Can You Guarantee More Muscle and Strength?

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Can You Guarantee More Muscle and Strength?


If you can never seem to get anywhere with your training, don’t worry.

I’m about to reveal to you the most effective methods to see progress. We’re talking about bigger gains in both muscle and strength!

And you know what’s funny – these keys have absolutely nothing to do with training or nutrition!

I love reading self-improvement books because I’m always trying to make myself better.

Recently, I read Essentialism, by Greg McKeown. In a nutshell, the book discusses the advantage of being an “essentialist” – someone who chooses to focus only on things that are absolutely necessary to reaching major goals.

While the entire book is pure gold, in my opinion, one chapter in particular stood out to me.

In a chapter titled “Progress,” McKeown discusses a study that reveals the two main internal motivators for people:

  1. Achievement
  2. Recognition for achievement

McKeown elaborates that the “essentialist” always starts small and gets big results and also celebrates small acts of progress.

The “nonessentialist” begins with a big goal and gets small results while also going for the flashiest wins.

The concept makes complete sense. If you want to succeed, you’ve got to have lots of small wins along the way.

By creating small wins for yourself every day, you’re going to be happier and more productive.

A prime example of a way in which I took a “nonessentialist” approach was with my bench press. Back in college, I would try for a one-rep max all the time.

Instead of building up the weight each week, I would just randomly decide that day I was going to go for it all. More often than not, I would miss the attempt and feel terrible about myself the rest of the workout because I couldn’t improve.

Had I simply started at a lower weight and added five pounds to the bar every week, I would have had a much better chance of reaching my goal weight because I would have been working on improving my technique.

This is one of the reasons a 5×5 program works so well for beginners or for those who have reached a plateau in their training.

Pick a few compound exercises like the back squat, bench press, deadlift and military press. Then, start at a light weight you know you can easily do. Leave your ego at the door.

Let’s say you have alternate between an “A” and a “B” program and train three days per week. Your program would probably look something like this:


Back Squat, 5 sets of 5 reps

Bench Press, 5 sets of 5 reps

Deadlift, 5 sets of 5 reps


Back Squat, 5 sets of 5 reps

Military Press, 5 sets of 5 reps

Bent-Over Row, 5 sets of 5 reps

You’ll have two warm-up sets and three working sets for each exercise. Your “working” sets will all be at the same weight. A sample back squat workout may look like this:

Set 1: 95 pounds

Set 2: 125 pounds

Set 3: 145 pounds

Set 4: 145 pounds

Set 5: 145 pounds

Pretty simple, right?

Then, your next workout would look something like this:

Set 1: 95 pounds

Set 2: 130 pounds

Set 3: 150 pounds

Set 4: 150 pounds

Set 5: 150 pounds

You just lifted 15 pounds more than you did your last workout during your “working sets.” That’s huge progress. If you continue adding five pounds to your squat workouts the next 10 times, your workout would look something like this:

Set 1: 115 pounds

Set 2: 165 pounds

Set 3: 200 pounds

Set 4: 200 pounds

Set 5: 200 pounds

If you’re following the 5×5 template above training three days per week, not only did you increase the weight on your working sets by 50 pounds, but you also increased the total weight lifted on your working sets by 150 pounds.

And all that happened in less than four weeks!

It’s amazing what can happen over a long period of time when you focus on small wins every day.

Now, obviously, you won’t be able to add weight forever, but you can still practice progressive overload.

Sometimes, your sets will look like this:

Set 1: 115 pounds

Set 2: 165 pounds

Set 3: 200 pounds (5 reps)

Set 4: 200 pounds (4 reps)

Set 5: 200 pounds (2 reps)

In this case, you got 11 of the 15 reps for which you were aiming on your three working sets. So next time, shoot for at least 12 of the 15 reps. Keep using this method until you complete all 15 reps. Then, add weight.

Once you’ve reached your goals, give yourself a “mini-reward.” Obviously, you can always have ice cream and pizza or something like that, but you can also buy yourself a new book you’ve been wanting to read or get a new lifting shirt.

The possibilities are endless!

These rules apply also to adjusting your nutrition.

Instead of completely overhauling your diet, add one habit at a time. If you set up an elaborate 4,000-calorie diet for yourself to put on size, you’re only setting yourself up for failure.

You’re going to follow it for maybe a few days and then fall off because it’s really hard to make that many changes at once. Instead, focus on adjusting one thing at a time.

First, focus on eating a solid breakfast every day. Once you’re able to eat a compliant breakfast at least 90 percent of the time over a long period of time, add another habit.

By making changes that are so easy you can’t fail, you’ll be much happier and see greater gains. If you try to do too much too soon, you’ll feel like a failure and end up right back where you started.


1. Focus on progressive overload. Pick lots of compound barbell exercises like squats, overhead presses and deadlifts, and add weight incrementally. You’ll be constantly succeeding.

2. Keep a training journal. You’ll be able to visibly see your small successes on a day-to-day basis. Also, you’ll know exactly what to lift each time and eliminate any guessing.

3. Instead of creating an elaborate nutrition program for yourself, add one habit at a time and don’t change anything else until you stick with that first habit for at least a couple of weeks.

4. Reward yourself for accomplishing your goals.

About Author


Luke’s vision is to help people around the world build muscle, burn fat, get stronger and become the best versions of themselves. He is a strength coach, powerlifter, and former full time journalist living with his wife in the Madison, WI area. Alongside a degree from The University of Wisconsin-Madison's school of journalism, Luke is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

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