About StrongLifts and Mehdi

Hi, it’s Mehdi here.Mehdi

I created this website from Belgium in May 2007.

I write all the content here – over 250,000 words (almost 3 books).

My goal with this website is to help you gain strength and muscle by lifting heavy weights. You’ll find several free guides here, including the StrongLifts 5×5 workout guide, plus free apps.

One million people visit this website each month. 97,453 people receive my daily email tips. Over 91 million people from 195 countries have visited this website since I started writing in 2007.

I lift weights since 1999. I started with bodybuilding then switched to strength training. My best Squat is 419lb, best Deadlift 495lb. I’ve gained 43lb of muscle with a six pack. I’ve never used drugs.

In June 2007 I published the definitive guide on the 5×5 workout. I didn’t invent 5×5 but people found my guide helpful. They got results, called it StrongLifts 5×5, and made it go viral.

Since then, thousands of people worldwide have gained strength and muscle with StrongLifts 5×5. It’s been featured in Men’s Fitness, Men’s health, Bodybuilding.com, Reddit, Strengthcamp, etc.

In 2012 I created videos of StrongLifts 5×5 in which I show workouts A and B. These videos have been viewed more than three million times and count over 15,000 likes.

I’m also the product manager for the StrongLifts 5×5 apps for iPhone and Android. I’m responsible for making sure the training logic in the app is correct, and that the app is simple and easy to use. The app has been widely acclaimed for its innovative features, great design and high quality…

  • Apple featured the StrongLifts 5×5 app in their 2014 ad “Strength”. It aired during prime time TV in several countries including USA, Canada, UK, Australia, France, Italy, China, etc.
  • Google awarded the StrongLifts 5×5 app the exclusive “Top Developer Badge” in December 2015. It’s the highest rated strength training app on Google Play – 4.9 stars out of 5.
  • ARC from Applause gave the StrongLifts 5×5 app the highest quality score in 2016 and 2017. It ranked number one out of thousands of apps and million of customer reviews.
  • Over 2 million downloads, +40,000 5 star reviews, +4.8 stars average rating.

I’ve coached dozens of people at StrongLifts seminars in USA, UK and Australia. I’ve coached dozens more people in my home gym. People have traveled from countries as far as Bolivia to my home gym in Belgium to get coached by me. I’ve also coached several dozens of people online.

In September 2007 I created the StrongLifts forums. At its height it counted 20,000 free members and 3500 paid ones. I posted over 20,000 messages in which I gave members training advice, nutrition tips and reviewed their form. In 2015 I closed the forums to focus on the website and apps.

In 2013 I was invited to speak in Bangkok to an audience of over 200 digital entrepreneurs.

StrongLifts is my full-time profession since 2007. I’ve been making a living helping people with their training, technique, nutrition and motivation for 10 years now.

Training Philosophy

I train the way I do because it’s simple, efficient and effective. I wasn’t genetically gifted and never used drugs. So I don’t train like genetic freaks and drug users do. The way I train works if you have good genetics or use drugs. But if you don’t, this is the only way that will ever work.

It’s tempting to doubt the effectiveness of the way I train because it seems so simple. But if you try this for a year, your own body will force you to believe it works. Here’s the StrongLifts philosophy…

  1. Get Stronger. Forget pump and soreness. Focus on lifting heavier. Stop lifting the same weight every workout. Increase the weight as often as you can. Always try to do better.
  2. Free Weights. Stop with the machines and switch to free weights. Start light so you don’t get hurt. Focus on proper form. Add a little weight each workout. It will pay off.
  3. Compound Exercises. Do mostly exercises that work several muscles at the same time. These are the best: Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Overhead Press, Barbell Row, Pullups, Dips.
  4. Five Reps. You can lift heavier doing five reps than 8, 15 or 20 reps. You also have better form because fatigue doesn’t set in. More weight is more strength is more muscle.
  5. Whole Foods. Eat mostly unprocessed, unrefined foods. The stuff your grandma ate. Cook more. Vary your food. Have a treat once in a while. Just don’t overdo it.
  6. Consistency. The best program is the one you stick to. If you don’t see yourself doing your program in a year, then it’s no good. Motivation is overrated. Plan your training and just go.
  7. Keep It Simple. Ignore the fads. 80% of your results will come from doing the basics. Anyone telling you otherwise is trying to keep you confused so you need them.

Do this and you’ll build a body that looks and is strong. Not big but weak like some bodybuilders. Not strong but fat like some powerlifters. Real-world strength and you’ll look like you lift. You can easily gain 24lb of muscle in one year while doubling your Squat to 300lb and getting visible abs.

