In the present paper the basic strengthening mechanisms operating in microstructures are discussed with respect to their application in submicron/nano materials. This analysis focuses on these strengthening mechanisms in bcc microstructures, where the effect of grain boundaries is very strong. An experimental study of the influence of the thermomechanical history on the microstructure and dislocation substructure was performed using two different grades of HSLA steels. As a result, a modified version of the Khan–Huang–Liang flow stress model (KHL) was developed and is discussed in the light of results from the present study. Comparison with experimental results showed significant diversity in the refinement and mechanical responses of each steel, due to different activity of strengthening mechanisms and microalloying elements in the microstructure evolution process. The effect of mechanical and microstructural inhomogeneity in severe plastic deformation (SPD) on the deformation induced grain refinement and mechanical properties was also considered.