Given that summer has passed and we are now into what is known as the ‘off-season’ by many lifters, switching to a routine that focuses on strength more than size is popular.
Training for strength, rather than size, has a few implications. Nothing to worry about, but a few things to keep in mind when you step into the gym tomorrow with the aim of smashing a PR.
Strength Training Overview
In order to build strength, the stress you put on your muscles and body will need to change. First and foremost, you will need to focus on training with less volume.
Simply put, you will be focusing on using heavier weights, but with fewer reps per set. The concept is simple; you are able to lift more weight because you are performing fewer repetitions.
You are also concentrating less on muscle damage, but more on working your central nervous system, in order to make your muscles react quicker, allowing you to life more weight.
Something else that will need to change is your rest periods. It may seem odd at first, especially if you have been following a hypertrophy based plan for some time, but you need to dramatically increase your rest periods.
This is because the nervous system requires more time to recover than your muscles do, as a heavy load is more neurologically demanding to your body. Therefore, rather than resting for 60-90 seconds, you will be resting for around 3-5 minutes (yep!) between sets on your main, compound lifts.
You will also choose several assistance exercises which you can use to aid your main lift(s). For example, for deadlifts, exercises such as good mornings, rack pulls and deficit deadlifts will aid the main lift itself.
Strength Training Methods
There are several methods which are utilised by lifters in order to help with their strength gains. They utilise different techniques to help add numbers on to your lifts.
Some of these will go against general strength training principals, like the ones I outlined above, so whilst you stick to those guideline, implement some of these and see if they help you increase your strength further.
1) 5% Method
Here, you will begin by using the weight that you would normally do for 8 reps. Start by completing 7 repetitions on this weight. Rest for 3-5 minutes between sets. The next 2 times you do the workout, increase the weight by 5%, but drop the number of reps by 1. On the fourth occasion, do 7 reps again, but with the increased weight that you used on the second workout.
This method should help add 5% on to your lifts. It works since you are always increasing the weight that you are doing, improving with each consecutive workout. An example of the 5% method in action would be as follows:
|Week||Exercise and reps|
|Week 1||Bench press (100kg) 4 sets of 7 reps|
|Week 2||Bench press (105kg) 4 sets of 6 reps|
|Week 3||Bench press (110 kg) 4 sets of 5 reps|
|Week 4||Bench press (105 kg) 4 sets of 7 reps.|
2) Wave Loading
This works in a similar way to the 5% method, but you will be increasing the weight on the same workout, rather than the next time it comes along.
To begin, you should pick a weight which you would normally perform for 5 reps, preferably the most you can lift for 5 reps. Perform 4 reps with this weight, resting for around 3 minutes. Up the weight by 5% and perform a total of 3 reps. Rest again for around 3 minutes. Once again, increase the weight by 5% and perform only 2 reps. Follow this up by resting for around 3 minutes again.
Then, you should start the process again, but use a weight which is 5% heavier than the one you used initially.
The reason this works so well is because you were recruiting more muscle fibres from the previous lifts, meaning when it comes around to add the extra 5% on, you will be able to perform it more easily.
3) Clustered Repetitions
Begin by picking a weight which you can lift 2-3 times, preferably the absolute most weight you can lift for that amount of reps.
Simply perform 10 sets of 1 repetition with this weight, resting for only 30 seconds in between. Essentially what this method of training does is allow you to perform 10 repetitions of a weight which you had previously only been able to do for a couple of reps. By resting 30 seconds in between, your body has enough time to recover for the next set/rep.
Through this method, you will work more of your muscle fibres than normal. If you want to add consistent weight on to your lifts, I wouldn’t recommend performing this all the time; focus on one of the other methods. Implement this every couple of weeks, or on an exercise other than your main compound lift e.g. use it for incline bench press, rather than regular bench press.
Strength Building Tips
Now that we have covered the basics, as well as some popular techniques for increasing strength, I will go over several tips to keep in mind when following a strength based plan.
✓ Use compound movements
By utilising compound movements such as bench press, overhead press, deadlifts and squats, you will be able to recruit more muscle fibres and put more load on your CNS, allowing you to lift more weight. These are the exercises you want to focus on lifting heavy on, and the ones you will be aiming to add the most weight on to.
✓ Add forced reps into your routine
If you have a spotter available, you should certainly use forced reps. Essentially, what this means is add around 10-15% extra weight than you would normally use for that rep range. Inevitably, you will need assistance from your spotter to complete all of the reps. Studies have shown that following a forced rep program slightly increased testosterone levels as well as HGH levels, but there is no solid evidence to prove this.
✓ Keep a tempo
When you lift in a controlled motion, e.g. 3 seconds up 1 second down, you will be able to lift more weight, theoretically. This is because you are more mentally focussed, and the weight seems easier to lift.
✓ Lift explosively
When you are lifting a weight whist is less than your 1RM, you should aim to power it up as fast as possible. Explosive movements will allow you to work your nervous system more, allowing you to build more strength.
✓ Focus on your weak points
As I previously mentioned, your assistance exercises should be there to aid your main lifts. If you have a noticeably lagging body part, focus on performing more exercises for that body part. Ensure they are beneficial to your main lift.
✓ Utilise your core
When lifting heavy, something which many people forgo is core stability. Next time you go to perform a lift, keep your core tight, and take a breath in before the repetition (and hold it!) and you will see a noticeable increase in strength.
✓ Warm up effectively
Before your workouts, you should perform several dynamic stretches to prepare your muscles for the heavy load. I like to begin all compound exercises with several light, warm ups sets, even as light as the weight of the bar alone, to prepare for the heavier sets.
Take Home Message
As different as strength and size plans may seem, they are really quite similar. When training for strength, essentially you will lower the reps, lower the volume, increase the weight and increase the rest periods.
Be sure to follow some of the tips from this article, as well as some of the strength building tips which I outlined. If you have your routine in check as well as your nutrition and meal plan, you will see strength gains in no time!