Work Harder, Not Heavier

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Strength is something you learn by example.

I was incredibly fortunate to have Dr. Mike Stone as a mentor during my college years. He’s one of the world’s leading experts in human performance, but more than that, he was always wide open and giving.

What better quality could you hope fore in a role model?

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One visit with him stands out in my memory. We were in his living room, eating large bowls of Scottish beef stew and watching old Iron Mind training hall tapes. The good Doctor would often comment on the lifter, their training style, maybe some noteworthy quirk in their technique. I would just sit back and soak up everything that was said. It was the best kind of school.

The biggest lesson came from one of the smallest, but most accomplished weightlifters of all time, Naim Suleymanoglu. Pocket Hercules was built for the sport, no doubt. He also had free access to every luxury and performance aid the Turkish government could afford. But still, that doesn’t explain why he was so great. Those kind of resources were never all that uncommon.

“No one trained harder than Naim.” Dr. Stone told me. “His coaches would drag him to his bedroom and toss him in the rack at the end of a hard day’s training. He would sleep as long as necessary, then do it all over again the next day. That’s what it takes,” he said with great effect.

“If you want to be strong, you have to work very, very hard.”

Naim in action.

For most of my lifting career I assumed that harder meant heavier. It is true, after all. The strongest athletes are typically those that have completed the most quality repetitions, with the most total weight.

Strength is a skill, something learned with effort and time. Practice and the accumulation of work hours play a huge role. The only question is how you go about doing it, right? What’s the quickest path? That’s what we’re all looking for.

My strategy when I was much younger, and pain free, was to find ways of sneaking more weight onto the barbell. I did heavy partial lifts from boxes, boards and pins. Basic overload stuff. I really liked supra-maximal squats and pulls with heavy elastic bands, anything to drive up the intensity up to an extreme peak.

One of the final heavy squats from my last real training cycles. Prep for Nationals. #barbellshrugged #powerlifting

A video posted by Chris Moore (@barbellbuddha) on

  It was all very hard and very effective, but it wasn’t very sustainable. If you go heavier and heavier for long enough you’ll plateau. Keep pushing without a real change and you will grind down, it’s only a matter of time. So how can you keep making progress? How can you keep getting stronger?

I still think Dr. Stone is 100% right. You cannot get super strong without working very, very hard. But there are many ways to go harder in the gym that don’t require any more load. This is just the sort of approach you need to take if you’ve been going really heavy for a while and are stuck.

Back the weight down by 10-15%, whatever you want. Still apply an intense focus to each and every repetition. Move the barbell with better and better technique. More importantly, move it faster and faster, as fast as you can. That intent to move as hard, fast, and efficiently as possible will make you very strong and very explosive. When you’re ready to train heavier again you’ll be prepared to perform much, much better. Trust me.

Another option for making things harder is to just increase the difficulty of the movement you’re training. For example, I can get stronger in the squat by lifting more and more load, or I can just try squatting deeper and pausing for longer. Couple that with the speed work and you can easily increase strength without going all that heavy.

What’s more, the fatigue and wear is minimal. You’ll be stronger and feel much better.  That’s a lesson that only seems more and more important the closer I get to the Masters level.     

Long pause squat onto foam. A video posted by Chris Moore (@barbellbuddha) on


There are many ways to get stronger. I think you should take full advantage of all of them. That’s how you’ll get the best result. This article should give you some ideas to start with, I hope.

If you’ve got questions just leave them in the comments below. I’d be glad to help out anyway I can.

Train hard,



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35 Responses to “Work Harder, Not Heavier”

  1. David

    If I’m 160, and want to be 180+, what must I do? I train hard, I eat well, but ithe process seems sluggish. I’m i just being to eager, or irrational. Can you offer any advice?

