In a world full of fitness fads and “experts” one can get lost on how to go about putting on mass. As a coach and instructor of various disciplines in the fitness world, I am often asked: “How do I get strong?” My true answer would have you read this article for far longer than you want, but my short answer is simple enough… Lift HEAVY THINGS. Correction-lift HEAVY THINGS often, and I’m not talking about bicep curls; I mean compound movements like a back squat, strict press, deadlift, clean, snatch, sprinting etc. There’s nothing wrong with a little isolation work, but you reap more benefits from compound movements. Here’s why.

Our bodies are intelligently designed and naturally built to adapt and overcome. Lift heavy weights, and your body will prepare you to lift heavier weights. We naturally produce hormones that do various things, the main hormones that contribute to a heavier squat just so happen to be triggered by squatting heavy. These hormones are known as testosterone, growth hormone (GH), and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1).

For simplicity’s sake let’s just say that testosterone is imperative to muscle building, along with growth hormone which is also a master fat burner, which works hand in hand with an insulin-like growth factor. Safe to say bodybuilders don’t inject themselves with synthetic forms of these hormones for no reason. Lucky for us the needle is not necessary (bar some health issue), all you need is hard work=CNS stimulation.

The central nervous system (CNS) is the complex of nerve tissues that control the activities of the body (dictionary definition). Forget the science; it is the major highway of us animals with a backbone, and when stimulated, it tells your body to do things that involve the hormones mentioned (excuse my attempt to save you from science again, explaining the CNS would need more pages). The difficult thing is that the CNS is not easily stimulated; it hates idle and loves the throttle. In other words, going for a jog around the neighborhood won’t do it. You need to run fast and lift heavy or you are wasting it’s time.

When you perform a compound lift your entire body is working. Instead of isolating muscles, they work together transferring power throughout the movement and incorporating multiple muscle groups to achieve the load. The CNS realizes “it’s about to go down” and wakes up, bringing our beloved hormones into action. So, you want to reap the benefits that bodybuilders and professional athletes pay good money for? Lift heavy and run fast. To take it further find a certified weightlifting coach (weightlifting as in Olympic weightlifting, not curling dumbbells) and learn to perform the snatch and clean and jerk, my 2 favorite movements. Of course, these take some time to master and can end in injury if not performed properly so don’t attempt them without coaching.

Always begin with a solid warm-up specific to your workout, you should be sweating before you even touch a barbell or hit the track. Lifting heavy means few reps, start easy and increase intensity as you go. Here’s a simple 4-day program example. Have fun and find your inner Hulk.

Day 1

  • Back Squat 5X5
  • Bench Press 5X5
  • Pullup 3xMax reps

Day 2

  • Overhead Squat 5X5
  • Deadlift 5X5
  • Strict Press 5X5

Day 3

  • Front Squat 5X5
  • Romanian Deadlift 5X5
  • Pendlay Row 5X5

Day 4

  • Sprint (start with 5×20 yards and increase to 10×40 yard dash over time)

Author – Matt Walker is a Texas Law Enforcement Officer of 10 years and serves as a SWAT Operator for his department. He is also the head defensive tactics instructor and holds various instructor certificates such as Krav Maga Force Division Instructor, FBI Defensive Tactics Instructor, Tactical Breaching Instructor and various others. Mr. Walker holds and undefeated Mixed Martial Arts record and is a practitioner of Muay Thai Kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Olympic weightlifting.