12 Rules For Gaining Strength

One Arm Pull-up

Strength Training

Want to learn the secrets to gaining true superhuman strength?

If your main goal is big show off muscles that can’t lift anywhere near what they should, then this isn’t the post for you.

Strength training is about allowing you to lift the heaviest you can, or perform advanced feats of bodyweight strength.

Obey these rules and you will see the best strength gains you’ve seen in your life!

1. Keep Your Reps Low

1-3 reps is the optimal number of reps for gaining strength.

The reason for this is our strongest energy source is APT-PC. This only lasts for about 10-15 seconds.

After that we use anaerobic energy sources, which aren’t as strong.

Therefore we should keep our reps in the ATP-PC energy zone.

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2. Lift Heavy

Or the bodyweight equivalent, which is to do the hardest progression you can manage.

The body needs to be put under a strain it isn’t used to so that it’s forced to adapt.

Therefore, doing 1-3 reps of an exercise that you can do comfortably will achieve very little.

Go for an exercise that will push you to your limits!

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3. Keep Your Sets High

In order to get stronger, we must teach our nervous system the movement.

The more familiar with the movement the nervous system is, the more muscle fibers it can activate.

For that reason, we must repeat the movement many times.

To do this with low reps, we must go for higher sets.

Aim for at 5 sets, go higher if possible without losing form.

If you have the time, then grease the groove and perform sets all day.

Practice, practice practice!

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4. Take Rest Periods of at Least Three Minutes

It takes ATP-PC about three minutes to fully replenish.

If you try training the same muscle before this time, the results will not be as good as the previous set.

Therefore, we should wait a minimum of three minutes before exercising the same muscles.

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5. Focus on Specific Movements

If your goal is to do a one arm pull-up then focus on specific progressions towards that goal.

Isolating the bicep for example, will get you stronger at flexing your bicep.

It won’t get you stronger at extending your shoulder at the same time as flexing your bicep.

Focus on easier movements that use all the required muscles for your goal at the same time.

Or in the case of weightlifting; if you want to improve your deadlift, then deadlift!

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6. Avoid Muscle Failure

Avoid Muscle Failure

Training to failure is where you do one too many reps of an exercise and can’t complete the last one.

This can be useful for building muscle mass, to completely exhaust the muscle so that it builds bigger.

However, if your goal is to get as strong as possible you should avoid this.

As we’re only performing 1-3 reps, then if you trained to failure, a high proportion would be partial movements.

This teaches your nervous system to do a partial movement of the exercise. Not the full range you’re after.

Furthermore, training to failure is very taxing on the nervous system. Thus requiring more time to recover.

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7. Apply Progressive Overload

The basic rule of any fitness program.

If you keep lifting the same weight, or doing the same progression what do you think the results will be?

Will you get stronger, or simply maintain what you’ve already got?

The answer is no, you won’t get stronger!

You could even go backwards, as the body is no longer requiring any positive adaptions.

Once you can do 3 reps of good form, then make the exercise more difficult.

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8. Avoid Using Momentum

Our muscles have what we call the stretch reflex.

Meaning that when a muscle is lengthened quickly, it will automatically flex to stop it lengthening further.

This is useful when you roll your ankle as it could stop a potential fall or broken bone.

It can also be used to tremendous effect with power training, by using the reflex to quickly fire yourself back from where you came.

This is why the second rep of a muscle-up is easier than the first or box jumps are easier if you take a small step first.

For strength training we should avoid using our stretch reflex or momentum.

This is because it will reduce the load the muscle has to lift, meaning we’re not as strong as we think we are.

To avoid this, simply stop for one second at the bottom of each exercise.

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9. Warm-up

Warming-up, love it or hate it, it is not something that we should skip.

It does more than just to get the body warmer.

It gets the nervous system ready for your big lift; by performing smaller lifts using the same muscles.

For example if your going for a one arm push-up, then perform some regular push-ups first.

Of if you’re going for your deadlift, then do some short bridges first.

This brings us nicely into the next rule.

