You want to grow stronger. And you don’t want to wait forever for it. You have been extremely disciplined in the gym and you’re ready to start seeing better results. You don’t need to change things up radically. And you don’t have to take enough steroids to kill a horse. Rather, a few modest and gradual changes to your current training, nutritional and recovery programs may be all you need to boost strength gains in just a month’s time. Are you ready?
Stick with free weight compound lifts
There’s no doubt that the machines in your gym are fun. They’re awesome, actually. Comfortable for sitting, with a fixed range of motion, you can use them to focus upon the muscle itself without all that pesky balance and control. However, like it or not, you should accept the fact that the balance and control you dislike so much is responsible for the bulk of strength gains you see in the gym. These so-called stabilizer muscles help to guide your body when you’re training with the heavy lifts like squats, deadlifts or bench press – those lifts which require 2 or more muscle groups to be used to complete. These movements are heavier and more painful, and they’ll leave you quite sore – but their use is essential if you want to grow stronger. For the next month, you should build your entire workout around exercises like bench press, deadlifts, barbell rows, barbell presses, close-grip bench press, barbell curls, squats, barbell calf raises, and stiff-legged deadlifts. You will grow stronger using compound lifts on a regular basis!
Sure, we’ve all seen the powerlifters that bounce their hips and swing their backs to move more weights during competitive bench pressing and squatting. However, these ‘technique’ moves don’t create any new strength. If anything, they place the joints and tendons of the body in precarious positions, which can lead to a greater risk of injury for the lifter. Keep perfect form when lifting for strength, and the muscles themselves will complete the work. The result will be solid gains over time as a result of safe and consistent lifting!
Keep the reps low
Keep your sets in a repetition rage from 1 to 5 if you are truly trying to grow stronger in a short period of time. Training in this manner with 80 to 95% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM) will recruit the greatest possible number of fast twitch muscle fibers. These are the fibers which are directly related to strength. You don’t see many skinny trainers lifting a weight for 30 repetitions in the gym and growing stronger, do you? Those who train very heavy for very low repetitions see the best strength gains – and so can you!
Always warm up
It can be tempting to enter the gym and immediately jump on the first open bench, and start going all out heavy. We’ve all done it, and when the gym is crowded and time is short, nobody wants to wait another 10 to 12 minutes to get down to the beef of training heavy. We all want to jump right in – but we should not. Let your pre-workout supplements settle. Walk for a few minutes on the treadmill. Stretch the muscle groups for a few minutes. Then start with some very low weight exercises for 2-3 sets before going all out heavy. Your blood will be flowing, and both your body and mind will be ready for peak performance on the lifting!
Every time you enter the gym, you need to work harder than you did the last time you trained. Now, this isn’t some vague rah-rah speech about something you would read on a motivational meme. Rather, you need to move more weight each time – period. Consult your training journal and determine exactly how much weight you moved with the last trip to the gym, and for how many repetitions. Even if you have to only add a ½ pound plate to the bar each time – that is acceptable. If you are training with the same number of repetitions each workout – with perfect form – and the weight being moved is increasing, then you are moving in the right direction in terms of strength gains.
Address your weak areas
It’s always fun to enter the gym and attack those lifts with which we’ve always had the greatest success. Who doesn’t like knocking it out of the park every time when it comes to the flat bench press? But overall body strength is improved by the greatest percentage when we are training those WEAKER areas which can use the most improvement. If your squat has never been your strongest area, then you should be STARTING your training each week with leg day. Almost everyone places their chest day early in the week, and almost everyone has the greatest development in terms of their chest. Why not be the outlier – the trainer that legitimately recognizes his or her weaknesses and changes up the training pattern to elicit greater full body success in terms of strength gains.
Eat like a horse
You train like a workhorse. You should be eating like a horse too. Stop worrying about your 6-pack abs for a few months, and focus upon giving your body the blast of protein (chicken, steak, fish and whey), carbohydrates (pasta, rice, beans) and fats (egg yolk & nuts) that it needs to optimally recover from tough workouts, as well as to fuel upcoming workouts. You should be looking to add ½ to 1 pound of weight to your scale each week while you’re in the strength gain cycle.
Building strength requires a unique blend of training, dieting, supplementation, recovery – and brainpower too. Stopping now and then to smell the proverbial flowers, and making modest adjustments to your way of doing things in and out of the gym can go a long way in correcting minor mistakes which have been standing in the way of you making some serious strength gain progress. Put these tips to work, and you may just end up seeing greater results from your own work. Good luck!