an option, too."

2. FORM FIRST-ALWAYS: "Technique is always more important than the weight on the bar," Murph says. "This doesn't mean use tiny, little featherweights. It means use the most amount of weight you can handle with perfect form for the set amount of reps." By doing so, you're letting your body reinforce the way it should be moving. Not convinced? Consider that Russian powerlifter Andrey Malanichev-who holds the raw world record (meaning no gear was used other than a belt and knee sleeves) in the squat with 1,069 pounds-rarely trains above 80% of his 1RM.

3. BE SELF-AWARE: "Record yourself while you perform your working sets, then compare it with a lifter whom you aspire to be like," Murph says. "Look for how deep they're going, how fast they move the bar, and what their form looks like. The video keeps you honest."

Diet Guidelines

1. DON'T EAT LIKE A JERK: To get as strong as hell, you need to optimize recovery, and the first step to doing that is making sure that you're taking in quality foods. "I can't stand these 'If It Fits Your Macros' people who post pictures of doughnuts," Murph says. "Base your nutrition on healthy, natural foods that come from the earth and have parents." Think grass-fed steaks, organic eggs, ground turkey, oats and whole-grain breads, and quality fats from organic butter and nut butters.

2. FOOD FIRST, SUPPLEMENTS LAST: "Don't waste your money and base your gains on supplements," Murph says. "Food is the primary concern. Supplements can help when everything else is in place. Take in tons of water (at least one gallon per day), then you can add in a quality whey protein, creatine, BCAAs [branched chain amino acids], and glutamine. I use only stuff backed by science."

3. TRACK YOUR CALORIES: "If you want to get strong, you have to eat enough calories," says Murph, who notes that protein is the most important macronutrient to consume, followed by carbohydrates and fats. As for how much you should eat, Murph says: "Look, if you're fat, you shouldn't be eating the same amount of food as someone who's lean." For big guys, start by eating on the low end of eight to 12 calories per pound of body weight. Weigh yourself weekly, and slowly adjust based on which way the scale is moving. Leaner guys should start with 13 to 16 calories per pound of body weight. "If you're starving by the end of Week 2, bump the calories up a bit," Murph says. "That's your metabolism talking to you."

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