What’s up Gronk Fitness! Today we’re talking about STRENGTH! Increasing your strength is relevant not only for powerlifters but also for athletes and it will actually help you stay injury-free which is vital no matter what your goal is.
Plus, your sport might require you to also get bigger, at which point we should tell you that strength and size go hand-in-hand. What you have to understand is that building muscle requires two major components: a) Volume and b) Progressive Overload and if you want to maximize your results you need to excel in both. In case it’s not clear by now, progressive overload is intimately associated with strength gains. Of course there are many ways you can progressively overload your muscles (more repetitions, more time under tension, more volume) but all those things still require that you actually get stronger. So, without further delay, let’s jump into those tips!
#1: Focus On Compound Movements
This is perhaps the most important tip we could ever give you! Whether your goal is to build muscle or strength, you NEED to focus on the major compound movements. The squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, barbell row, dips, pullups and all of their variations are the elite of exercises and are extremely effective if done right. Especially when you are a beginner or intermediate (the first 4-5 years), focusing on isolation movements is just a waste of time and effort.
We’re not saying that there is no place for isolation movements but next to any compound exercise, they just pale in comparison. Compound movements will activate multiple muscle groups at the same time which means more Central Nervous System activation (CNS), enabling you to handle heavier and heavier weights over time. And that’s what it’s all about! If you are able to overload your body week after week, month after month, you are essentially forcing it to adapt and grow.
And finally one good point that needs to be made, is that activating multiple muscle groups together and making them work synergistically is far more functional training than say performing kick-backs and quad extensions. These complex and functional moving patterns you are training such as the squat and the deadlift will make sure your body has no weak links and the chance of gym or even general injuries will be considerably reduced.
#2: Use Full Range of Motion (ROM)
The second tip ties very well with the previous tip! Remember, we mentioned that compound movements can be very effective AS LONG AS you do them properly. One major aspect of good form of any exercise is performing it in all its possible range of motion. This will again ensure two things:
- It will, over time, lead to more strength and mass gains because the total time under tension is optimally increased. Of course you could argue that you can perform limited Range Of Motion exercises but do them slower and you get the same Time Under Tension but then you are ignoring one major component of training a muscle. And that’s stretching and contracting. If you are not working the entire range of motion of any exercise, you are either skipping the stretching portion or the contraction of the lift and that is not the way to maximize your time and results!
- It will save you from future injuries. Any range of motion you are not working in, is range of motion you are weak in. For example if you are always performing dumbbell chest presses until a 90 degree elbow angle, the first time you accidentally go a bit lower, that’s when you’ll tear a pec or get an AC joint injury. And that’s because your body has not adapted to this new range of motion and you suddenly overloaded it with extreme weights. So be smart and make sure this does not happen to you by training in full ROM from the get-go!
If, however, the reason you can’t use full range of motion is poor mobility, perform the necessary warm-up and dynamic stretches before your workout and include static stretches at the end of your session. Over time, this will solve any mobility issues you might be facing.
#3: Perfect Your Breathing Technique
Proper breathing is critical when it comes to safely lifting heavier and heavier in the gym. People always ask what’s the correct breathing technique. Should I breathe out when I perform the concentric (positive) portion of the lift? Should I take in a breath? And actually both answers are wrong and potentially dangerous. What you need to do is NEVER breathe in or out while you are moving the weight concentrically or eccentrically. So let’s take the squat for example. The negative part of the lift is when you go down into the squat and the positive would be when you push out of it and return to the starting position.
What you want to do is take a big breath at the beginning, then sink into the squat while keeping a tight core and then push with your heels and come right out of the hole explosively. Now it’s time to take the time to reset and breathe. Breathing in or out while the weight is moving will only do one thing and that is cause your core to collapse in, creating a weak link, and halting your efforts in the best case scenario. Worst case, you’ll get a lower back injury because you lost core tightness.
#4: Don’t Neglect Your Meal Plan
Training is only one third of your results. The other two thirds are recovery (sleep) and nutrition and you should not be neglecting any of them.
In terms of proper nutrition, you need to know exactly what you are eating which means knowing the amount of calories AND macros (protein, carbs & fats). For strength and/or muscle building purposes, you should be on a slight caloric surplus (100-500 calories) and in some cases a caloric maintenance can also work, especially if you are a beginner.
But that’s only nutrition in terms of quantity. What about quality? Could you eat McDonalds and ice-creams and still get stronger? In theory yes, but it’s not optimal to say the least. First of all, a healthy well-balanced meal plan will provide you with micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals you need to recover and train intensely and it will ensure your body is running properly.
Don’t forget that strength or muscle mass mean nothing if you are not fit and healthy in general. So there’s really no point in training to look good, if you start getting sick or developing chronic diseases.
#5: Understand The Place Of Accessory/Isolation Movements
As mentioned before, there is a time and a place for smaller assisting, isolation type lifts. While the major compound movements are great, they are not guaranteed to cover every single body part optimally.
For aesthetic purposes, let’s say your biceps or your hamstrings are a weak spot, even though you are progressing just fine with deadlifts and pullups. Then it’s time to throw in an additional exercise such as the incline dumbbell curl or the lying hamstring curl to help you correct any imbalances.
What about strength plateaus though? Let’s say you hit a plateau with your deadlifts. Maybe you should consider incorporating an accessory lift like the deficit deadlift if you are weak at pulling the weight off the floor or the rack pull if you are weak at locking out the weight.
In any case though, supplementing accessory lifts is smart and often needed but you should be focusing the majority of your time and energy around compound movements because that is how drug-free lifters can develop respectable size and strength.
#6: Proper Programming & Goal Setting
The last tip we have for you today is getting in the right mindset and program your workouts around that.
Start by setting realistic goals so that there is something you are actually aiming for. This gives meaning to your training and provides you with the necessary motivation to keep going. For example let’s say you can squat 225lbs right now. Aim for 315 by the end of the year. That’s entirely possible and realistic, not to mention rewarding when you finally get it!
Now, it’s time to program your workout with your goals in mind. Squatting every day is counter-productive and squatting once a week might not be enough. The 3 most important aspects of every strength program should be:
- Progressive Overload. Log your progress and aim to steadily increase the weight every time you hit the gym. If you stall once or twice, that’s fine, keep lifting and you will eventually get there.
- Choosing the correct exercises for your build. For example dips might not be a smart idea for people with long arms and narrow ribcages. Perhaps a better alternative is the decline bench press. Another example would be the incline barbell press. A smart program would have you doing a reverse barbell press as it is far more beneficial for your (upper) chest and you will be less prone to injury while doing it.
- Train in the correct rep range for strength gain. That would be weights around 85% or more of your one-rep-max for 1-5 reps. Lifting moderate weights for 8-12 reps is fine when your exclusive goal is to build muscle but not ideal for strength building.
While all those tips are definitely the ingredients you need to become the stronger version of yourself, let’s not neglect the final ingredient that will complete the recipe. And that’s simply to take a few minutes before every training session, eliminate all negative thoughts and most importantly…get your mind right.