    • Steven Vitale

      Hey David,
      I was between 160-180 till about 23, training every day and doing basic bodybuilding with the hope of striving for 200 one day. At 24 I picked up CrossFit, and did all that I could to understand and perform the movements, including oly, correctly. With time and a very good squat program, I weighed myself at 25, and am 198 pounds. Very surprised as well. It just shows, I believe, that it takes time and dedication. Not just overeating.


    • lisa

      Eat more food. Do it slowly to avoid getting fat. Add 100-150 calories every 2-3 days till you’re averaging up to 1000 calories a day more. Then hold at that and see how you do. although I wouldn’t typically recommend this cause I don’t do grains or dairy, eat some rice. Drink lots of milk. My husband is 6ft 165 – he’s really “long and lean” that’s what it takes for him to get to 180 or more. I saw someone mention to back off the conditioning. I wouldn’t. I would just eat more. A few years ago I got really excited about smashing weights and started conditioning less and less over a short period of time and it sucked. I felt like shit and it showed. It became a habit to skip conditioning workouts and they became a real drag. A real trap. Its taken a lot of effort to love cardio again, and I’m still not back to the old level of conditioning.

  2. Chris

    What do you mean by hard and well?

    You should be pushing the strength work, but back off your conditioning a bit. Put the focus on lifting heavy barbells.

    Eating well is great, but you must eat lots of the right things. In would eat mostly paleo, adding in healthy carbs (rice, potato) and some dairy slowly until the scale starts moving. If it comes slow, eat more. Try to add a few healthy shakes with fruit, coconut fat, protein powder, that sort of thing.

    Weigh yourself every morning at around the same time. Mark it down. If you track it you’ll be able to improve.

    • David

      Eating well: i eat paleo/zone, but I’ve added quinoa and hydrolized whey to the mix. I eat 21 blocks a day; 5 block breakfast, 5 block lunch, 3 block snack/shake, 5 block dinner, 3 block snack/shake.
      Training hard: Warm up, some type of fundamental lift(squat, clean, deadlift), met-con, skill work(glute ham raises, weighted hip extensions, etc.), cool down, stretch/mobility work.

      • Chris

        yeah, looks great. Just eat more. Also, if not already, try squatting 2-3 times a week. Stuff down calories. Watch what happens.

    • Aaron

      There’s no doubt that putting on some weight can increase your overall strength, but as a coach Id have to ask if you’ve maximized your strength at your current weight?
      I used to put a lot of emphasis on needing to pack on extra weight to avoid plateauing, when in reality I was nowhere near that point in my training.
      I’ve been right around 160 for about 2 years, and have been able to keep progressing simply by adding in new movements and increasing training volumes.

  3. Ken

    I’ve been lifting for about 8 months now. At the start I weighed 170 (6 ft tall) and am now up to 200. I’m currently doing 5×5 stronglifts 3X per week. My problem is lately I’m having a lot of aches and pains, feeling worn down and my muscles feel tight all the time. Is this a normal part of the process? I started this because at 36 years old I was feeling very weak. The gains were great at first, but now I’m feeling stuck. Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated!

    • Chris

      With time you have to spread the loading out. An easy tweak would be to only go hard on 5*5 once per week. The other two days could be for speed, form, maybe just much lighter sets of 5. Go heavier when it counts, and lighter on the other days. That should help you feel better. Sleep more too.

  4. tarek

    So how i can alternate between lifting heavy and lifting faster with more quality … how to program them together

    • Chris

      That’s basically what a conjugate approach is. For example, you could have two days a week to work on the squat. On monday you could go heavy, and later in the week you could do speed reps during a separate session. Works very well. Remember, all the reps are “hard.”

  5. Mike

    good read Chris. How do you guys think about balance and looking to improve strength when you travel a lot for work? I can get after it about 2 weeks a month and the other two I’m dead from travel. I make an effort to work out when I go places but like this week…international trip for 2 days just destroyed me. I couldn’t do much but nap here and there. Thoughts…tips…comments.


    P.s. Typo on your last line…guessing you meant train.

