Getting stronger doesn’t always mean lifting heavier weights

Sometimes we overlook the obvious.

To get stronger, lift weights. Now I didn’t come up with this pearl of wisdom, but it proves we fail to see what’s right in front of our faces. Being a married man, I often ask my wife where something is, even when it’s right in front of my eyes.

And I don’t feel like a moron anymore because I’m immune to it now.

Not being able to find things is a weakness but helping people get stronger now that’s in my wheelhouse. Now not everyone who lifts weights wants to lift heavy. They just want to look better, feel better, lose fat, see their muscles, or improve their preexisting health conditions.

But to do these things, getting stronger is the shortest path. To get stronger you need to lift weights but it’s the way that you lift them that makes all the difference when you don’t want to be a powerlifter, bodybuilder or a crossfitter.

Who wants to be a Crossfitter anyway. 🙂

Let Me State Another Obvious Thing

Lifting more weight and doing more reps with the same weight are obvious ways to get stronger. But what is presented here are other methods to become stronger when you can do neither of those or you don’t want to.

3 Ways to Get Stronger

When you’re not looking to yell, scream and grunt while picking heavy weight off the floor, there is another way to get stronger and this method is increasing time under tension.

Quite simply, time under tension is the total amount of time you have your muscles under tension while lifting. And there are four parts to every rep that makes this happen. They are

·        Eccentric part or lowering into lifting position. For example, lowering into a push-up or squat.

·        The second is the bottom position. For example, the bottom of a push-up when you’re close to the floor.

·         Third part of the rep is the concentric part of the movement. For example, when you push yourself up from the bottom of a push-up.  

·        And the fourth is the top position. For example, the top of a push-up

You can adjust each of these four parts to put your working muscle under more tension to help you get stronger, build muscle, and burn fat.

Here are 3 ways to do this.  


The three main triggers for muscle-building are mechanical tension (weight used), metabolic stress (feeling the burn), and muscle damage (muscle soreness but this is not something you should chase too often). Building more muscle helps with fat loss and looking great in the mirror.

Adding a pause to your lifts covers all these bases.  But fair warning, this is not for the faint of heart because they will have you feeling the burn. Which is another way of saying they suck, in a good way of course.

Pauses work best with compound lifts like squats, presses, and rows but can be used for isolation exercises (bicep curls, anyone?) to build up a lagging muscle group also.

Using a 3-5 second pause with a load that’s a little less than you usually use and lifting between 6-12 reps works well. However, please feel free to experiment if you’re feeling particularly sadistic energetic. Here are a couple of examples.

Adding Half a Rep

Adding a partial rep during most strength training exercises repetitions will increase your muscles time under tension, helping you ‘feel’ the exercise more and aid in your fat loss or muscle-building efforts.

However, this doesn’t tickle, so be ready to feel the burn. Sensing a theme here?

When doing a rep in a half, be conservative and lower your usual weight for the exercise by 5-10 pounds or more. Doing anywhere between 8-12 reps (a rep in a half equals one rep) will do the trick.

This works with compound exercise like squats, presses, and rows and isolation exercises like biceps curls, triceps extensions and shoulder raise.

You can thank me later.


Ever looked at a program in a magazine and seen this direction by the exercise – 2121? This is lifting tempo and the four numbers represent different point in the lift which was explained above.

Consider the tempo of 2121 for a push-up—it takes two seconds to lower your chest to the floor. Then a pause of 1 second at the bottom, followed by 2 seconds to lift it up, and 1 second to pause at the top.

You can manipulate the tempo according to your goals. For example, if you’re having trouble controlling the weight on the descent, lightening the weight, and using a 3-5 eccentric will help.

Using tempo forces you to slow things down and to focus on your form. Any hitches in the lift will be easier to spot when you’re going slow. Plus, you’ll have more time under tension, which is a key part in building strength and muscle.

For compound and isolation exercises, use a little less resistance (5-15 pounds) and doing between 8-12 reps (depending on load) is a good starting point.

A Programming Example

Now you might be thinking to yourself ‘Shane this is all fine and good but how do I use this wealth of information to get stronger and look great?’ Don’t worry, I’m not going to leave you hanging. Here is a four-week training program using the methods above.


These exercises below are supersets. You do 1A. then 1B. rest as needed and go back and repeat another 1-2 times. Then rest before you move on to the next 2 supersets. Rest a day between training alternating between training A and B either Monday-Wednesday-Friday or Tuesday-Thursday-Friday.

If you don’t have a warmup, check out this one here.

Training A

1A. One in a Half Goblet Squats 2-3 sets 8-12 reps

1B.  Pause Single Arm Rows 2-3 sets 10-15 reps

2A. Tempo Push-Ups (2121) 2-3 sets 8-15 reps

2B. Triceps extensions – Any variation 2-3 sets 12-20 reps

3A. Pause Split Squats 2-3 sets 10-12 reps each side

3B. Band Pull a parts 2-3 sets 12-20 reps

Training B

1A. Pause Goblet Squats 2-3 sets 8-12 reps

1B. One in a Half Rows 2-3 sets 12-15 reps

2A. Pause Push-Ups` 2-3 sets 8-15 reps

2B. Farmers Carry- Any variation 2-3 sets 40+ yards

3A. Tempo Splits Squats 2-3 sets 8-12 reps on each side

3B.  Biceps or triceps exercise – Any variation 2-3 sets 12-20 reps

Wrapping Up

When you’re not into slinging around heavy weights with the gym’s big boys and just want to look better naked using the methods above will help. Using lighter weights while keeping the muscle under tension longer you will get stronger and hopefully better looking.

Then flexing in front of the mirror will be fun.

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