7 Tips to Increase Strength
by Justin Woltering
Strength: it SHOULD be the main training focus for budding bodybuilders, but far too many guys ignore it. Almost everyone's convinced that certain rep ranges are best for growth, while others are best for strength - but that's nonsense. It's almost as nuts as the idea that light weights and high reps will get you "cut." Have you ever seen a massive bencher with a puny chest? Have you seen a big squatter with tiny legs? It almost never happens. If you really want to spur some incredible growth, start focusing on your maximal strength. Here are a few ways to do it...
1. Don't max out!
Heavy singles can be great (especially when you do a lot of them), but "maxing" all the time is a recipe for disaster. There's a difference between building your strength and TESTING it. You can build it with set after set of heavy lifting, but working up to a one-rep max will do nothing but test. How often do you really need to sacrifice a productive day of training just to "see where you're at?" Leave your ego at the door, and accept that you're not going to hit a max every time you're in the gym.
2. Lift fast.
Whoever popularized slow lifting must never have taken a physics class. Force = mass x acceleration. If you want to produce enough force to lift ever-heavier weights, you've got to train yourself to accelerate the bar as quickly as possible.
Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that you need to incorporate Westside-style "dynamic" workouts. Speed squats and speed benches are useful for some guys, but it's not the kind of thing you want to base entire workouts around. Just start treating EVERY weight like it's your max. When you're warming up, when you're doing higher reps, whenever. Even when the weights look like they're moving slowly, you should be using everything you've got to push (or pull) fast.
3. Up your volume.
"High volume" doesn't necessarily mean high reps. Most bodybuilders operate in extremes, where they're either using light weights, high reps, and tons of sets - or they're doing just a few low-rep sets with heavy weights. A better strength-building strategy is to use heavy weights for LOTS of sets. Just don't blow a gasket by going to failure on every one.
What would an actual workout look like? Instead of working up to just one or two sets of five on the squat, you might use the same weight for six sets of four, or even ten sets of three. Each individual set wouldn't be as tough as one of those fives, but you'd get FAR more total reps in - all of them with a heavy weight.
4. Increase frequency.
Along with an increase in volume, you should also try to up the frequency with which you train each body part or movement pattern. Pulverizing a muscle and letting it rest for a week can work sometimes, but strength is best built with more frequent sessions.
At first, this might mean squatting or benching twice per week instead of once. If you really want to push the frequency, you might work up to three or even four times per week for certain exercises. This is a great strategy if you have a particular lift that really needs improvement.
5. Focus on 3s and 5s.
You can get super-strong with a variety of rep ranges, but sets of three and five are my favorite. Sure, these numbers are a little arbitrary, but the point is that they're low enough to allow for heavy weights - but high enough to require an honest effort on every set. Assuming you're not being stupid and maxing out all the time, singles are just kind of easy - they're over with so fast! I find that using a little less weight and grinding out a couple more reps works MUCH better for building strength.
6. Ditch the cardio.
Even if you're trying to stay lean, cardio should be kept to a minimum. No matter what kind you're doing - sprints, endurance work, easy walking - it's going to eat into your recovery abilities. Your legs may not feel tired after a long walk on the treadmill, but they'll feel shaky as hell once you start squatting.
Don't worry about getting fat, though. If you're increasing the volume and frequency of your strength work, that shouldn't be an issue. Just look at some of the middleweight and lightweight Olympic lifters. They just lift heavy-ass weights all day, and they're ripped to pieces!
7. Gain weight.
This obviously won't work so well if cuts are your goal, but gaining weight is the absolute fastest way to gain strength. This isn't because of some fatty BS about "leverages," either, so don't think you need a big gut to squat big. If you're gaining weight and training for strength, then you're probably gaining new muscle tissue. That makes strength gains WORLDS easier to come by than if you're maintaining or even losing weight.
Justin Woltering is a distinguished fitness expert, author, sponsored athlete, and top cover model. With five certifications and a life long commitment to fitness, Justin is guaranteed to stay on the cutting edge of the industry. He is an experienced fitness consultant who has helped thousands of workout enthusiasts transform their physiques with his exclusive books, videos, articles, and training tips.