This article is part of a multipart series. Part 2 is here.
The RMSR Strength Standards
- Back Squat: 2.0x bodyweight
- Front Squat: 1.75x bodyweight
- Press: 1.0x bodyweight
- Deadlift: 2.5x bodyweight
- Bench Press: 1.5x bodyweight
- Chin-Up: plus 0.5x bodyweight
The first phase of developing your physical power is to build basic strength. This is best done by targeting the bodies major muscle groups in compound movements and by focusing on linear progression. In combination with sufficient sleep and nutrition, the above strength standards should be obtainable in some number of months by most adult men. Because this can be achieved so quickly, it is ideal to focus on strength alone in the beginning rather than diffusing your efforts with metabolic conditioning exercises, secondary and tertiary exercises, body recomposition, or similar.
You must learn the proper movement patterns for each of the exercises, but the moment the exercise can be performed properly and safely, the most immediate need will be to add weight to each exercise every time you perform that exercise. This idea is known as linear progression. Whether you learn these exercises from a friend, a coach, or on your own, you will likely have movement inefficiencies in your performance of them. These should be corrected as rapidly as possible, as small inefficiencies early on may severely inhibit progress later and open the athlete to injury. There are ample resources freely available for learning these exercises, and everyone has slightly different anatomy, but the gold standard for these movements is Mark Rippetoe’s book Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training and the video segments that accompany it.
The back and front barbell squats are the foundational exercise here. A mix of back and front squats is preferred as muscle requirements and flexibility requirements differ somewhat. The back squat can likely progress faster and may outpace the front squat by as much as 20% in terms of maximum strength. Ideally, front squats are done not with the arms-crossed technique typical of bodybuilders, but the clean position seen in Olympic lifting. If you cannot perform the front squat with the barbell in the clean position comfortably, you need to work daily on rehabilitating this natural range of motion as it will prove absolutely necessary later on.
The standing overhead barbell press is the sole overhead pressing movement. In the RMSR schema, it alternates with bench pressing in order to allow the shoulders some rest. This is not a push press, a push jerk, or a jerk. The movement should be clean and controlled. While the movement appears quite simple, it has finer points that would help you avoid shoulder pain as the weight increases so give it the attention it deserves early on while the weight is low. As the smallest muscle groups being trained here, this exercise will probably be the first to require a deload reset.
The traditional-stance barbell deadlift is your primary posterior chain exercise. Start with the traditional stance deadlift, not the sumo deadlift. As a very large compound movement, you will likely be able to add larger amounts of weight to your linear progression on this lift than other lifts. Unlike some of the more technical movements, as long as you’re properly protecting your back this exercise can be fueled mostly by rage. The Valsalva required here can cause you to pass out, usually after setting down the last rep. At the first sign of faintness, put your arms up to protect your head and immediately kneel in an open direction to reduce your chances of going headfirst into something made of steel and spilling useful blood into a non-useful place.
The barbell bench press on the flat bench is the upper body pressing exercise of choice. Like the other exercises here, the devil is in the details and you should correct movement inefficiencies as early as possible. If you learned how to bench press in high school, you’re almost assuredly doing it wrong. Fix everything early on before you start developing shoulder pain from your poor form. If you’re performing this exercise without a spotter, do not put collars on the bar so that you can, in an emergency, dump the weight plates to the side. People die doing collared bench pressing alone every year. Don’t become dead.
Chin-ups, with your palms supinated or turned toward your face, are the only non-barbell exercise required for basic strength building. This exercise will do wonders to build your upper back muscle and feature heavily in later strength evolution. If you can’t even do a few reps at first, either use a machine that counterbalances you to remove weight from the movement or use progressions like flexed-arm hang, negatives, band chin-ups, jumping chin-ups, etc. Don’t bother with kipping; that’s a metabolic conditioning movement more than a strength builder. The progressions might be better than the counterbalancing machine, but in either case the key is to continually make the exercise harder until you’re doing true chin-ups with your bodyweight. After that, begin adding additional weight via a belt and chain. If your gym doesn’t have one, bring your own. Rogue Fitness makes an exceptionally sturdy one. The standard here is doing a chin-up with half of your bodyweight in additional weight strapped to you. Achieving this benchmark means you’ll be ready for when you find yourself dangling from the skid of a helicopter that’s taking off while a medium sized child clings to your back. Important stuff.
With that background information out of the way, we’re ready to move on to the workout routine in part two of this article.