Take one look at Jesse Norris, and you might be tempted to think he's just another ripped, symmetrical bodybuilder with more "show" muscles than "go" muscles. Resist that temptation, because you'd be dead wrong.
This Kaged Muscle athlete (and Bodybuilding.com employee) is an elite powerlifter who holds several raw powerlifting world records. We're talking a 766-pound squat, 441 bench, and now-legendary 826 deadlift. All at a body weight of under 200 pounds. Pound for pound, he may be the strongest lifter in the world on any given day.
Norris is eager to share his tips with serious lifters willing to put in the time and dedication to achieving world-class strength. Because if anyone knows how to lift as strong as they look, it's Norris.
Embrace The Long Climb
Norris wasn't born with phenomenal strength and a chiseled physique—he earned it through years of hard work and dedication.
"Everyone wants to look and be strong," says Norris, "but realistically, it's not an easy goal to attain. Over my many years of training, I've had to consistently and slowly add on mass."
Although he is not yet in his mid-twenties, Norris already has 10 years of powerlifting experience under his champion belt—and he is quick to point out success did not happen overnight.
"When I say I had to slowly add on mass, I'm talking about a pound here and there, not only in body weight but also weights I lift while trying to improve my strength."
The frustratingly slow pace of gains deters many, but Norris learned early on there are no shortcuts—only hard work and consistency.
Don't Fear the Rep
Pop quiz: How do you get strong? Low rep counts and heavy weights, right? Well, that's part of it.
Follow Jesse on Instagram—something I highly recommend doing—and you'll see him doing sets of 5, 10, or higher on the deadlift, even from a deficit. In a recent post, he did a bizarrely easy set of 10 touch-and-go reps with 585, after two sets of 12 with 495. Without a belt or straps, I might add.
Also worth noting: He's quieter with 585 than most lifters are with 225 or 315. He's so under control at any rep range, it's enough to blow your idea of "strong" out of the water.
Stop Bulking and Cutting
Bodybuilders adhere to strict cycles of bulking and cutting to achieve their perfect physiques, but Norris believes riding this kind of caloric roller coaster sacrifices long-term goals for short-term results.
"I've never entered a bulking phase or cutting phase," says Norris. "It's always been a clean diet and consistency in training that got me where I am today."
Norris points out a lot of guys either want to get strong quickly or get cut quickly, and while that's fine for them, he's willing to wait for something better. Being strong and cut, muscular and lean—it's a slow and steady climb, but not impossible if you have the patience to endure it.
Rather than getting caught up in quick-fix programs or short-term cycles, Norris believes the key is to focus on long-term goals. Bulking phases sound appealing for quickly adding size, and cutting is a viable option if you need to drop weight fast. But if your long-term goal is size and strength, the best thing you can do is tortoise the hell out of your program—because as Norris proves, slow and steady wins the race.
Make Every Training Day Count
Norris trains almost every day, and his split is pretty consistent. Here's how it usually looks:
- Monday: Deadlift, bench
- Tuesday: Front squats and overhead press or push press, cardio
- Wednesday: Accessories (mostly isolation movements), cardio
- Thursday: Deficit deadlift, paused bench press
- Friday: Accessories (mostly isolation movements), cardio
- Saturday: Squat and bench
- Sunday: Accessories (mostly isolation movements), cardio
There's a lot you can learn from this approach:
- If you want to get better at benching, do it more than once a week. Treat strength like a skill!
- Do different version of the big lifts for well-rounded strength.
- There's room for curls and other isolation work in even the strongest lifter's life. Toss them onto an "accessory day," and you can give them your complete attention, while saving your other days for heavy lifting.
- Cardio counts, too! Norris likes to push a weighted sled for his, sometimes in combination with things like heavy carries and hammer swings. Don't have a sled? Jesse says to try pushing your car or truck instead.
Stay Focused, and Look Ahead
Are there setbacks to becoming an elite powerlifter and world record holder? Absolutely. Like any lifter, Norris has been injured—although not nearly as much as you might expect. But these setbacks are a necessary part of the process, he says. Success lies in keeping your eyes forward and working through the setbacks, because each one is an opportunity for growth.
Just because you aren't deadlifting the metric equivalent of a small vehicle doesn't mean you won't someday. Achieving goals requires dedication and patience.
"Don't lose focus by worrying about where you are now," he says. "Everyone has to start somewhere."