Three workouts a week is all it takes. No need to reinvent the wheel. Just do StrongLifts 5×5. It’s inline with my training philosophy. Plus the app will do the thinking for you so you can focus on lifting.

How I Got Into Lifting

I was 15 when my friends challenged eachother at armwrestling in school. I lost to all of them. Then I lost to a girl. When they did Pushups, I couldn’t do one rep while that girl could. They all laughed at me for being weaker than a girl. It humiliated and embarrassed me. It made me feel less of a man.

I could have blamed my genetics. I have a skinny build with long limbs and a narrow frame. My thumb overlaps my middefinger when I grab my wrist. Some people say I’m the hardgainer/ectomorph type – not born to be big and strong. Maybe. It’s true there are no strong guys in my family.

What’s sure is that I made it worse. I was a couch potato for 15 years. Never did sports. Never helped my dad with yardwork. Just played videogames all day. Watched TV while eating potato chips. That’s why I was skinny, fat and weak. Losing at armwrestling that day finally woke me up.

One of my friends did Pushups every day. So I started doing Pushups every day. I was so weak I had to do them on my knees. But I stuck with it. Three years later I was doing 70 Pushups in a row on my knuckles. My chest got bigger. I felt more confident. Girls started to notice me. I was hooked.

The Bodybuilding Years

In August 1999 I joined the gym with two friends. I was 18. They quit the first week. I continued with the routine from the Personal Trainer – one muscle a day, five times a week. Lots of curls, flies, situps and leg extensions. I got pumped but then plateaud and lost motivation. I quit in December.

I joined the gym again in January. But this time I asked for help. This guy in the gym had the kind of body I wanted and was strong. I took the little confidence I had back then to ask if I could train with him sometimes. To my surprise he agreed and became my mentor for the next two years.

I was still training one muscle a day, five times a week. Except my mentor made me lift heavier than I ever did. Heavier than I thought I could. He also made me Squat. I was so weak, I threw up the first time. I didn’t tell him. I just came back the next day. I knew I was onto something.

By the end of that year I was Squatting 100kg/220lb. I gained 10kg/22lb of mostly muscle. Instead of a belly, I now had a six pack. People in the gym complimented me on my transformation. I earned the respect of my mentor by showing up every time and doing the work without complaining.

My confidence went through the roof. Girls gave me more attention. I finally lost my virginity.

From Bodybuilding to Strength Training

In 2002 I became tech support for a big telecom company in Belgium. The late shifts and weekends made it hard to train five to six times a week. I wished I could get the same results training less. But since I didn’t know any other way to train, I kept going. Life outside the gym sucked. I had none.

Summer 2003 I traveled with two gym friends to Turkey. Workers in the Turkish baths challenged us at armwrestling. I felt confident about winning – they were fat and didn’t look like they lifted. Yet we lost. All that training had made me strong in the gym but not outside. It was fake and I was pissed.

Back in Belgium I researched for days. I discovered I had been training wrong for years. Too much isolation, machines, and high reps. To build real world strength I should have been doing mostly free weight, compound exercises for lower reps. I started looking for a new routine.

I stumbled upon the classic 5×5 routine. People had been doing this for at least 70 years. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger had done it, after being taught by his mentor Reg Park. The routine had it it all: free weights, compound exercises, lots of Squatting, lower reps and a simple progression.

But it sounded too good to be true. Only three workouts? Only three exercises? It didn’t seem enough. Plus there were no curls, no flies, no high reps. I was afraid to lose the muscles I had worked so hard to build over the years. So I dismissed 5×5 and went back doing what I had always done…

Kicked Out of The Gym

March 2004 the gym I trained at for five years kicked me out. I think the drug users who lifted once in a blue moon didn’t like I Squatted more (and looked better). I lifted in another gym for six months but it wasn’t the same – bad equipment, bad opening hours, longer drive and more expensive.

Turned out I could get a home gym for about $1000. I’d break even within two years by saving on gym fees plus car fuel. I’d also save time not driving to the gym and waiting for equipment to be free. Plus it’d be easier to mix with my job’s flexible hours. Plenty of space in my parents garage. I ordered.

I spent the next 12 years lifting mostly alone, without spotter, in that garage. I hit my all-time PRs there. Many people trained there too over the years, including my two brothers. I helped them both Squat 300lb in record time. The oldest one Benched more than me even. Good times.