    • Chris

      I would train heavy and hard when I’m at home. On the road go lighter, go for speed and form more often, mobilize, all that. You’ll probably be better off. Don’t force hard training when your’e drained and feeling like shit. We’ve learned that much.

  6. Kip

    Chris, great post! Just wanted to drop a note and let you guys know how much you are appreciated. I’m 39 and have been dealing with low back pain for 15yrs. I found Barbell Shrugged about a year ago. For ten years I was doing the typical meathead workouts. After learning and practicing my techniques with the olympic lifts I learned from your Technique Wod on YouTube my back has never felt better. On top of that I enjoy working out more than ever now! I especially enjoy your insight and no bullshit comments on the show Chris. Like Mike, I’m laughing every time you speak as well due to your communication and delivery. Keep it real and down to earth. I’m a fan!

  7. Greg

    Awesome post Chris!

    Obviously the goal is to get stronger but at current moment I am only able to afford going to the box 2x a week plus open gym on Sundays. The 2x a week I do the Crossfit class and our gym does focus on strength and I am able to see overall progress over the past month.
    with that being said, what things can I do at home that will allow me to build a faster movement or even strength with no Barbell at all?

    Thanks for any insight!


    • Chris

      Sounds like the training is working. Progress is progress. Keep it up.

      At home I would spend a lot of time working on mobility and quality of life. Walk often. Keep joints loose. Roll out soft tissues and what not. Take care of your self and fix the shit that needs fixing. That’s huge.

      I would also use my bodyweight at least once a week. Do a bunch of pushups, handstand holds against the wall, squats and jumps of all kinds, go find a hill and sprint a bit, but keep it light. Add that stuff in slowly and see how you do.


  8. Eser Unlu


    this is a great article.. thanks for taking time and writing these articles. I have watched weightlifting competitions in my early years , but never got interested getting under the barbell before. Over a year ago I got introduced to barbellshrugged and I started adding barbell movements in my weekly workouts, watching you, Mike, and Doug’s technique WODs , digesting them and learn as much as I can.. You and the team are doing a great!! amount of good by sharing your experiences and allow beginners like myself to study and learn the foundation.

    Also, as someone who is turkish , I can not believe in this article you mentioned Naim “Pocket hercules” in your article. I grew up watching this tiny man, lifting amazing amount of weight and it definitely brought back memories. So Tesekkurler (thank you in turkish) :-)

    Best Regards,


  9. carlos

    Just to say that i love your show and all the improvements that you guys are doing. I m from Brasil But im livng in a small farm town in the midle of Argentina and you are some of the references that i have to stay tuned about what happens in the world. You help me to stay motivated and keep training…Thanks for everything and some day i hope to drope by in your gym…thanks one more time and keep the good work…

  10. Henry

    How long is it okay to go heavy consistently on a lift before reducing weight on the bar? Is moving heavy weight and maxing out more than one week in a row too much, or would it be more efficient to go a few weeks of lifting lower weight and only doing heavy weight for one week and repeating the cycle?

    • Chris

      You should “max out” rarely. Heavy is good, and heavier is great…as long as you’re making progress. Backing down is a strategy for getting “unstuck.”

  11. Dusty

    Chris, I admire your dedication responding to all the meat heads in these threads.

    You refer to speed work as a compliment to going deeper/pausing -is there specific technique, or other considerations, to speed work or is it simply trying to move moderate loads as quickly as possible? Can you refer any articles or resources on the subject? Also, would you recommend trying to move the bar as fast as possible every time and not limiting it to coupling with technique work (i.e. even when it’s heavy)?

    • Chris

      Look up compensatory acceleration AND Hatfield. That’s a very good start.

  12. Beware of medium - Barbell Shrugged

    […] To be heard you have to beat your drum loud and often. To make more money, find ways of solving more problems and helping more people, right? Sure, and the same thing is true of training and strength. If you want extraordinary results in the gym, you’re going to have to work extraordinarily hard. […]


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