How to Get Stronger – Hulk Training

By on November 20, 2019

On this site I talk a lot about training alternative attributes and skills, using a variety of strange methods. How about training balance by improving your neck? Or building work capacity by training like a free diver?

For many though, the foundation of performance is STRENGTH. Strength training is what first comes to mind for many people when discussing fitness and working out.

So let’s focus on that for a bit. How do you go about developing pure unadulterated force production? How do you train for Incredible Hulk-like strength?

Smart hulk training

The Basics

Most people that frequent the Bioneer will know the basics of training for strength, but let’s just recap here quickly for those unfamiliar.

First: when training for strength, you need to use heavier weights, which in turn will necessitate shorter rep ranges. Instead of lifting 70% of your 1RM for 8-12 reps then, you might be training using over 90% of your 1RM for 1-2 reps.

How to get stronger

This is simple SAID: Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. That means the body gets better at doing things it does regularly. And if you want to get stronger, you need to lift heavier stuff. Of course, the heavier you go, the more quickly you will fatigue and the more you’re going to tax your nervous system. Hence a need to reduce the rep range.

Using Prilepin’s chart, we can see that for above 90% 1RM, the optimal number of total reps is somewhere between 4-10 reps. Thus the aim should be to perform somewhere between 3-5 sets with that weight, leaving plenty of time between each set to rest.

55-65 3-6 REPS 24 REPS 18-30 REPS
70-80 3-6 REPS 18 REPS 12-24 REPS
80-90 2-4 REPS 15 REPS 10-20 REPS
90+ 1-2 REPS 4 REPS 10 REPS

This being very hard on the nervous system, it’s recommended you train each body part this way no more than once or twice a week.

You can also gain strength training at 75-80% however, and this will be less fatiguing and make fewer inroads to your recovery. Now you can approach 2-4 reps per set, and complete a much higher number of sets aiming for around 10-20 reps total. For beginners, this may be better advice. Some lifters even advocate training with slightly lighter loads for competitive lifting.

Intermittent Fasting Testosterone

The other basic principle is that you should be training using compound movements. Compound movements are those that use multiple muscle groups in a coordinated effort to provide a single explosion of strength. The most popular examples are the “big three:” squat, deadlift, and bench press.

The reason for this, is that training with movements that use the most muscles in conjunction will provide us with the biggest potential for maximum strength. Thus we can train with heavier weights and see bigger jumps in our maximum potential.

From there, the aim is to continuously increase the amount of weight as your strength gets greater. This is called progressive overload, and it’s probably the most important pillar of strength training.

Training with movements that use the most muscles in conjunction will provide us with the biggest potential for maximum strength.

Training programs like StrongLifts 5×5 are built around these principles and are a good option for beginners looking to get strong fast. In that example, you’ll be performing full body routines three times a week for 5×5 reps and sets, and with a few additional pulling and pushing movements thrown in for good measure such as the overhead press and barbell row.

In my SuperFunctional training program, I incorporate big lifts at 90% aiming for four repetitions, which is just enough to recruit lots of muscle fiber for explosive movements while still allowing slightly higher rep ranges. However, these are used sparingly alongside other forms of training such as pump work, plyometrics, etc.

Different Types of Strength and How to Train Them

Many people will leave it there when it comes to developing maximum strength, but if we really want to Hulk out, then we’re going to need to get a little more technical and adventurous.

Firstly, let’s take a moment to define strength.

After all, there are actually numerous categories and dichotomies of strength.

For instance, there is absolute strength and there is relative strength. Relative strength refers to your strength relative to your size, whereas absolute strength refers to your total power output. Both these things are important, seeing as your strength-to-weight ratio is what defines your athletic ability, whereas absolute strength determines how much weight you can shift. Someone extremely heavy will be stronger in a number of lifts purely because they can put their weight behind the movement! They’ll be more likely to be able to push a car, and they’ll win wrestling matches. But with relative strength, we can jump higher, run faster, and generally become more athletic.

Relative strength

The most I have bench pressed is 150kg, at a weight of 170lbs. That puts me in the Advanced class, just below Elite. But if I benched the same amount weighing 290lbs, then I’d be considered a novice!

Another way to categorize types of strength is as:

  • Max strength
  • Starting strength
  • Strength endurance

Most people looking to get stronger focus purely on max strength. This is the peak amount of strength that you can generate at any given point in a movement. This is also called “limit strength.” Which is incredibly cool.

But this might be slow and lumbering. Conversely, starting strength, or strength speed, is the force you can generate explosively at the beginning of a movement. This is closely related to something called Rate Of Force Development, which is kind of like the acceleration curve for your power output.

Hulk absolute strength

Finally, you have strength endurance, which is your ability to maintain max strength over a long duration of time. Imagine that you’re the incredible Hulk and you’ve just caught the ceiling of a building that is collapsing over your head. Your job is not to hold up that ceiling as much as possible. This is something that is very often overlooked, but it’s actually one of the more important aspects of strength. What good is it to be extremely strong but only in very short bursts?

Dynamic Effort Method

To train starting strength, we need to focus on that rate of force development. Some lifters will do this by using something called The Dynamic Effort Method, from the Westside Barbell System (which also replicates the use of one-rep sets). Dynamic effort involves using the precise same movement as you will for a specific lift, but with lighter weight and a fast, explosive movement. This is called “compensatory acceleration” and the aim is to exert 100% of your max force, even where the weight is sub-100% of your maximum. So if you normally bench 150kg and you’re pressing 100kg, then you should be bench pressing an addition 50kg of force, which will result in a faster and more explosive movement. The ideal target should be 50-70% of your one rep maximum. (according to the book Supertraining) The objective is to improve the neural drive, meaning that you will recruit more muscle fiber more quickly to really explode out of the movement. This explosive, almost plyometric approach might also encourage the conversion of more Type 2 twitch muscle fibers.

