Any veteran gym rat will tell you that there’s weight-room strong, and then there’s do-anything strong. Some guys just have that “brute strength”—the ability to move awkward, ungainly loads in positions where you often don’t have a lot of leverage. And whether you’re an average dude or a veteran shot-put thrower, “brute strength” can be the ultimate test of just how much you can do.
“Brute strength is basically pure, unthinking, animalistic strength that’s available any time,” says Robert Herbst, personal trainer, coach, and 18-time world champion powerlifter. “It’s: ‘Honey, my diamond earring rolled under the fridge,’ and you drag away the fridge, no problem.”
Just because some people just have it doesn’t mean you can hone it, with the right training routine. “The thing about brute strength is that it has to be available, but you can’t be gassed after one rep—you have to be able to do something else,” Herbst says. “Twenty thousand years ago, you’d kill the mammoth, butcher the mammoth, then bring the mammoth pieces back to camp, so you have to have some endurance—that’s raw, brute strength.”
You also can’t always train at max levels to get and stay at peak brute-strength condition. In fact, as with any program, you need to start easier, with relatively low weight and higher reps (6–12), to get the form down pat. “Your form will deteriorate under max weight, so you have to get it right first,” Herbst says.
Next, you work in the five-rep zone at 65–75% of your max, going for up to eight sets, with a minute rest between to build your strength endurance. Do that for six weeks for a really solid base. “Then it’s time to get literally strong,” says Herbst. “To do that, you have to use near-max weights, doing singles, doubles, or triples, with sufficient rest that you can actually do that—it could be 7–10 minutes between sets, so you’re 90% recuperated from the last set.”
Herbst recommends incorporating the following seven exercises into your brute-strength program. But take note: “You have to suffer to do this!” he says. “You have to make your body adapt. If you want to be in the brute-strength club, you have to walk the walk,” he says. After a successful training cycle, you have to deload for a couple of weeks to come back stronger than ever.