How to Get Strong AF
We want to focus on what movements will transfer really, really well to other exercises. These are movements that a lot of athletes don’t want to do. Let’s dive right into the best exercises to get strong AF.
1. Front Squat
I went years where my front squat was pathetic. I caved in the bottom, my abs hurt, my upper back would hurt, and I hated squatting full range of motion. I made a bunch of pathetic excuses. Then one day I decided I’m going to front squat for two years straight every single day. My front squat blew up to over 450 lbs.
Guess what? Every other lift that I did exploded. Behind the neck jerks exploded. Bench press exploded. My deadlift went up over 100+ lbs and I didn’t deadlift at all. It all came back to front squatting.
One big thing we have to realize with a lot of these exercises, the front squat being one of the big ones, are movements people don’t want to do. That’s why they’re not strong. Hit the front squat two to three days a week. One day push six to seven sets of heavy doubles. Then the second day do four sets of four at a static weight around 60% as speed work, finding the groove. On the third day use it as an auto-regulatory day; if you’re feeling good, push a heavy single on this day. Pushing the heavy singles is when your strength will blow up.
If you can, get into the front squat position with your hands on the bar. If you can’t, do the classic bodybuilder pose. There is also always the zombie squat. The whole goal is to get as strong as possible.
2. Incline Bench
Remember, we have to pick movements that transfer to other exercises. That is a big thing about the incline bench. If I spent six to eight months just incline benching, getting my incline as heavy as possible. Say I’m doing 6x4 and then doing speed stuff. Or the next program I’m going really heavy, doing 10x2 and the next program I’m doing 4x8 and 2x12 for more volume, undulating back and forth between intensity and volume. Over time that will transfer really well to the bench press, to the dumbbell bench, and to having stronger shoulders.
The incline bench is a movement is a lot of people don’t like to do because the weight on the bar might be less than what happens on the flat bench. Which is straight up an ego issue.
I like to utilize a skinny bar to get the incline rolling with some speed work. Now, not such a little secret at Garage Strength, is that we love to use a fat bar anytime we are benching. We have a 2.5” bar and a 2” bar. All of our athletes bench using a fat bar. If you have access to a fat bar, use it a lot and use it frequently. It helps with high motor unit recruitment in the prime movers. It might be a little bit more challenging, but it sure does payoff with strength gains because putting out more force with the open palm helps focus on forearm strength as well as shoulder strength.
3. Single-Leg Squat
I hear anyone grumbling about not having a roller or pad. Put the back foot on a bench and use a towel as a target. Being in the single-leg position helps with stability. Let’s face it, a lot of meatheads don’t have good balance. However, the more balanced we are the stronger we will get with big loads.
A big key with single-leg squats is the movement helps athletes stay heavy, strengthen the entire posterior chain, and help blow up the deadlift. Another cool thing with single-leg squats is grabbing a plate and holding it overhead to help with speed and mobility. The movement can even be done in a front rack position to help the abs a ton. If none of that works, use dumbbells. Quick side note, when using dumbbells or the plate overhead, utilize higher reps during the sets.
We are going to go through four or five different variations of pull-ups. Again, people will cry about how they can’t do a pull-up. Shut up! If you want to have a healthy upper back, healthy shoulders, and get really strong you have to hit pull-ups.
I like using the neutral grip. You can also use an overhand grip or a chin-up grip. One variation that can be done from any gripping manner is a dead hang pull-up. A lot of us, me included, will kip and flail the lower body all over the place when doing a pull-up. A variation to eliminate that flailing is to do pull-ups with no movement from the lower limbs.
We also bend the legs back and have someone put a plate on the tabletop created by the calves. The same thing can be done by putting the plate on the shins. This one is hard. It crushes the abs. Both variations are extremely hard.
Finally, if we can think about the back squat, the king of the leg lifts, I believe that pull-ups are the king of the upper body. With that said, the final variation is holding the knees up with a plate sitting on the quads while performing pull-ups. This one crushes the abs.
Pull-ups can be done three to four times a week. Do it at least twice a week and change up the variation of the movement.
When we get down to it, all of these exercises are movements people don’t want to do. Big strong people often don’t do single-leg squats or pull-ups. But people who really want to get strong AF will use these four movements on a regular basis and harvest the gainz.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.