Can you get stronger without getting bigger? In my experience, a lot of people think you have to spend hours in the weight room doing burnout sets to failure to get stronger. While this may work in a short period of time, you will plateau very quickly and, in my opinion, create a physique that is incapable of performing any type of athletic activity at a high level. This is something I see a lot of people screw up in the gym. I repeatedly hear young guys discuss how they have reached a plateau in their lifts and decide to try to just increase the number of sets/reps, the total volume, or just keep doing the same old thing, hoping that they will magically get more strong. This is a BIG mistake, especially if your goal is to have a lean physique of average size, but with extraordinary muscle density.

Reduce your sets and repetitions to increase strength and muscle tone. To get really strong you need to lift the heaviest weights you can handle with perfect form, with very few reps. I recommend 3-5 repetitions. 1-3 reps for pure strength, 5 reps for some muscle as well. A good rule of thumb is to leave the gym feeling stronger than when you entered. If you feel tired or sore, you did too much. I like to keep the total number of games below 14 total. Keep the rest between sets to about 1-2 minutes. I know it sounds crazy, but trust me, you will get past your current plateau and steadily build strength this way. This is an amazing way to gain strength without size for a skinny Special Forces body.

Why more is NOT always better Most people think that simply doing more work = better results, and I was definitely stuck in that category until a couple of years ago. Basically, increasing the total number of sets, or just trying to do more work will mean you’ll build strength, endurance, and muscle mass, but your pure strength gains will quickly plateau. Remember those muscular guys in high school and college with “inflatable lats” and ridiculous cropped shirts who seemed to subsist on a diet of protein shakes and chicken breasts (think like half the cast of “Jersey Shore” lol)? This is the look you will create with a high volume lift and it is simply not functional or attractive. If you combine this lifting method with a high carb, high calorie diet and you are just asking for a puffy, puffy look. Say no to cosmetic lifting and train to function. The thin and dense special ops corps will follow.

Train as a Recon Marine to get a Hollywood body This is a very popular method of lifting in military units that must be ready to go at a moment’s notice. They can’t afford to be tired or sore from a 2-hour weightlifting session, but they still need to be incredibly strong and conditioned. Recon Marines and Navy SEALS are 2 Special Forces units that are a great example of the type of body and level of conditioning this training produces. They are generally of average size, but with outstanding muscle tone and strength-to-weight ratio. I have been training like this for about 3 years now and have almost doubled my strength levels. I used to have trouble lifting 50lb dumbbells for a single arm row, and now I can easily lift a hundred with each arm at 160lb bodyweight. Whenever I start training guys for the military, the first thing we do is limit our time in the weight room as much as possible. After a few weeks, you’ll feel like a badass lifting heavier weights than half the people around you and then walk away while everyone else is still struggling to exhaust themselves.

All the best, Charles Malina