Improving your strength may not be important to you, but it should be. For any body-composition goal, being stronger will generally mean better and faster results. That’s right, being strong isn’t just important for powerlifters, strongmen and athletes. If your goal for example is to build lean muscle, being stronger will mean you’ll be able to switch on and recruit more fast twitch muscle fibres. And remember, fast twitch muscle fibres are the ones that have most potential for growth. For fat loss, moving more weight will mean more calories burnt, improving the overall effect of your workout. Being stronger also has its obvious crossovers into everyday life. Training for strength indefinitely isn’t wise, unless your main goal is ofcourse, strength. So for everyone else, switching to the strategies below for a period of 4-8 weeks and then returning to your normal routine would be wise. Take a look below for some of the most effective strategies to improve your strength.
Increase The Weight
It goes without saying, if you want to get stronger you need to increase the weights and challenge your body. Please note, that’s not at the expense of using correct form. Your body is an efficient machine in the respect that if it doesn’t need to switch on a muscle fibre, it won’t. Think of a motor unit as a person, and I want you to imagine there are fifty people in a large room. To lift and move a certain weight your Central Nervous System (CNS) will need to use a specific amount of people, but no more. For example, to move a chair from one end of the room to the other it will only take one person. Your body isn’t going to use all fifty, because that would be very inefficient. When that weight is increased, so say there’s now an oak table in the room, the CNS will be required to use more people to complete the movement. The more people we can get working, the more motor units we can train. Guys and girls that are insanely strong, are simply just more efficient at getting people (AKA motor units) to work in their body.
Work In A Lower Rep Range
To improve our strength we should be spending a shorter amount of time under tension and working within a lower rep scheme. This will allow us to handle heavier loads to achieve the desired training effect. A rep scheme of any where between 1-8 is ideal.
Do More Sets
There’s an inverse relationship between sets and reps. So the less reps you’re performing, the more sets you can use. The more reps you’re performing, the less sets you can use. For strength, here are some effective rep/set schemes I like to use:
(Sets x Reps)
Take Longer Rest Periods
When training for strength, it’s just as much about conditioning the CNS to move heavier loads as it is training the muscles, joints and tendons to handle them. The CNS generally takes longer to recover between sets. A simple rule to keep in mind is – the heavier the load you’ve just lifted, the more motor units you recruited, the longer you’ll take to recover. It’s important to remember we are trying to complete the movement and not train to failure when working towards strength goals. Go for at least 90-120 secs per rest period.
Focus On Compound Lifts
Compound lifts should be the cornerstone of your strength training plan. Compound lifts are ones that work across more than one joint. Some good choices are – squats, deadlifts, chest presses and military presses. Due to lots of muscle groups getting involved, you can handle much more weight than what you would on an isolation exercise. Studies also show compound exercises release a rush of beneficial hormones, such as testosterone and growth hormone. A better hormonal response will mean men and women can gain strength and improve body composition faster.
Make Use Of Chains And Bands
Here’s one for the more advanced trainees. Adding chains or bands to your barbell exercises can provide a totally new, strength increasing stimulus. Adding bands and chains to typical lifts such as a bench press or squat has one key benefit that will accelerate your strength gains. Due to the chain or band becoming unloaded in the bottom position of the lift, it decreases the load during the hardest portion of the lift and increases the load during the most advantageous portion of the lift. This generally means it becomes safer for your muscles, joints and tendons and it will teach you to explode through concentric part of the rep, igniting even more fast twitch muscle fibres. Very few commercial gyms will have these bits of kit, but if you are lucky enough to have access to them, be sure to seek a qualified professional to show you how to set banded lifts and chains up correctly.