How to Get Stronger

Strong is the new skinny.

In the yester years being strong was a matter of life and death, in the struggle for existence, you had to be strong to survive. They didn’t call it “survival of the fittest” for nothing. Now it’s not a matter of life and death, but it should be more important.

Get Stronger

Why do we get stronger?

We get stronger after a progressive overload. What does this mean? You have to force your muscles to grow stronger by working them harder, consistently. Once you’ve gained strength, it’s use it or lose it.

How do we create a progressive overload? Stress. Our bodies, when left to their own devices, remain in a state we call homeostasis. Homeostasis is where your body is most comfortable and everything appears to be functioning normally. Your body will always try to return to homeostasis, as this is where it's the most comfortable.

Heart rate is a good example of homeostasis as our heart beats constantly within a set range under ordinary conditions, but that rate can either go up or down depending on what type of activity we are doing. In spite of these fluctuations, as long as we’re healthy,  our heart rate will always return to its regular resting rate.

Stress is a key reason for your body to change, and having observed soldiers returning from World War One, Physiologist Walter Cannon used the popular phrase ‘fight or flight’ to describe the hormonal reactions in our body in response stress. In addition to life threatening situations, more mundane activities such as exercise also evoke a homeostatic response.

A Polish endocrinologist named Hans Seyle furthered these concepts when he discovered in his experiments that rats who were exposed to certain chemicals all suffered the same, which led to organ failure. He called it, the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) and it encompasses the state of an organism in relation to how it adapts to its environment. The systematic organ failure he saw in the rats was a failure to adapt to stress. He found that there were three clearly defined stages within this particular syndrome, the first being the ‘alarm reaction’, very similar to the ‘fight or flight’ response described by Walter Cannon. The second stage being an adaptive response- where the organism tries to adapt to the stress as a form of resistance. Finally if the stress is too large for the organism to handle, the exhaustion phase kicks in where cell death occurs.

How does this relate to building strength?

The way in which our muscles get bigger and stronger is a prime example of General Adaptation Syndrome. In order for your muscles to get bigger and stronger, you would have to apply overload. To overload means that the muscle experiences a load above and beyond what it previously adapted to in order to trigger the sequence of a new adaptation.

When you force your muscles into overload by lifting weights, a chain reaction of cellular events goes into full swing, leading to an increased production of contractile proteins. This process is called anabolism and also leads to the muscle increasing in size.

As the muscle gets bigger the mechanical stress from the adaptation is spread out over a larger surface area and consequently places a smaller stress on the muscle. Increased size equals increased strength. Physiologists suggest that the increase in contractile proteins is an expression of the muscles’ capacity to generate greater force. The strength of a muscle, therefore is often relative to its cross sectional area. Unfortunately though, this comes with a limit determined by our gender and hormones. Men have more testosterone than women and so will have bigger, stronger muscles. Women who don’t use anabolic steroids or hormones won’t gain male sized muscles as they simply don’t have the hormones it requires.

Strength training rep ranges

It is a truth universally acknowledged in the fitness industry that if you are looking to gain strength, you opt for lower reps. Typically a popular guideline is as follows:

Rep Range



Max Strength


Strength/ Speed/ Power


Functional Hypertrophy


Structural Hypertrophy

12 +


It’s important to remember that these zones are not clean cut. Add one extra rep and all of the sudden you won't begin to lose your strength. Rep ranges and the number of sets work on a continuum which is going to work out differently for everyone. Heavy sets of 3 reps will focus on building strength, but will also build some muscle, and endurance to a much lesser extent. While sets of 20 reps will focus on building endurance, they will also build some muscle, and strength to a much lesser extent. Each of the goals intertwine throughout the rep range continuum.

Strength Training Workout 5x5

5x5 is often tooted as the best programme for increasing strength, due to it’s simplicity. 5x5 consists of completing 5 sets of 5 reps for each exercise. Typically 5x5 works by implementing 5 compound movements, as compound exercises recruit more muscle fibres and therefore make it easier to gain strength.

