Whether you merely want to move more efficiently and perform your daily tasks with ease, or you aim to lift more to build more muscle, get faster, improve your WOD benchmark, increase your lifting capacity or improve your one rep max, here are 6 tips to help you increase your strength right now.
1. Warm up properly
We’re all strapped for time in our hectic modern lives, which means a thorough warm up before a weight training session is often neglected. However, warming up properly is essential. Not only does it limit the likelihood of injury under heavy load, but it can also improve your strength during the training session that follows.
A 10-minute warm-up that consists of light aerobic activity, dynamic stretching and/or mobility work helps to increase blood flow to muscles and activates the neuromuscular system, which delivers increased strength when it comes time to lift.
There is also sufficient research available to suggest that static stretching negatively influences muscle strength and power output in subsequent workouts, which is why a dynamic warm-up is preferred before physical activity. This was illustrated in a 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research by Aguilar, AJ et al. During the study researchers found that the dynamic warm-up “significantly improved eccentric quadriceps strength and hamstring flexibility”.
The increase in peripheral blood flow also increases skin temperature, which has a direct bearing on your strength, as a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in 2004 shows. The study conducted by Cheung and Sleivert showed that “skin cooling, even with a warm core of 39.5 degrees C, immediately decreased peak torque”. The researchers therefore concluded that “lowered skin temperature can impair isokinetic force production independent of core temperature”.
2. Develop your accessory muscles
When executing the big compound lifts that are so important to strength development it is often the small accessory muscles that fail long before the targeted muscle does. This obviously reduces your ability to move heavy weights and get stronger. Accordingly, by developing these ‘weaker’ muscles you will increase your ability to push and pull heavier weights – effectively increasing your overall strength.
The most important general accessory muscles are your core stabilisers, shoulders, biceps, triceps and calves (your primary movers are generally your chest, back, glutes, hamstrings and quads).
3. Do plyometrics
Plyometrics is a form of explosive training that aids in the development of greater strength, speed and power. This training modality works because a greater concentric (shortening phase) muscular contraction is achievable when it is preceded by an eccentric (loading or stretching) phase of the same muscle. However, instead of merely building bigger, stronger muscle cells, plyometrics augments and improves the neuromuscular system. This provides a stimulus that both promotes anabolism (muscle growth) and ‘teaches’ nerve cells to stimulate a more forceful muscle contraction
4. Get a grip
Grip strength is a rate limiting factor on any lift where you need to hold the bar. Accordingly, developing your grip strength specifically, learning different grip techniques for heavier lifts and using lifting aids when necessary, can help you lift more.
And much like your feet, your hands are also important proprioceptive tools. All the mechanoreceptors in our hands help to guide and control the movement of our arms and proximal muscles, and they also engage the nervous system. In fact, merely gripping a bar more tightly will activate a greater number of muscles in the shoulders as the body prepares to manage the impending load.
5. Rest 3-5 minutes between sets
ATP – the primary fuel source used for intense muscle contractions defined in point 7 – requires a certain amount of time to replenish itself after a set or interval. To be more specific, the ATP-PCr system takes at least three minutes to fully recover (convert ADP back into usable ATP). The general guideline for rest periods between powerlifting, one rep max or plyometric exercise sets is therefore 3-5 minutes to allow for complete recovery and sufficient strength during subsequent sets.
6. Including olympic-style weightlifting in your routine
There is a reason why every strength and conditioning gym in the world focuses primarily on Olympic-style weightlifting – it is, rep for rep, the most effective exercise to improve your strength. It is for this reason that most elite athletes include Olympic-style weightlifting as a part of their sports conditioning programmes. When executed correctly they help to develop explosive speed, strength and power, as well as develop more muscle, improve mobility and activate and strengthen your core.