Forced into 5×5

The home gym forced me to give the 5×5 routine another chance. I lost access to machines, pulleys and dumbbells. I only had a Power Rack, bench, barbell and plates. So I needed a routine that I could do using only that equipment. It was that or training in a bad gym. I had no choice.

I was still afraid of losing the muscles I had built. But I figured if I could do it once, I could do it again. Worst case I’d drive once a week to the other gym to target weaknesses with “assistance work“.

But I never did. To my surprise I didn’t lose muscle. I gained muscle… even though I had been training for five years already. My legs grew from jeans size 29 to 32. My chest got bigger and more defined (despite no longer doing high rep flies). My body looked better, more balanced. And I got stronger.

The best part is that it took less time. I trained five years for up to six times a week, often three hours. Now I trained three times a week for about an hour. That means 5×5 saved me 784 hours a year or 32 days! (and that’s without the commute…) I finally had a life outside of the gym again.

I couldn’t believe it myself but couldn’t argue with the results. 5×5 worked. I told everyone.

From Hobby to Profession

stronglifts-mehdi

In February 2007, my mentor told me to start a website about lifting. I thought he was nuts. Who was I to give people advice? I couldn’t even write proper English. Plus there were plenty of websites about lifting already. And yet I couldn’t get the idea out of my head…

  • Friends and co-workers always asked me for training advice. They saw how I looked and knew I lifted. But I had never charged or thought of making a living of this. I already had a job.
  • Most websites were about the time-consuming body-part split routines I wasted five years on. They were snake oils selling bogus supplements with fake results from drug lifters.
  • There were some powerlifting websites. But they were about eating big to lift big, even if that meant getting fat. They didn’t seem to care about looking like you lift or be healthy.

I decided to build a website about how to build muscle and get ripped by getting stronger. It would be the website I wished I had when I started lifting. With simple routines like 5×5. After brainstorming for a few days, I came up with the name “StrongLifts” and registered the domain.

May 1st 2007 the first article went up. My English was so bad it took a full day to write 500 words. So I quit my job 12 days later to focus on this website. I had not made a single dime yet but didn’t care. My job bored me because I wasn’t learning anything new. This was already more fun.

It’s been almost 10 years now. Over 90 millions website visitors. Two million app downloads. Tens of thousands of bodies and live changed. Seminars held on three continents. Featured by Apple on prime time TV. I had never expected a one-man blog would turn that big. It’s been crazy.

StrongLifts changed my life as much as it changed others. I learned a lot from StrongLifters. When I started this website I was Squatting 300lb, Benching 220lb, Deadlifting 400lb. My lifts increased as my knowledge deepened from going from just lifting to also teaching. Thanks.

StrongLifts also gave me access to the strongest lifters on earth. I’ve met Ed Coan and Andy Bolton. Mike Tuchscherer became a good friend – I’ve trained with him several times, and we talk training on the phone each month (if you’re an advanced lifter, check his stuff – he’s really smart).

Selling The Home Gym

In 2016 my parents built a new house in Belgium. The old house was going to be destroyed. The new one didn’t have a big garage. That means I no longer had a place to put my home gym. And being a minimalist, I didn’t want to buy a house just for the luxury of having a private gym.

StrongLifts was from day one a location independent business. I can work from anywhere in the world as long as I have Internet. In fact, my team of app developers and designer is spread over the globe. I lived in Belgium mostly by habit. When I lost a place to train, I had no reason to stay there.

So I sold my home gym and moved abroad. I’ve since then trained in Bulgaria, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, etc. I was concerned the equipment would be bad compared to what I owned. But it’s often been even better with Eleiko bars and lifting platforms. Plus I’ve met many cool people.

It’s been more time-consuming since I have to wait for equipment to be free sometimes. Or I end up talking with people. But I’m fine with this as I have more social life. Working plus training from home for almost ten years turned me into a hermit. I needed to change this.

It’s also more expensive as I’m paying gym fees again ($300/month in Hong Kong!!). But I’m not paying for a big house or garage just for the luxury of having a home gym for me alone. Plus I have the flexibility to live where I want and move when I want. So I’m fine with this.

How to Get Started

  1. Read the StrongLifts 5×5 guide and give the program a try for 12 weeks at least. Don’t change anything. Do it as laid out first.
  2. Download the StrongLifts 5×5 app for iPhone or Android. Let it take care of the thinking in the gym so you can focus on lifting.
  3. Signup for my daily email tips. I’ll send you daily strength and muscle building tips in your inbox for free to help you get results and stay motivated

Questions You Might Have…

Why should I believe you?

