If you’re an avid gym goer, then one of your most likely goals is to increase your brute strength. This is simply the measure of how much you can do. It’s what differentiates the boys from the men, it’s more than just bulky muscles, although that’s part of it, it’s how you can use them. That being said, even if you don’t have it naturally, you can build it up, and if you do, you can hone it to perfection.
Even if you’re not planning to become a bodybuilder, you should build of your strength first. The reason is that you can carry more weight when you build up your strength first. Exercise-science, (and yes, that’s a thing) says that the optimum amount of repetitions for you to build a muscle or muscle group ranges from 8 to 12. Therefore, if you want to build muscles faster, you simply should carry more weight for those amounts of reps, but your strength is what determines what amount of weight that you can carry at a go.
If you’re building your body, the quick gains and muscle build up you saw will eventually slow down and plateau, because you’re reaching the limit of your strength. And doing more exercises or forced reps will quickly become counter-productive, although they seem to work in the short term. Sometimes, harder workouts are not the answer. As the popular adage, you should train smarter, and not necessarily harder. One of the things you can do is to cycle your training. By alternating periods of low reps and heavier weights with more regular bodybuilding type training. This strategy is known as ‘periodization’ and is scientifically proven to increase both mass and strength.
In building your strength, there are some basic principles that you should adhere to. And we’ll look at a few.
• Focus on Strength Training: While strength and muscle building training use the same tools, and even the same exercises, their combinations and different variations involved in your workout are specifically tailored to achieve either of the two goals. So, you need to focus on training strength at the appropriate time, and you do that by being intentional and sticking to a routine carefully constructed to increase strength. If not, you might end up attempting to gain both strength and mass at the same time, but unfortunately, this is not a scenario where you can kill two birds with a stone. Your workout consists of elements that can be switched around, such as order and choice of exercises, the number of sets of each particular exercise, the specific muscle undergoing resistance and the time of resting between sets. These variables need to be tailored to specifically increase your strength.
• Let Core Lifts be Core: The basic moves here are the bench press, deadlifts, and squats. It’s usually a good idea to add an upper-body exercise, such as the standing overhead press, that works multiple upper body joints. By doing these exercises early in your workout, where your strength is still high, you work more multiple joints because they require multiple joints working in tandem. Unlike mass building where you target each muscle or muscle group specifically, the only goal in strength building is to increase the total weight amount that you can lift while doing a deadlift, squat or an overhead press.
• Increase the weights and reduce the reps: Unlike when you’re muscle training, you don’t need so many reps, rather, you need heavier weights, which leads to a lesser amount of reps. The weight that you’ll be exercising with should be between 80 and 90% of your one rep max (1RM)
• Warm up Well: Warming up is quite important to building strength and is a little different from the warm up to build up muscle mass. The goal here is to ensure that your nervous system is working at a maximum. You warm up the decrease in reps as you approach your target weight until you do one rep at your target weight.
Strength Building Workout
Here, we look at a few strength building workouts.
1. Conventional Deadlift: When you deadlift, you’re essentially seeing how much weight you can lift off the ground, and so it’s important to keep the bar closer to your legs so that you don’t change your center of gravity and put undue strain at your lower back. Your instep should be directly below the bar, your toes pointing out slightly and knees kept soft. With your arms straight, bend your hips to a half-squat and your head straight. First pull on the bar a little to remove the slack, then flex your lats. Bring the bar up your legs as you press your feet into the floor. Push your forward as the bar goes past the knees and clench your glutes as you reach the top.
2. Deep Barbell Squat: To perform a traditional powerlifting squat, squat really low, with your feet apart at slightly above shoulder width, and your toes turned slightly outward. You can perform a low-bar or a high bar squat, with the bar on your shoulder blades or your traps respectively. Lower yourself as if you’re sitting into a chair, keeping your feet straight and pointed out. As you reach the lowest point, blast out with a stretch reflex, drive your hips forward and keep your head up.
3. Barbell Bench Press: Gripping the bar at a width slightly wider than shoulder width. Squeeze your shoulders, as though you seek to bend the bar. Keeping your back arched, keep your glutes in contact with the bench throughout. Tighten your traps by squeezing the bar and lower the bar while tucking in your elbows, bring the bar towards your solar plexus. Push the bar upwards and backward explosively so that it locks just above the chin. Spread your rams when lifting as though you were trying to pull the bar apart.
Other exercises that provide useful for strength training are shoulder presses and farmer’s walks. For home workouts, press-ups and chin-ups provide great training opportunities.
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