Plyometrics starting strength

Performing this kind of training in the squat rack is what will enable you to carry over more of that increased strength to real-world performance such as jump height. Otherwise, your max strength can continue to go up while your vertical remains the same.

The Westside Barbell Method advocates performing 2 days of dynamic effort training, and 2 days of max effort training. I think this is something that anyone interested in training for strength could incorporate into their training at least one day per week, or perhaps as part of the same workout in a reverse pyramid type strategy.

Hulk training

Of course, another option is to incorporate plyometric exercises into your workout such as clapping push ups or explosive pull ups. Doing this will also train relative strength, while reducing the potential for injury. But it will only work if you’re still employing maximum effort. Jumping alone isn’t enough, you need to be exploding out of that push up.

Ballistic Isometrics

Another way to increase muscle fiber recruitment, firing rate, etc., is to train with ballistic isometrics. This means pushing against an immovable force – for example trying to lift a weight that you aren’t able to – but making a concerted effort against it. The ballistic form of this type of training involves trying to explode into the effort, even though you aren’t moving anywhere.

ballistic isometrics

Ballistic overcoming isometrics work best when you hold the effort for 6 seconds, and use three joint angles within the range of motion. That’s because only 30 degrees of each joint

Slow Eccentrics

Training strength endurance is not the same as training muscle endurance. That is to say, that you won’t simply be using lighter weights and high rep ranges – although this will improve your strength endurance too and the two are closely related.

Rather, training for strength endurance means increasing your volume – that means more total repetitions within a workout. It also means shortening your recovery time.

Hulk strength

Using slow eccentrics can also help with this, as can holding isometric poses. Both these methods involve resisting the lengthening of the muscle under load, which of course is a form of endurance. This is also useful seeing as our eccentric strength is greater than concentric.

Quasi Isometrics

Another tip for developing this kind of muscle control, is to use quasi isometrics. This is a form of isometric using a sub-maximal resistance, where you move through a range of motion incredibly slowly. For example, you might perform a bench press taking an entire minute to complete a single rep, with a very light weight.

This will help you to improve your technique, it will improve your strength endurance, and it will prevent you from accelerating through the movement where you are weakest. In other words, you can find sticking points in your squat, bench press, or pull up, and make sure that you have equal control and power at every joint angle.

Heavy Partials

As an additional tip for developing pure strength, I also recommend heavy partials. This means moving an extremely heavy weight, but only through a very small range of motion. One of the best-known examples of course is the rack pull, as championed often by Alpha Destiny. A similar option is to use accommodating resistance, which effectively means the weight gets heavier at precisely the points where you are strongest. This is achieved with the use of resistance bands, chains, etc.

Heavy partials rack pull

The reason this works well is that it gets your body used to lifting extremely heavy weights that are actually above your 1RM. Don’t underestimate the importance of this, from a stabilizing muscles point of view, from a grip point of view, and even from a psychological point of view! Being under a very heavy load is scary stuff when training solo, and using a rack allows you to get used to the feeling and the balance while in a safe environment.

There are those that theorize that heavy partials can help to override the inhibitory response elicited by the golgi tendon organ (GTO). This is a kind of safety override switch situated in the muscle. There’s no concrete evidence that anything like this is actually happening, but through a myriad of effects, heavy partials CAN help you to increase your max.

Functional Capacity and Max Strength

Finally, the other question we need to ask is: strength where?

What I mean by this, is that you can be extremely strong when it comes to a bench press, but have relatively weak jaw muscles. That’s a somewhat useless example, but it does demonstrate how “strong” is a very broad term. It’s why it is almost a nonsense to ask who is “stronger” when comparing two athletes.

Those people who train purely the “big lifts” and even their analogs will often miss out on training other crucial body parts, thus limiting their functional capacity.

This isn’t about being “functional,” but rather about lacking strength in a useful movement pattern.

For example, Jeff Cavalier is always talking about the importance of using exercises like face pulls to target the external rotation of the shoulders. Someone following a typical compound program might ignore this crucial aspect of their strength, which can lead to pain, imbalances, and a host of other issues.

Moreover, it means that they are weak in that motion! This isn’t about being “functional,” but rather about lacking strength in a useful movement pattern. I felt this first hand once when I was showing off with a friend in the gym by lifting significantly more than him on every move. But then we got to the reverse flyes which he insisted we do – and he wiped the floor with me embarrassingly.

Relative Strength

Strength is specific. If you don’t train a muscle group, then you are leaving strength gains on the table. Many strength athletes train only in a single plane of motion (sagittal)!

Likewise, many powerlifters will ignore cross body movements, direct grip training, single leg movements, single arm movements, twisting movements etc. That last point is important for fighters: you won’t be able to put the strength in your arms to full use when throwing punches or grappling unless you can also generate torque in your hips, through your legs.

This is a perfectly legitimate way to train if you’re a competitive lifter. But if you want pure, unmitigated strength like the Incredible Hulk – if you want to tear things in half and lift people up by the head – then you need to be strong at every speed, and at every angle. That means incorporating the strategies discussed here to improve strength endurance and starting strength, but it also means adding accessory movements to train smaller muscle groups and angles that might otherwise get missed.

hulk strength training

I also strongly recommend checking out old-time strong man training and lifts. These focus heavily on grip strength, on off-set and single arm movements, and on awkward angles. If you have impressive big lifts but you can also climb a rope, perform a bent press, and feel confident doing an anyhow lift, then you will be truly strong like the Hulk.

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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