Stronglifts have created a 5x5 workout which incorporates all the major compound lifts, 3 times per week. The main lifts are the Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, Overhead Press and Barbell Row. The stronglifts training regime only requires 3 training days per week, with a day's rest between each session.

You do three of these exercises each workout, three times a week, for about 45 minutes per workout, squatting every workout, three times a week.

WORKOUT OPTIONS: You will need to alternate between workout A and workout B. So for example, workout A would be performed on Monday and workout B on Wednesday, and then back to A on Friday.

Workout A
Workout B

Squat 5x5

Squat 5x5

Bench Press 5x5

Overhead Press 5x5

Barbell Rows 5x5

Deadlift 1x5

Pushups 3 x Failure

Pullups 3 x Failure

  • Add 5lbs. total weight to each workout until you can't get 5 reps on all 5 sets anymore.
  • If you happen to stall on an exercise and cannot perform 5 reps then take off 10% of the weight.
  • Continue adding 5lbs total weight each workout until you stall again.

Strong women

No, not any of this - should have put a ring on it- strong independant woman business, just strong. Period.

But for a woman, there are two particular stages of life where being strong can really make a difference and they fall at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Being strong during pregnancy

The way a woman trains during pregnancy is a hot topic and for most women, it will come down to personal preference, what they’re comfortable with. However there are benefits of keeping up strength training during pregnancy (modified of course).

Mental toughness. Being strong during pregnancy can help develop mental toughness which prepares for labour and motherhood. Mother of three and Coach Nicole Crawford explains “ During labor your body is going to do things you didn’t know it could do and feel stuff you didn’t know you could feel. Your body is going to tell you it’s not fragile and it’s going to push this baby out whether you like it or not. Keeping up with a strength training routine helped me build confidence in my body and its abilities. If you spend your whole pregnancy thinking there’s something wrong with your body, you’re going to freak out when you start having hard contractions, just like if you go into a workout thinking it’s too hard, you’re going to struggle to get through it during the toughest parts”.

Decreased Pain and Pregnancy Discomfort. Prior to your pregnancy having a strong core and lower back will help your body to cope as it goes through the changes required of pregnancy. Whilst strength training in the wrong way can increase pain, whether you're pregnant or not, during pregnancy weight training with correct technique can actually ease discomfort. Lifting weights with good form on a regular basis can help prevent both back pain and sciatica as well as help you to maintain good posture and carry your extra weight more functionally.

Maintain the stamina for labour. Labour can be an endurance event involving strength and stamina greater than any workout. Maintain a fitness regime can help you to fight through the labour, the fitter you are the better your body will uptake Oxygen. Julie Tupler author of Maternal Fitness says “If your abs are weak, you won't be able to push effectively."

Being strong for menopause

Menopause is probably the most important time in a woman's life for her to be physically strong. Training for strength during menopause is essential to ward off osteoporosis and brittle, fragile bones. Strong muscles reduce the possibility of injuries, improve body composition, provide a sense of confidence, and allow you to recover more quickly from physical activities. As women ages their muscle mass decreases anywhere from 3-5% for every year after 30. Weight training programs for women are effective in preserving muscle mass and preventing sarcopenia and the decline of metabolic rate according to the American Society of Sports Medicine.

Every decade as you lose muscle tissue, your metabolism also decreases by about 5 %. This slower metabolic rate contributes to middle-aged weight gain when you eat the same amount of calories but don’t burn the same amount of calories as your metabolisms slowed. Strength training can slow the metabolic decreases, muscle loss, and weight gain that normally occur in middle-aged women. Muscle is metabolically active tissue that requires energy (calories), everyday your body uses more than 35 calories to maintain each pound of muscle, while only 2 calories are needed to sustain a pound of fat, which is why training for strength can help to increase metabolism, as well as strength and bone density in older women.