Who’s Tired of Being Weak?
The challenge faced by many with regard to beginning a workout program involves the daunting process of deciding what to do.
Simplicity is the key. A clean, uncluttered program will not intimidate a beginner, can be squeezed into the schedule of a busy person, and if carefully selected, can be shockingly effective.
Where to begin, then? Strength is an often overlooked aspect of physical health. Often, all the focus is placed on “cardio” based on the belief that calorie consumption is the ultimate key to weight loss and the panacea for flabbiness.
While it is true that such moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise (jogging, Zumba, etc.) is valuable, there are at least two reasons why it should not be viewed as the holy grail of fitness.
- You can do it as part of your daily life. Instead of walking on the treadmill for 30 minutes after work, just jog the stairs instead of taking the elevator at work. Rather than driving your car to a gym to pedal a bike that goes nowhere, leave your car in the driveway and pedal your bike somewhere other than the gym. (Doing these things will also save you both money and time.)
- For most 21st century humans, daily life does not involve the exertion of high levels of relative strength. True, some professions, like carpentry and farming, necessitate strength, but by as evidenced by the fact that one can perform such work for an entire day with minimal rest, it entails moderate strength exhibited over a long period of time, thus, strength-endurance.
Strength-endurance, like cardiovascular activity, is a valuable aspect of overall well-being. The intent of the simple strength workout to be outlined in this article, however, is maximum relative strength.
Here, then, I present to you a version of a program that I have used with excellent results over the last 10 years. It involves just 2 exercises: the deadlift and the overhead press.
Beginning position of the deadlift.
Deadlift finish position.
The deadlift involves standing over a barbell with your feet under the bar. Thrust your butt back as if trying to sit it in an imaginary chair behind you. This will cause you to ‘crease’ slightly at the waist. Maintain an arch in your lower back.
With your eyes fixed on the floor about 10′ in front of you, grab the bar with both hands, tighten your gluteal muscles and lift the barbell, not by pulling with your arms, but by pushing the floor with your feet as you straighten your hips.
Come to a fully standing position.
Set the weight down quickly, not by bending your upper body forward, but instead, by pushing your hips backward. Maintain the arch in your lower back at all times while the weight is in your hands.
The 1-armed overhead press is performed with a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell. With your elbow by your hip and the bell gripped in your hand and positioned near the front of your shoulder (the ‘clean’ position), tighten your core musculature, and without shrugging your shoulder upwards, press the bell to a fully extended overhead position.
Make sure that your forearm remains vertical throughout the press. To bring the weight down, tighten your lat (the armpit and back area), and instead of just letting gravity have its way, pull the bell down while maintaining a tensed core.
The clean position with a kettlebell.
While pressing the weight, do not shrug your shoulder upwards.
Weight pressed out overhead.
Done with substantial weight relative to your current strength level, these 2 lifts will provide a solid full body workout.
About nine years ago, I followed a strength program
involving just the deadlift and overhead press for more than a full year.
My bodyweight during this time stayed at about 165 pounds.
My maximum deadlift progressed from 275 pounds to 400 pounds.
I built up to a 135 pound 1-armed overhead lift
in the bent press (a more technical version of the overhead press described in this article.) Neither of these numbers are at all impressive when you consider that the record in the deadlift is well over 1000 pounds
and that 19th century strongman Arthur Saxon
could reputedly put over 380 lbs overhead with one arm while wearing a leopard-skin onesie.
How to structure the lifts
Remember, simplicity is the key. Unless you are a very experienced strength athlete, there is no need for complicated rep and set schemes. Try starting with 2 sets of 5 repetitions of each lift. Obviously, be sure to press overhead with both left and right hands.
For your deadlifts, I would recommend starting with a weight that you could do 10-12 reps with, but only do 5. For example, if you can manage 10 reps while maintaining good form with 200 pounds, start with that weight doing 2 sets of 5 with about 2 minutes of rest between each set. Each workout, add 5 pounds to the bar. After 4-6 weeks, this incremental adding of weight will become unmanageable. No problem, just start the cycle over using 5 pounds more than your original starting weight.
For the press, start with the same relative weight, thus, what you could do 10 reps with if you really pushed. Keep it to 5 and make sure to work both sides of your body evenly. If using a plate loaded barbell or dumbbell, add 2-5 pounds of weight each week (not each workout as with the deadlift). If you are using a non-adjustable weight, just keep trying to add 1 repetition to the first set of each workout.
Strength training differs from bodybuilding in that the idea is not to exhaust yourself with each set. How should you feel after a strength session? Note the words of old-time strongman Earle Liederman:
“If after your exercise, your bath and your rub-down, you feel fit to battle for a kingdom, then your schedule is right. If, on the contrary, your exercise so exhausts you that it is hours before you again feel brisk, then the work is too heavy, and you must either take a rest, or else reduce the severity and amount of the exercise.”
This is solid advice, even if you have no plans to battle for a kingdom!
I frequently come back to a version of this template in my own training because of how easy and yet effective it is. Below are my training logs for the last three workouts. Notice that I am doing this once a week with higher volume and heavier weights as a part of other training.
DL is barbell deadlift, KB mil press is kettlebell military press.
Weight x reps, set 1, set 2 etc.
Stick with this program for 6 months, being persistent, working hard, but not over-exerting yourself into injury, and you will see dramatic improvement in your strength and appearance. (As long as you are diligent about not putting junk in your mouth.) Because it is not terribly taxing, you can keep up with other fitness related activities like running, biking or whatever is you do.
Congratulations on getting strong!