August Surprise

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Why Stronger Is Better

Go to any local gym, make your way into the free weights room, and you’ll see the same thing. The majority of the men there are performing familiar exercises including the flat bench press, the EZ-bar biceps curl, and the cable triceps pushdown. If you count the number of times each of these movements is repeated before a rest is taken, the final tally will be 10, give or take a rep or two, more often than not. Finally, you may also notice that each of the exercisers in the room is concentrating on one or two areas of his body—doing exercises for his chest and shoulders, perhaps, or just his arms. (Those concentrating on their legs will surely be in the minority.)

All of these behaviors that you will observe in the gym—any gym—are classic features of the bodybuilding approach to resistance training, whose purpose is to maximize muscle growth. This approach is almost ubiquitous among men who lift weights in gyms. Yet there are, and have been throughout history, other types of resistance exercise that serve other purposes. The modern sport of Olympic weightlifting involves high-speed overhead barbell lifts that are based on the feats of strength performed by the Olympians of ancient Greece. Soldiers have performed calisthenics exercises—bodyweight resistance movements—to enhance functional strength and muscular endurance for centuries. And in my sport, powerlifting, the competitive lifts (bench press, deadlift, squat) are familiar enough, but the way we train them (very heavy loads and low reps) is not, nor are many of the supporting exercises we do in training.

Why does the bodybuilding approach so dominate recreational resistance training, even despite the fact that it is not the ideal approach for the recreational weightlifter? The answer is simple: because bodybuilders, beginning with Charles Atlas in the 1920s and peaking with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1970s and ‘80s, were the ones who made recreational weightlifting popular.

The problem with this type of training is that it’s inefficient and is really designed for men who are capable of achieving an absurd level of muscle size that most men cannot achieve and probably wouldn’t want even if they could attain it. Also, traditional bodybuilding methods are derivatives of programs from lifters who were big-time steroid users, so they seldom work for the average guy. Given a choice, most men would rather be the strongest man in town than the largest, but the bodybuilding mentality has been so dominant for so long that, until now, nobody has given guys the choice.

Not only is strength a better goal than size for most men, but training for maximum strength is a much better way than training for muscle size alone to get all of the results men seek from weightlifting. Training for maximum strength has several advantages over bodybuilding-style training. Specifically, maximum strength training is:

1) More time efficient
2) More useful in the real world
3) More motivating
4) A faster way to build muscle mass
5) Better for your health and longevity
6) A better way to build self-confidence

The Maximum Strength program is a 16-week training program that’s divided into four phases lasting four weeks apiece, each with its own training emphasis. The weekly training schedule entails two upper-body strength sessions and two lower-body strengthsessions . Optional cardio workouts are also provided to supplement the training program. The program culminates in a four-lift maximum strength test on the final day, which I call “Moving Day”, to emphasize the real-world benefits of achieving maximum strength. When you complete the program you will be amazed by the amount of weight you are able to bench press, squat, deadlift, and chin-up after just 16 weeks of focused training. In the book’s final chapter, I will show you how to transform the basic structure of the Maximum Strength program into an ongoing training approach that will enable you to keep getting stronger for some time to come.

Are you ready to find out just how strong you can be? Then I’m your magic genie, come to grant your wish. The only catch is that you have to bust your ass to get this wish. I just lead the way.

©2008, Eric CresseyMatt Fitzgerald.

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Eric Cressey, MS, CSCS, renowned strength coach and record-setting powerlifter, is a regular contributor to Testosterone Nation and Men’s Fitness. The owner of Cressey Performance, a training facility located just outside of Boston, he lives in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Matt Fitzgerald is the author/coauthor of seven books. He writes regularly for such national publications as Maxim, Men’s Fitness, Men’s Health, Outside, Runner’s World, Stuff, Triathlete, and Maximum Fitness, and for Web sites such as and Runner’s World Online. A triathlete, runner, and coach, he lives in San Diego.


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