If you’re into pressing, pulling, and otherwise dominating barbells and dumbbells on a daily basis, then you need to get serious about it. Far too often you hit the gym and blast through your normal menu of sets and reps with little to no real thought given as to how or why you’re doing what you’re doing. Simply being purposeful is a positive first step in getting stronger faster. Beyond that, you have to become an active learner to build muscle—getting your arms (and brain) around as much useful information from reliable sources as possible. And, in the strength game, reliability can be measured in pounds.

James Simmons is an Air Force contracting officer—and a decorated powerlifter. Here, this airman-slash-weight room boss drops some wisdom on what it takes to get strong—everywhere—in a hurry.