If you go ask this question on any Facebook Group or social media platform, you are bound to get easy answers.
- Lift heavy weights
- Go hard
- Do the 3 big lifts; bench press, squat, and deadlift
- Eat a lot of food
- While all of these answers certainly have some truth to them, is this really it? You were probably expecting more than that so let’s talk about this some more.
- Strength Training
Simply put, if you want to improve your strength, you will need to strength train. Bodyweight exercise, a resistance band, and using a pushup as your go-to exercise are not going to get it done. Now, this does not mean you have to approach every workout performing singles and doubles with 5 minutes of rest all the time? Absolutely not! But you should be spending a majority of your time working in lower rep ranges, with heavy weight, to optimize your strength gains.
In order to get stronger, like gaining muscle mass, requires that you continually progressively overload. The principles of strength gain and muscle gain are similar, in fact, those who get strong usually get bigger and those building muscle is also building strength.
Some Approaches To Getting Stronger
Getting stronger does not necessarily mean you have to PR on your 1RM constantly. There are other definitions to getting strong and maxing out on your lifts is just one option. If you spend most of your weight training in traditional bodybuilding rep ranges of 6 to 12, and you move up in weights as the exercise gets easier, you are still getting stronger. Does this typically translate into heavier PR’s, usually but not always.
As you progress in your resistance training, there will come a time when adding weight and muscle no longer is linear. Meaning, that you are not adding 5 pounds every week and it becomes more about adding one rep or using increases in weights in much smaller increments. This is much easier today with microplates to add as low as 1 pound. But don’t be discouraged by this, progress is progress and if you reach this point, after several years, you will likely not only be strong, but pretty big as well.
Increasing Weight And Repetitions
One way to get stronger is to increase the weight you use in a given rep range. You can also increase the reps you complete with a given weight. There are also a number of other strategies for manipulating other training variables and I know this does not appear to be rocket science, but not much in fitness is. Maybe you were expecting some “magic workout” but it really comes down to core principles and applying them and always assessing your progress. By working out consistently, with higher intensities (as defined as proximity to 1RM), you will gradually increase strength. Sound too simple? Well, there is more to contemplate, especially as you progress from a novice to an advanced lifter, but you get the gist.
Another principle that is more critical in strength than a hypertrophy workout routine is to focus on using multi-joint exercises. Benching or squatting early in your workouts is a good way to train with weights that will build stronger muscles. Using multi-joint exercises as the primary driver towards increasing tension on the muscle. If you are seeking an improved bench press, spending all your time doing some form of flyes or doing countless sets on the pec deck is not going to accomplish your fitness goals. If you want to increase your lifts on the bench, squat and deadlift, and possibly close-grip press and overhead press, you will need to spend your time training with these exercises. This does not have to be all you do, in fact, accessory work is also important to progress. However, the main 3 should be your focus.
At the same time as working with high intensity, incorporating periods of hypertrophy are also important. Why? Well, lifting heavy is a great way to increase muscle hypertrophy and vice versa. Increasing muscle size is also a great way to add volume, and muscular endurance and pack the pounds on your lifts. As you create larger muscles, you also create the capacity to increase strength. Check out this article on the effects of volume-equated strength training – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24714538/. This should not come as a surprise as many of the strongest humans also have large muscles and the reverse is also typical.
Big muscles can lift heavy weights and being able to lift heavy weights indicates large muscles. If you think you just read the same thing twice, with a slight difference, you did. Not only do heavier weights recruit more muscle fibers earlier in a given set, but it also leads to higher muscle growth and greater fiber recruitment. Getting big and strong usually goes hand-in-hand and doing so will build you one amazing physique, all at the same time. Follow this up with a sound nutrition plan and you’ll look like a beast (and better naked)!
So quit the nonsense, 25 Rep isolation exercises, and start adding some plates to your lifts. If you are doing this and not seeing the results you want, or expected, it’s likely time to re-evaluate your program. I get it, squatting heavy is not an easy task and some days are easier than others.
Bench press, squat, deadlift, and military press your way to muscle strength and use some damn heavyweight.