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10. Visualise The Movement

Visualise before lifting

I have a routine that I perform before I attempt my one arm pull-up.

First I grab the bar with one arm.

Then I take a few deep breaths whilst psyching myself up and imagining performing the perfect one arm pull-up.

Finally I pull myself up.

Why do this?

Just by thinking about a movement, your nervous system will get ready for that movement.

This means your heart rate will increase.

The connections between muscle and brain that have been established through practice will get ready.

Your adrenaline will increase.

All these things help your body prepare for the movement.

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11. Include Power Training in Your Plan


To get true strength we should have some power training in there too.

Power is made up of your strength combined with the speed that you can move.

It is activated by our type 2B muscle fibers, whereas strength training uses type 2A.

These are both types of fast twitch fibers.

The more you train fast twitch fibers, the better your body becomes at using them.

To get a truly strong body, we should use both 2A and 2B.

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12. Switch Progressions to Avoid Plateaus

If you perform the same exercises again and again, then your body may stop adapting and plateau.

This can happen even if you’re attempting to lift heavier each time.

There a few ways to get around this, and I will write about them in the future.

The main one that I use is to switch progressions.

For example, when I plateaued with my band assisted one arm pull-ups, I switched to one arm flex hangs.

This gave my body a new adaption and I improved with this quickly.

For weight-lifting, you may try an incline bench press if you plateau on the standard bench.

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MP Calisthenics Team

If you found this post informative and would like to build the calisthenics strength you’ve always dreamed of, then check out our Locations page to see if we have a coach near you.

By |2018-10-07T14:02:32+00:00June 10th, 2015|Guide, Strength Training|9 Comments

About the Author:

Dave Mace is the founder and head coach of Maximum Potential Calisthenics. He takes great pleasure in motivating and inspiring others to succeed with their own bodyweight training. Success for him is measured in helping others (and himself) to achieve their maximum potential and perform feats of strength that you once thought were impossible! Read more


  1. Matthew Imholte July 15, 2015 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    Wow, another great and useful information Dave. I am currently NASM certified Elite Calisthenics Specialist and am about 3 months away from taking my exam to be a NASM certified personal trainer. There was key information that I was looking for, you explained that really well, thank you.

    • Dave Mace July 15, 2015 at 3:53 pm - Reply

      Glad it was of use mate 🙂 Sounds like I’m in similar situation to you, I’m PCC certified and about 2 months away from completing my PT course. Best of luck with it mate.

      • Sylvain March 1, 2017 at 9:51 pm - Reply

        Yes. Five sets of five reps.

        • Dave Mace March 23, 2017 at 8:44 am - Reply

          5×5 is good for strength, I like using 8 sets of 3 to maximise strength though, as you can get similar amount of total reps but with more rest. It’s important to mix up your reps and sets though, I’m currently using 5×5 and 3 sets of 12.

  2. […] If you want to know more about the impact of nervous system on your strength, here is a good read by my dear friend David Mace : 12 Rules For Gaining Strength. […]

  3. Sylvain February 14, 2017 at 1:41 am - Reply

    Pavel Tsatsouline advices sets of five (instead of 3). otherwise, anything there is ok with Pavel’s training.

    • Dave Mace March 1, 2017 at 12:24 pm - Reply

      I have also suggested 5 sets in this article, do you mean reps?

  4. Cris Mar January 8, 2018 at 11:48 pm - Reply

    hi dave thanks for this tutorial i just want to ask, if i will do 6 kinds or types of push up shall i finished each exercise in 5 sets before doing another type or can i make the 6 exercise first for 1 set and repeat all for anther sets, thank you again

    • Dave Mace February 6, 2018 at 10:52 am - Reply

      Hi Cris, for maximum strength gains I’d limit the types of push-up to just one or two max. That way you will be stronger for that one exercise. For example, one day I work on my one arm push-up progressions, another I work on my handstand push-up progressions, but rarely on the same day. However if you’re going to do this, I’d advice doing 1 set of each before moving onto the next set, then at least the different varieties will give some muscle a small amount of rest.

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