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Muscle Growth, Resistance Training

The Best Way to Build Strength in the Gym Fast

By Joe Talarico on Oct 29, 2021 10:15:00 AM
3 Minutes Reading Time


Not everyone’s goal in the gym is to look like a bodybuilder. Some people want to focus solely on strength. There is a difference between the two. Bodybuilding programs use more volume, and isolated exercises to make every muscle look bigger and fuller. A program centered around strength, focuses on the frequent use of the big compound movements to get your numbers and overall strength up. There is less use of the isolated movements unless it is to bring up a lagging area that’s holding you back in one of the main lifts.

Bodybuilding workouts are also going to spend more time focused on higher rep work whereas strengths workouts focus mainly on lower rep work.

Lay the Foundation

I wouldn’t just jump into low rep, high intensity work. This will only increase the risk of injury. We want to take this time to focus on ramping up a little volume so you can later handle the workload with a good foundation of stamina that you’ve built. This will be a more bodybuilding “looking” program in the sense of higher volume.  

Example -

Front Squat for 3x10-20 reps

Deadlift for 3x10-20

The Strength Program

Now that the work capacity is established, you’ll want to switch to a more moderate volume that allows you to focus on maximizing muscle size as opposed to more stamina and work capacity. This will continue your road to your eventual peaking phase for optimal strength and size.  

Example -

Zercher Squat - 4x8-10

Z Press - 4x8-10

Pendlay Row - 4x8-10

Peaking Phase

Now that you have spent the last 8 weeks or so building up stamina and strength, you will begin a peaking phase. This phase will involve lower reps and much higher intensity. This should by far, be the hardest of all the phases as it is the most taxing on your nervous system, as well as the heaviest weights you will ever use.

Example -

Deadlift - 5x2-4

Circus Press - 6x2-4

Pendlay Row - 6x2-4

Frequency and Exercise Selection

Shoot for 3 workouts a week and each phase should last about 4 weeks (12 weeks total). On your off days feel free to throw in cardio or conditioning days. If you find recovery is getting harder by the end of each 4 week phase, throw in one week of a deload phase where you cut weights, and set in half. This will give your body a chance to recover from all the volume built up over that time.

Again, make sure to be sticking to the compound exercises (squats, deadlift, overhead press, bench, rows). Only add smaller muscle groups like bicep, tricep, or shoulder work if you find those muscles are the weak link holding you back from hitting new records on the main lifts. You can keep those smaller muscles at higher volume (10-15) reps to get the extra volume without too much extra damage on your joints.

If you want more help figuring out the best strength program for you, or want all the above advice easily laid out for you, I recommend checking out our MAPS Anabolic or MAPS Strong programs.

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Joe Talarico

Joe is a certified Precision Nutrition and strength & conditioning coach. He assisted the UCLA Women’s Tennis team in winning their 2014 NCAA Championship Title, as well as study under the great strength coaches at Pepperdine University. He was a collegiate rower at the University of Rhode Island (where he got his Kinesiology degree) as well as an amateur physique competitor. He is currently the master trainer at Upgrade Labs in Santa Monica where he is combining his years of training clients in the gym with newer technology to optimize their performance and recovery. He also cohosts The RelationSH*T Show Podcast with his fiancée where they discuss all relationship topics unfiltered from who pays on dates, to open relationships.

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