You shouldn’t just believe me. Best is to be skeptical. I’m skeptical. That’s why most of my stuff is free. You can try it risk-free. The way I train is not for everyone, maybe it turns out not to be for you. But I only care about what works. And my stuff works. Try it. If it works, then believe me.

What makes you qualified to give people advice?

I’ve done it. I’ve gone from skinny, weak and fat to muscular, strong and ripped. And I’ve done this by lifting weights and eating right for 18 years now. Still do. I’m not an armchair expert. I live this.

Results didn’t come easy. I couldn’t do one pushup when I started. Never did sports before lifting. I have skinny build, long limbs and small frame. I wasn’t born to be big and strong. I had to work hard. That’s why I can relate to people. I know what it’s like to struggle because I struggled too.

My best lifts are 419lb Squat, 253lb Bench Press, 495lb Deadlift and 165lb Overhead Press. I’ve done this weighing 165lb using a belt and chalk only. I’ve never used drugs. According to exrx.net strength standards, this makes me an “advanced lifter”. I’m not the strongest, but stronger than most.

I was a skinny 60kg/135lb with belly-fat when I started. Getting stronger by lifting weights made me gain muscle while losing fat. At my heaviest I was 81kg/178lb with a six pack. Now I’m 77kg/170lb with visible abs year-through (at 1m73/5’8″). I’m no bodybuilder but girls always like my body.

I’ve done all the popular training programs. Body-part split routines the first five years – one muscle a day, 5 days a week, until pumped and sore. Then strength training since 2004. I’ve trained in gyms and had a home gym. I’ve had several trainingpartners but trained mostly alone without spotter.

In terms of certifications, in 2013 I became Certified Russian Kettlebell Instructor. The test included snatching a 24kg kettlebell 100 times in 5 minutes. I passed this test without doing any preparation besides my regular heavy lifting. I also have a Movement & Mobility certification since 2011.

I’ve only had one coach, World Champion Mike Tuchscherer. He helped me increase my Squat from 400lb to 419lb. He turned into a good friend, we get on the phone each month to talk about training. I’ve learned a lot from him about programming for strength training.

Outside of that I’m mostly self-thought. Half of what I know I learned through good old trial & error in the gym. The other half I learned through reading. I’m a voracious reader so I’ve read hundreds of books on training, nutrition, technique, anatomy, motivation, evolution, you name it.

Your form is great. Are you a natural at this?

No. I struggled like most people. I made every mistake you can think of. So I hurt my knees, shoulders, back, wrists, elbows, neck, etc. No lasting injuries. Just pain that was helpful feedback to find out how to improve. This is how I mastered proper form: through years of trial & error.

I never had a coach teach me proper form. I learned it by reading a lot about biomechanics, anatomy, etc. I then watched videos of my lifts to see what I did right and wrong. And then I just practiced until it clicked. I actually find this process fun, probably due to my personality type (I’m an INTJ).

What also motivated me to do the work is that I’m not a naturally strong guy. It never worked for me to just “shut up and lift”. That only got me injured. I quickly figured out the best way to make up for my lack of natural strength while avoiding injuries was to lift more efficiently. So I practiced.

Today you could call me “a natural” because I don’t think about the big stuff anymore when lifting. But you never reach perfection. There’s always some aspect of your technique that could be better. So I’m always trying to improve. So do the world champions I talked to. Don’t think you’re ever done.

How do you manage to be so consistent?

One, I’m not genetically gifted. So I understood quickly I’d have to make up for that by working harder. My thinking was that regardless of how stubborn my body was, if my mind was more stubborn, my body would have to change. The way to be more stubborn was to make it lift consistently.

Two, I don’t let motivation determine if I go to the gym. Experience has taught me I can have great workouts on days I’m not motivated. I’ve also had bad workouts on days I was motivated. There doesn’t seem to be a strong link so I ignore motivation. I stick to the plan instead.

Three, I’ve learned that if you only train when everything is perfect, you won’t train much. I train when I’m sore, sick, tired, unmotivated, injured, etc. Bad workouts are better than none. At the very least they keep you consistent. I realize this is extreme but it’s what has worked for me.

It wasn’t always easy with this website. There were times I was working like a maniac seven days a week and doing all-nighters. But I always made time to lift. It’s important. Workouts weren’t always the best but maintaining your gains is better than losing them.

I’ve lifted 45 weeks a year on average the past 18 years. Basically never took a break from it.

How are your joints holding after lifting heavy for 18 years?

