Want to get stronger in the gym?
Do you want to be able to display great feats of relative strength? (Which is proportion of the amount of weight lifted compared to ones own body weight.)
The kind of strength where others are mesmerized by your abilities, and wonder how you have developed such an impressive level of warrior like strength with omission of meat, and animal products.
There seems to be a myth these days that those who follow a vegan diet are weak, and protein deficient.
Among fitness enthusiasts, the concern about losing strength in the gym, and having issues with protein intake is what commonly prevents people from following a vegan diet.
Although, protein intake is much debated among the fitness industry as to what is the optimal amount for muscle hypertrophy and strength..
The research is clear on this, that you only need have 0.82g per lb of body weight in protein among weight lifters and 0.54 to 0.63 per lb of body weight in protein among endurance athletes. (1)
Whether you’re a weight lifter or athlete, their are tons of great sources of plant based protein available to vegans and vegetarians, to meet their daily intake.
Protein deficiency is highly unlikely and losing strength from switching to a vegan diet wont occur if you’re training correctly, and your nutrition is dialed in properly.
A common mistake among individuals that switch to a vegan diet is they are consuming a lot less calories than they realize. Due to the high food volume of a lot of plant based food, it can trick you into thinking you have consumed a lot more food than you actually may have. Which may sometimes result in severely under eating.
Which why it is important to be aware of portion sizes, servings, and your total daily calories to ensure you’re eating enough to maintain your body weight, and help maintain your strength levels in the gym.
With absence of sufficient amount of of calories from wholesome foods, can result in strength loss, and strength plateaus in your workouts in the gym.
Let say you know the proper protein intake (0.82g per lb of bw) and are consuming enough calories from plant based food sources, so how do you get stronger than you currently are?
After your nutrition has been dialed in, you can make changes to your training to ensure you’re making progress in strength.
1. The Fundamentals
Choosing which exercises in the gym, to build on strength on is important.
Focus on the compound exercises in your workouts at the gym.
What are compound exercises?
They’re exercises that work multiple muscle groups. Examples of compound exercises : Bench press, military press, Barbell squat, deadlift etc
If your goal is to get stronger and build more lean muscle mass, then building strength on compound exercises should be your main priority. Primary in the (4-10 rep range)
Save the accessory exercises and movements at the end of your workout, after you have already performed your key compound exercises. (Accessory movements are exercises that isolate a single muscle group)
Compound exercises that are great for building strength include:
- Incline Bench press or Flat Bench Press
- Body weight dips (Build up to weighted dips)
- Barbell Rows or Weighted Chin ups
- Standing Military Press or Seated Shoulder Press
- Barbell Squat or Bulgarian Split Squat
- Conventional or Sumo Deadlift
Focus your efforts in the gym on compound exercises. Track your progress on them from each session.
On a side note, after incorporating the compound exercises above into your training regimen you will notice that you’re naturally stronger on certain compound exercise variations and struggle on others.
For example 2 different compound exercises may work the same muscle groups, but you seem to build strength effortlessly on one of them but struggle consistently in another.
A common scenario is with exercises such as the flat bench press and weighted dips. Where both exercises work same muscle groups, but one seems to result in faster progression than the other.
Weighted dips seem to be rather easier to progress and build strength on than the flat barbell press. I found this to be the case in myself and a lot of clients I have worked with.
This could be a whole another topic for an article in itself, but put simply..
Focus on compound exercises that you build strength on quite easily, then switch back to the exercises that you progress slowly on after building an impressive level of strength with the few movements you naturally excel in.
2. Switch to Reverse Pyramid Sets
Above we talked about the importance of compound exercises, but progressing on them is equally as important. There are many different ways to progress on the above exercises in regards to strength.
The progression model can changed after your first 6 months to 1 year of weight lifting to a slightly more advanced method to ensure you continue progressing.
Most people when they perform compound exercises in their workouts, they typically use straight sets and standard pyramid sets.
Where straight sets are typically using the same weight on all sets of a compound exercise and then increasing the weight after the desired number of repetitions have been reached on each given set. (basically increasing the weight, when the movement gets easy to do)
Standard pyramid sets are when you’re starting with a lighter weight and increasing the weight on each set depending on the number of sets performed.
Standard pyramid sets on flat bench press would like:
135 x 10 reps, 175 x 8 reps, 195 x 6 reps, 205 x 5 reps.
These progression models are great for individuals who are new to weightlifting.
As you’re training is more focused on building strength on the compound exercises above, and you’re no longer a beginner to weight lifting I recommend a slightly more advanced progression model that will help you get stronger at these movements more effectively.
The reverse pyramid progression model. Which is basically a fancy way of saying starting with your heaviest set first on a compound exercise and reducing weight by 10% on each working set. (This is not the same as drop sets as you are resting 3-4 minutes between each working set)
Of course, you warm up before you perform your heaviest set to avoid injury.
(Warming up for first heavy set : Perform 60% of your first heavy working set for 5, 75% of it for 3 reps, and 90% of it for 1 rep. rest 3-4 minutes and perform you heavy set on the exercises)
The reverse pyramid progression model allows you to perform your heaviest set of a compound exercise when you’re fresh and without fatigue. And Your subsequent sets after the heavy set should feel much more easy.
Reverse pyramid sets on flat bench press would like:
205 x 5 reps, 195 x 6 reps, 175 x 8 reps, 135 x 10 reps.
The issue with the other progression models is you’re performing your heaviest set last, which may hinder performance and hide your true strength potential on that exercise.
Which is why I recommend switching to the reverse pyramid sets on compound exercises if you’re past the beginner stage of weight lifting.
3. Avoid Over Training
If you’re focusing on compound exercises in your workouts and incorporating reverse pyramid sets on those exercises, don’t over do it on the training volume.
Training volume is the overall number of sets, reps, and exercises performed in a single workout session.
I recommend keeping the training volume moderate. Especially if you’re using reverse pyramid sets on your compound exercises. Since reverse pyramid sets are more taxing on your central nervous system than other other progression models.
What I mean by moderate is, 2-3 compound exercises and 2-3 accessory exercises per session, 3-4 times per week. As intensity goes up, training volume must come down to ensure you’re progressing in strength.
Allow yourself to have 1 day of rest per strength training session. Which is about 3-4 days of rest per week.
I recommend going to the gym and training every other day. For example if you strength train 3 days per week such as Monday, Wednesday and Friday, you will have Tuesday, Thursday and The weekend to rest.
This will enable proper neural recovery and allow your central nervous system to recharge before your next workout.
You will notice that you will come back to your next workout much more refreshed and fully recovered. Enabling you to beat your previous best in regards to weight or number of reps performed on your compound exercises, enabling you to get stronger.
Focusing my workouts on compound exercises, incorporating reverse pyramid sets, and emphasizing intensity over training volume has completely transformed my physique development in size and strength.
Which is why I made it my mission to help other indivuals who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet help reach their fitness goals.
If you would like to learn more about building muscle and strength on your plant based diet, you may like my Vegan Spartan Muscle Building Program.
It emphasizes my intensity over volume approach to workouts, and helps you get stronger on compound exercises. Teaching you the most effective strategies on how to dial in your nutrition and training to build a lean warrior like physique, without meat.