Whenever I hear a client say they don’t want to lift heavy because they don’t want to get big, I immediately slam my head against the nearest hard object. I guess that would also explain the headaches. In all honesty though, people just don’t understand what strength is and what it means. STRENGTH is a mechanical attribute, the ability of the neuromuscular system to create a series of muscular contractions to create tension and counteract a resistance or load. When people hear the word strength, they imagine a massive powerlifter or bodybuilder moving incredible amounts of iron, doing menial exercises. Of course you don’t need to bench 400 lbs, squat 600 lbs or deadlift 700 lbs if you’re an accountant! Out of all the people who go to the gym and workout, almost none of them use a squat, deadlift or bench press to complete their daily tasks; so why do we bother lifting heavy and building strength?
As I said, strength is mechanical. The weight that we move in these exercises is only a reflection of the force we generate through our joints, since muscles open and close joints and move bones. This is what people do on a daily basis, they move bones, they open and close joints. On top of moving joints, they also STOP MOVEMENT and stabilize joints. The stronger you get in the gym, the more able you will be outside of the gym to move and also resist movement (aka balance and stability). Does this sound like something that could help you?? Why are you so scared of strength? Some would even say it’s functional! Actually, that’s another article for another day. I’m going to automatically assume you’ve already agreed that you’d benefit from more strength, just like you’d agree that watching superhero movies instantly increases testosterone. So how do I build strength??
If you’re a sports scientist or fitness professional I want you to understand that I’m purposely simplifying this for the benefit of a larger audience of readers. That being said, building strength is different than increasing muscle size. Chances are, you are nowhere near your strength limit for the muscle mass you already have, let alone the potential you’ll have with even more. Also, training for more strength will not necessarily build more muscle mass either, that’s dependent on a greater number of factors including nutrition, recovery and volume. As an example, have you ever seen an elite weightlifter walking down the street with loose fitting clothing? You would never know some of them squat 450lbs ++. Now imagine a bodybuilder walking down the street with loose fitting clothes, everyone can tell they are big. Weightlifters train for strength and power, bodybuilders train for size, and these are different qualities (weightlifters can still be shredded though, so embrace it!). So how do I build more strength?? The key to building more strength is to make your nervous system more efficient at both activating more muscle fibers and activating them faster. Now that you know what it means on paper, how do you actually train for it?
Key on these 3 things to increase strength:
1) Learn how to lift heavy!… Before you get scared, this is relative to you. The closer you lift to your 1RM (1 rep max) the more you are training for strength. If you can only lift 5lbs for 1 rep, then thats your 1RM. Try increasing your weights for the next month and see how it goes. If you do 3 x 10 for compound lifts, try 5 x 5. If you already do 5 reps, try 4 or 5 sets of 3 reps.
2) Learn how to rest between sets!… If you are doing skipping or running between sets, you won’t be able to do a heavy set of 3. We don’t just want 3 reps, we want 3 tough reps with your energy recovered (2 mins rest). Save your conditioning for later. If you don’t monitor rest, get a TIMER .
3) Learn to use the nervous system!… When you’re awake and moving, your nervous system is draining. If we want to utilize our nervous system effectively, we want it to be rested and fresh. This means that throughout a week, you can’t crush super heavy workouts every single day, try putting a day between heavy days if possible, whether it be a day off or a light recovery day. During a workout it means do your hardest work while you’re freshest. Don’t try your heavy lifting after an hour on the treadmill and 30 minutes of arms and core. Be smart about your training.
The more you raise your maximal strength, the easier everything below that level will be. Don’t consider it a style of training reserved for people who want to be strong, consider it a necessity (as a phase at least) to improve your abilities in your daily life.
WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE!? GO LIFT SOMETHING HEAVY!!
It’s About Getting Better!