They’re great. I’ve had no major injury. No surgery either. Knees and shoulder are clean. I do have a buldged disc in L4/L5. But I blame that on sitting too much to work on this website. I still Squat and Deadlift heavy despite this. I’ve focused a lot on proper form and it has kept me healthy.

I also have slight scoliosis and am fairly flat footed. But neither has been a problem for lifting. I plan to keep lifting as long as I can. I’ve been doing it for so long, I just can’t see myself not doing it.

What’s your diet like?

I don’t have one. I did all kinds of diets in the past – six meals a day, calorie counting, no carb, etc. But they were either unsustainable or made me miserable. Now I just keep it simple…

  • lots of vegetables and fruits
  • some carbs but not too much
  • some meat but also legumes and such
  • no soda, rarely alcohol, mostly water and tea
  • no calorie counting, but I do Intermittent Fasting since 2009
  • I do eat the occasional junk food, burger & fries once week or so

I cook most meals myself unless I can’t when travelling. I vary what I eat a lot. I usually eat 2-3 meals a day – break fast at 2pm, small meal at 5pm pre-workout, then dinner after lifting. On days I don’t train I can get carried with work and fast until 6pm (but I’ll have a bigger meal then).

My weight has been stable at 77kg for years with visible abs.

Do you do cardio?

No, I don’t like it. The only cardio I might do is swinging the 24kg kettlebell 200 times in 10 minutes. If I have access to a bike, I’ll use it to get to the gym. Outside of that Squatting is my main cardio. If you do them heavy as I do, they’ll give you a good base of cardiovascular fitness.

Why are you against drugs?

I have a problem with people who use drugs but aren’t honest about it. Many kids waste their time on routines from their Instagram idols. They’re still naive and don’t get it can’t work for them unless they use drugs too. Then they get body issues because they can never get as big as the drug users.

I also have a problem with people who use drugs but don’t know how to lift. They can’t Squat 220lb, can’t do a proper Deadlift, can’t even eat right. But they have to juice because the summer is only a few weeks away. They never last because drugs don’t teach you patience and consistency.

I’ve never used drugs. When I started lifting I was offered drugs in the gym like most people. But my mentor never used drugs either and so he told me not to use any. Since he had the kind of body and strength I wanted, and never needed drugs to achieve that, I listened and stayed natural.

Maybe I consider drugs when I get old. When my testosterone drops and I lose muscle/strength. But if I can keep going like I have for 18 years, I prefer to stay natural. I don’t care if I lift less than others or have less muscle. I lift for myself and am happy with my results. Plus no drugs is simpler.

Where are you from?

I was born in Belgium, have Belgian nationality and lived in Belgium for 35 years. As of 2016 I don’t live there anymore. I’ve expatriated myself and now split my time between Asia and Europe.

I’ve been in over 30 countries – USA, UK, Australia, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, South-Korea, Turkey, Croatia, Poland, etc. Training has been more challenging when travelling, living abroad and dealing with different food. But it’s been an interesting experience.

Are you Muslim?

No. My name is arab (Mehdi Hadim) but I’m not religious. My dad emigrated for work from Morocco to Belgium during the 70s. My mom is Belgian. I’m mixed and don’t believe in a concept of god.

What’s your first language?

French. I went to a dutch school but spoke french at home. I’m fluent at both. English I became fluent at by working on this website (the 6 years of classes at school were useless). I know some arab. I’ve also learned some basic Spanish and Chinese myself to help with travelling.

Why are you giving away so much for free?

Because most people, including me, are skeptical. So by giving my best stuff away for free, you can try it out without risk. If my stuff works, if it helps you get results, two things may happen:

  1. You buy the stuff I sell because you liked the free stuff, and want all I have to offer; OR
  2. You tell your friends to check out my free stuff, and they end up buying the stuff I sell

That’s it. All I have to do is show you I can help you by helping you with free stuff.

This simple strategy has worked for almost 10 years now. I reached financial independence in my mid 30s thanks to it (it also helped I live a simple life – no wife, no kids, no car, no house, etc). That means I don’t need to work anymore. I do this because I want to, it’s fun. Not because I have to.

Do understand that while the free stuff is free for you, it’s not free for me. It costs money to host this website, deliver the daily email tips, and improve the apps. My developers and designers don’t work for free. My time is not free. And I don’t want to put lame ads on this website.

So if you like my stuff, got results with it, then buy my apps to get to the next level or as a thank you.

And keep it simple,

-Mehdi

P.S. The best way to get started is to read my StrongLifts 5×5 guide. Download the spreadsheets and apps, and then give the workout a try for at least 12 weeks.