Gaining strength and building muscles are two different things. Don’t be confused!!!
We can of course find individuals willing to build strength but might not want to have huge muscles.
Strength is considered as the base of every athletic move that you do, whether it is hitting the baseball with a bat or clearing the highest high-jump feat. Remember, strength is not limited to the muscles that you build or how buffed-up you get.
Boosting your strength means enhancing your performance towards losing weight, running faster and hitting harder.
Now, there are two ways in which our body increases its strength; either by recruiting more muscle fibers in a muscle group or by increasing the frequency of activities in the motor neurons . (1)
There are different ways that you can opt for to increase your strength:
1. Heavy weight lifting
Lifting heavy weights is likely the best exercise that you can do to improve your strength, by working out the motor units associated with high threshold.
This is beneficial, as the muscle fibers associated with these motor units play an important role in increasing your strength.
Even as you try to lift heavy weights, you must remember that it causes fatigue quickly. However, you must work with weights that are really heavy and bring all your muscles to work, combined with exercises like squats or deadlifts.
Now, as you pick heavy weights, it also becomes important for you to keep the reps fast and explosive. This ensures that you are working out more muscle fibers as you lift.
Warm up with a weight that you can pick up with one rep max (heaviest weight that you can pick in one rep). Then prepare sets of reps with at least 90% of your one rep-max and work out accordingly.
Doing 4-5sets of 3-5reps each can be the ideal session.
2. Weight lifting must be explosive
Increase the speed of your lifts, as it induces acceleration and power development.
You can of course decrease the weight in order to move as fast as possible, using 60-70% of your one rep max can be ideal.
You can additionally increase the resistance by adding chains or bands to increase your ability to accelerate with the weight. You can opt for any explosive exercises that you like, such as kettle bell swings, medicine ball throws, etc.
Here the focus is on the rep speed and not on the weight that you are lifting (but of course making sure it is at least 60% of your one rep max). As your body gets habitual with the reps and weights, you can increase them to increase your strength.
3. Workout with barbells
Barbells are the best option when it comes to weight lifting and thus work best for increasing your strength.
The obvious exercises shall include squats, bench presses and deadlifts with barbells, etc. As with barbells you are able to pick a lot of weight, it takes you closer towards gaining strength and becoming stronger by increasing performance.
Barbells being the heaviest weight of them all, once you have done this, you can move towards other weights as well or simply look for the body weight training exercises.
Keeping in mind the reps have to be explosive, keep the reps range to 4-5 reps per set. You can increase the weights as you move further. Weight lifting should be done for at least three times a week, if you are looking to gain strength.
4. Reduce the volume
Individuals that want to build big muscles and gain strength are often advised to increase the rep range and sets but decreasing the rest between sets.
But for people that are more focused towards getting stronger, it is recommended that they limit themselves to two to three sets only, but increasing the loads.
Here the focus should be reducing the volume and focusing more on explosive weight lifting. This effectively helps to increase strength and explosive power of the individual without actually increasing the size of the muscles.
5. Sprinting or running
If you want to increase your speed, the only thing that you can do is sprint, as regularly and as fast as you can.
Sprinting is the best cardio that you can do; sprinting up a hill can be the best way to work out your legs. This also helps you to lose fat and be lean as well.
Sprint intervals, hill sprints or multi directional sprints shall help you to gain stamina, strength and power that are specific towards running. This shall definitely add to your strengths of accelerating and decelerating when needed.
You can do sets of sprinting regularly; increasing the number of sprints regularly shall help you to develop the strength of running.
6. Stimulate your nervous system with contrast training
Strength is not about how big muscles do you have, but it is the ability of the central nervous system to decide at what force shall the muscle fibers contract and how shall it help you to move more weight.
This psychological mechanism can often be developed with contrast training, which includes strength training and plyometric training in the same session.
The process of doing it is considered as Post-activation potentiation (PAP) method, which is the ability of one exercise to impact the performance of another exercise done after that.
Here first we do a heavy weight training exercise such as squats and then follow it up with tuck jumps.
PAP helps to increase the impacts of the plyometric exercises. This further helps you exert more force and increase your strength and power. (2)
However, as you look for the post-activation potentiation method, it becomes very important to take adequate rest between heavy weight and plyometric training. Not taking enough rest shall cause fatigue in the body and this might lead to muscle loss and decrease in performance.
7. Resting period is crucial
Body builders looking for muscle gains with heavy weight lifting are only advised to rest for 30-60 seconds between sets.
However, individuals that want to increase their strength the rest period has to be comparatively longer, such as 2-5 minutes. It shall of course differ based on the type of exercise done.
As you are doing heavy weight exercises, it becomes essential that you give your body enough time to rest. This shall ensure that you are able to perform same number of reps in your sets every session.
Moreover, going for longer breaks help you to develop the mental strength and ability to focus on the heavy sets.
8. Keeping things as simple as possible
As you look to exercise, the main focus should always be on doing complete reps and the right number of sets. As you do the basics, you must make sure you maintain the right form of the exercise.
This is of course going to benefit you in terms of strength and muscle growth as well as, improving your performance to a great extent.
Using a routine for every session shall allow you to increase muscle tension and thus shall not force you to lower your weights, which might reduce your progress.
Remember, you are only on the right path towards strength gain, if the loads you use keep increasing. Work with strength based training and ensure you give your body enough recovering time and it shall work perfectly for you.
9. Keeping a log of your routine
This shall only help you to understand what are you best at and which are the areas that you need to work on.
Keep a track of the exercises, sets, reps and impacts of each exercise that you do. Note down the highest load lift that you can perform and track the number of reps you have done with a particular weight.
Once you have this information, your focus should be on improving your stats and moving further towards gaining more strength. This can simply be done by increasing the numbers.
10. Keep increasing weights constantly
Plateau is a state where a person is no longer moving forward and thus it stops gaining strength. This happens when an individual continues with the same weight or same reps for too long.
You must look to vary your weights when you train, try lifting little less than what you actually can and work for more reps. Then proceed by increasing the weights by 10 pounds and proceed with the same lift, this will never lead you to plateau again.
Here you have 10 best tips that can help you to increase your strength. Start implementing them in your workouts and get stronger.