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How to actually get stronger

March 23, 2013

Ever wondered why you are keep going with roughly the same weights over and over again for every single workout?

It’s quite common that people does not keep track of the weights they actually lift during different exercises, nothing wrong with not doing this of course, but as quite a lot of people who goes to the gym actually wants to get stronger in some way.

Becoming stronger has several great  benefits to everyone, from improving your speed whilst running and therefore cutting your lap-times down to just increasing your posture towards something better.

So you should then train accordingly to your goals, and if your goal is to get stronger you will need to know what to do and why.

If we start with just looking into any random gym, there will always be a few or quite a lot of people who is performing super-sets, tri-sets or mega-sets by combining several isolation movements and doing these without rest in between. Sure, this will greatly improve your aerobic level of fitness, where you will use oxygen as the main fuel source to produce ATP – In other words, this will improve your Endurance.

But if you truly would like to increase your pure muscular strength you need to understand that working your muscles for a very long set in both repetitions/units of time as in seconds or minutes won’t help you. Neither will the running like a mad man towards the next exercise without any proper rest do any good for you.

Here is why:

Our muscles are made up of fibres, muscle fibres – These contract when you decide to lift that weight by the power of your brain and the function of the Central Nervous System.

These muscle fibres divided into two main groups:

  1. Type 1 – Slow Twitch/Slow Oxidative which are resistant to fatigue and are used during moderate intensity exercise such as jogging. These fibres use the oxygen as a fuel source to produce a compound called ATP which enables the muscle to contract, The Aerobic System.
  2. Type 2 – Fast twitch/Fast Glycolytic that then can be divided into IIa and IIb fibres. These are predominantly used during higher intensity movements like doing the bench press for 5 reps and as heavy as you can.

The type II muscle fibres uses two different energy systems and  these are called:

  • The Creatine Phosphate system

Will use stores of Creatine Phosphate from the working muscle to fuel the contraction, and will remain active up for about 10 seconds.

  • Lactate Acid System

This one will use the pre-existing stores of carbohydrates called glycogen in the muscle to keep supplying you with energy if you keep going for up to 2 minutes of exercise.


Now when the different energy systems very briefly been touched upon, what range of repetitions and sets would be ideal to use and how long should you rest for between the sets?

I would recommend first of all, skip the regular “Doing four sets of 10 repetitions BEFORE you attempt to do your heaviest set” – This is plain stupid to me really, you end up wasting too much glycogen during this “warm-up”…

Use Reverse Pyramid Training or the 5 repetitions x 3 sets approach if you would like to get stronger, doing 1-6 reps is the optimal range of repetitions for strength improvements – this reflects on how long the actual set will take to complete, do 20 reps and it will take you longer time, you cannot handle any heavy weights and you will predominantly use your aerobic energy system only improving your muscular endurance.

Let’s say that you make your decision on incorporating the Reverse Pyramid approach and your workout for the day consists of Deadlifts, chin-ups, Dumbbell rows, bicep curls and Rear-deltoid flyes – I would programme it like the following:

Note; only real working sets are included below, not any warm-up sets due to the length of this post.

Note; Rest between 3-4 minutes making sure you go all out in terms of weights you can handle with proper form, this will make you sweat and your heart race big time.

Note; After Chin-ups, you can decrease your rest down to 1½-2 minutes if you want to add some more intensity but don’t go lower.


Set 1: 3-4 repetitions
Set 2: 5-6 repetitions
Set 3: 6-8 repetitions


1: 4-6 repetitions
2: 6-8 repetitions
3: 8-12 repetitions

Dumbbell Rows

1: 8 repetitions
2: 8 repetitions
3: 8 repetitions

Bicep curls

1: 8 repetitions
2: 8 repetitions
3: 8 repetitions

Rear-deltoid flyes

1: 10 repetitions
2: 10 repetitions
3: 10 repetitions

As you may now see, I have used the Reverse Pyramid (Starting at the top which is more narrow than the base (the amount of reps) and then going down the base of the pyramid which is increasing in width) on the exercises which requires the most strength and energy. If you would use the Reverse Pyramid on all exercises this could potentially burn out your Central Nervous System quite quick (trust me, it will) so that is why I have put a set range of repetitions on the rest of the exercises.

And as you may notice I increased the repetitions even higher on the very last exercise, which will target your rear part of your shoulders, which most people usually tend to forget to train and it is after all a much smaller muscle which won’t need to be stressed with the same amount of weights or lower repetitions as those used during Deadlifts.

Remember, you will still need to use a weight that is heavy enough to cause appropriate stress on your muscles to make them adapt to this new stimulus – Getting stronger.

There is no point to incorporate this way of lifting if you still use the same weights as you would do during a set of 20 repetitions, this won’t do anything for you in terms of strength at all.



From → Training

  1. Really informative! Thank you!

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