Strength Training

Strength is the foundation of a long, healthy life.1

Muscles grow over time through consistent application of sufficient training stimulus. Training stimulus for strength is basically:

How do you translate a conceptual understanding of muscle development into a workout routine?

If you care about why and how strength training works you’ll need to do some more reading. Start with The Complete Strength Training Guide by Greg Nuckols. It weighs in at 54 pages and is a better, more concise resource than most books on the subject. Another commonly recommended introductory text is Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe. Social media content, even by “evidence-based” creators, varies widely in quality and efficacy but Jeff Nippard’s technique and training videos are a reliable source of good information. The Stronger by Science podcast is a fantastic resource but the episodes can be pretty long (brevity is not a core part of the Stronger by Science brand).

If you don’t want to start by reading a book, the fundamental concepts of training strength are:

There is no such thing as “accidental” muscle. You must work hard, and keep at it, to get stronger. If you stop, you will waste away.


It doesn’t make sense to invest enough time to gain the expertise required to develop your own training plans before you get started. Use a beginner-friendly training plan and learn what works for you as you progress.

Find Your Direction

There’s no “best” way to exercise because fitness goals vary from person to person and each body responds differently to training. You must discern why you are training and find the right resources and support to ensure your continued success. Along the way, you will need to try different things, take notes on your progress, and make adjustments over time.

If you’re an athlete, train for performance and injury prevention in your sport. If you’re not an athlete, consider training for the Centenarian Decathlon™ to have the strength, stability, and endurance for a long healthy life.

In broad strokes, you need to lift things that are heavy enough to tax your system without injuring yourself. The particular details are legion:

You don’t need answers for all these questions—they’re examples. As you progress, you will need enough knowledge to critically evaluate the questions that are important to you, the programs you select, and the advice you listen to. The extent of your education is up to you.

If you want enough in-depth knowledge to build training routines yourself, Practical Programming for Strength Training, browsing (now, with paywall!), or a good exercise physiology textbook can help. The MASS Research Review makes exercise science findings more accessible than reading and interpreting the journal articles themselves.6 Using social media for fitness advice is unwise. It’s too easy to lose focus on building a foundation of excellence by getting the basics right (which really aren’t that complicated) when there’s so much noise about little things that don’t matter much.

There’s an over abundance of information available strewn across the Internet and (sometimes) GenAI can help you sort it out. For example, I got what seemed like a perfectly good response from ChatGPT with this prompt:

What would a bench press workout look like using reverse pyramid sets for a 1RM of 185 and a three rep target for the first working set?

It calculated the set weights correctly and suggested a sensible progression but recommended a total volume that was too high. “Junk volume” is when additional sets and reps offer diminishing returns for strength gains. Avoid junk volume because it will impact your ability to recover and increase risk of injury without a clear training benefit.

Stay on the Path

You must train long enough to see a difference before you reevaluate your training plan and adjust as necessary—every 12 weeks is about right. Progress takes time; don’t fall prey to fuckatounditis and hop from program to program without a clear direction or record of your progress.7


Effective strength training requires enough resistance for progressive overload. This is usually accomplished by moving heavy things. Weight training equipment commonly includes:

Not having the “right” equipment does not prevent you from training. You can make gains with bodyweight movements, a handful of exercise bands, and jugs of water. Training at an elite level does require specialized equipment but you’re probably better off finding a specialized gym than buying it all yourself.

You can learn a lot about a gym from its equipment choices; if they only have weight machines and cardio equipment go somewhere else.

Buying fitness equipment is a slippery slope. Just because you have something in your home doesn’t mean you will use it.8 You can get a lot of mileage out of:

Everything else is a bonus.


Lifting and moving heavy things is perfectly safe if and only if you:

  1. Dr. Peter Attia has written many articles and recorded many podcasts about this. His book Outlive is an excellent high-level overview of how to stay healthy throughout your life. 

  2. This is a commonly held belief but we my be wrong about why we lose muscle as we age. Luc van Loon’s research has shown that muscle tissue responds to exercise stimulus irrespective of age. So the effects of sarcopenia are better explained by lack of exercise stimulus and periods of enforced inactivity, even brief ones, built up over many years. 

  3. In physics, work is product of force and displacement i.e. work is how far you moved something while applying a constant force. Force, in turn, is the product of mass and acceleration (acceleration being the integral of velocity—the rate of change in speed). So, we can manipulate our training output by adjusting the amount of weight we move (mass), how quickly or slowly we move it (acceleration), and how far we move it (displacement). 

  4. Years ago, I recall a comment by Arnold Schwarzenegger on Reddit (u/GovSchwarzenegger) where he suggested adding pull-ups. I can’t find the link now. 

  5. The biggest struggle I have with adhering to her programming is a little embarrassing. I use the Strong app to record my workouts and, because she favors supersets of specialized exercises, it’s a pain to add a bunch of custom exercises and properly configure routines in the app. I could use paper, a spreadsheet, or something else with less friction but, instead, my particular combination of stubbornness and laziness means that inaction wins out over time. 

  6. It takes many facets of expertise to properly understand, evaluate, and apply the findings of a study published in a journal. You need the domain context to evaluate the credibility of the journal. You need a working understanding of the body of literature in the domain. You need to understand and evaluate study design, statistical methods, and data quality. You need to understand if—or in what way—the population or animal model used in the study might apply to yourself. Finally, you must discern if the intervention showcased by the study is something you should adopt and apply it. Unless you’re a credentialed professional in the domain—exercise science, sports nutrition, etc.—you are unlikely to be able to do all this yourself. (How many hours are you willing to invest in building domain expertise above and beyond the time you need to do the training itself?) 

  7. If sticking to a program for 3 months is a big problem for you, spend time discerning your barriers to success and take proactive steps to resolve them. Acknowledge the reality of the limits to the time and attention you have available to train; you may have to change things about your life situation for to you be able to train the way you want. 

  8. I have fallen for this trap an untold number of times. It’s not just me; I have seen a spectacular quantity of aspirational fitness equipment in the background of Zoom calls with co-workers. 

  9. Kettlebells were traditionally measured in increments of 40 Russian pounds called a pood. One pood is equivalent to 16 kilograms—about 35 pounds.