By Coach John Mack
For a lot of people, gaining strength is one of their top fitness goals. Being stronger has so many positive carryovers into everyday life, that if it isn’t a goal of yours, it should be. Being stronger means you will be less prone to injury, more capable of handling tasks independently and most important, HARDER TO KILL! And as we age, maintaining and gaining strength should be a top priority to combat the natural process of sarcopenia (losing muscle as we age). Sarcopenia can be slowed and even reversed through a combination of diet and strength training resulting in a longer lifespan and increased quality of life. So with that being said, here are our top tips for getting stronger.
- Eat to support your goals! If you want to gain strength, you need to eat enough to support muscle growth. Under eating will mean your body can never get into an anabolic state, where muscle growth and repair can happen. You also need to make sure you get enough protein per day on a consistent basis. Protein is the building block of muscles and supports multiple other processes in the body. If you aren’t taking in enough protein, your body will begin to break down muscle to get what it needs, sabotaging your strength gains. If you need help calculating your daily goals for caloric intake and macro (your personal prescription for the ratio of protein carbs and fat you need) breakdown contact one of our coaches for help!
- Prioritize Strength! It sounds intuitive and silly to say, but if you want to get strong, then strength must be the first thing you do and all of your other training needs to support that goal. If you are doing multiple training pieces per day (cardio, CrossFit, etc) you need to make strength the first thing on the list after your warm up. For example if your training day is 5 x 800m run, 5 x 5 back squats and 3 rounds of 5 pull ups, 10 push ups and 15 air squats, the back squats need to be the first thing you do so you can give strength your total effort. To be honest, if strength is your ONLY focus (think powerlifters or olympic lifters), then long cardio pieces or metcons (metabolic conditioning) shouldn’t be a part of your regular training. But for those of us who aren’t specialists focused solely on strength, then putting prioritizing it should suffice.
- Linear Progression is King! For those interested in getting stronger, and especially beginners or novice lifters, linear progression programs are the way. Linear progression simply means to incrementally add weight to each lift you perform each week or training session. Some linear progression programs work on percentages of your max lifts (1 rep max, 5 rep max, 10 rep max, etc), bumping up the percentages as the days and weeks go on and some work on adding a consistent amount each training session (for example 10lbs to lower body lifts and 5lbs to upper body lifts). Some of the more famous linear progression programs are the Wendler 5-3-1 or the 5 x 5 method. Linear progression is great, because it keeps you on a long slow trajectory, which is the best way to build strength and it can technically go on forever. It also helps you build a solid foundation before moving up in weight, helping you stay injury free.
- Rest. This point is twofold. Rest refers to the amount of time you take between sets of strength exercises (for example, 3 sets of 8 deadlifts, rest 3 mins between sets) AND getting enough sleep nightly to let your body recover and grow. When you are training for strength it is important that you rest enough between sets (3-5 mins) to allow for your muscles to recharge so you can give maximum effort on your next set. For heavy lifts, your body mostly relies on the ATP-PC system, which takes about 3-5 mins to replenish between efforts. Allow yourself enough rest between sets so your body can recharge and produce those strong efforts again. The other way we are referring to rest, is the quality and quantity of sleep you get on a regular basis. You should be aiming for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. Sleep is when your body does most of its repair (including rebuilding muscles) so getting less is detrimental to building muscle and therefore strength. Lack of sleep can also put your body into a catabolic (muscle limiting) state by causing stress and inflammation. So get your sleep and make sure you take your time when lifting (set a timer).
- Mobilize. This is a very underutilized strategy for getting strong. To paraphrase an old saying “you only get strong in the range of motion you train”. So, by that logic, if you can’t get full range of motion in a movement, then you have a big opportunity to gain strength by gaining that range. Getting into stronger positions will allow you to lift heavier weights safely. So how do you get into better positions? Slow eccentric movements under load! In plain English, this means weighted tempo exercises with a slower negative/eccentric portion. For example a heavy-ish Romanian Deadlift with a 4 second negative and a fast up or concentric lift. Did you know that after gymnasts, the second most flexible/mobile athletes in the Olympics are weightlifters? Time under tension in good positions lengthens the tissues. It works!!