One of the fundamental and most important things you can train for is strength. From specific applications, injury prevention, to general day to day strength, it is immensely beneficial. Seeing as it is so important, I knew I had to create a gaining strength how to article.
Like always with these articles, I will be breaking this complex subject down into three, easy to understand sections giving you the fundamental knowledge to get you started. With that being said, lets take a look at what these three sections are going to consist of:
- Using Heavier Weights and Lower Reps as Your Base
- Foundation of Technique and Building Up
- Managing Stress and Fatigue
I would say these are the 3 most important pillars of strength training aside from the obvious such as proper programming and individual needs. Let’s talk about the first point, using heavier weights for lower reps!
Heavy Weight and Lower Reps:
Using heavy weights and lower reps should lay the foundation of our strength training. This is for a few reasons, it allows our muscles to feel the heavier weight and adapt to it, it helps to overload our muscles to allow them to become stronger, and it is relative to our overall goal.
Using this heavy weight will typically be done with our main compound movements, think the squat, bench and deadlift with some others in there as well. These exercises will allow us to actually utilize this heavy weight, all while being able to apply progressive overload, along with the ability to train with variations. These are the exercises that allow us to activate and use the greatest amount of muscles together which is great for strength training!
Using these heavy weights will help us to activate our type 2 muscle fibres as well, which are mainly responsible for our heavy and powerful movements. This is the muscle type that grows and adapts in the largest amount!
How might we implement this principle? Well, it is fairly straight forward. You want to be picking a weight that challenges you within the 1-5 rep range for a number of sets anywhere from 3-5. This is a good guideline to help you start handling these heavy weights to reap the benefits of them. It is also a great place to start when thinking about our progressive overload.
These movements will be our primary exercises, the ones we perform first because doing our heavy training while we are fresh is ideal. It will allow us to perform the best on the exercises that will be most relative to our goal by nature. It also lays a solid base for us to fill in the rest of our training routine with beneficial exercises and programming.
Foundation of Technique, Progressive Overload and Assistance Exercises:
The reason I have lumped all of these things together is because they are all relative within strength training. We need to have optimal technique to perform our best, reduce the risk of injury and lay a solid foundation to build from. Progressive overload is necessary if we want our body to adapt and see results. Assistance exercises fall nicely in after these things are taken care of as you can implement them to work from a solid foundation and they can compliment your progressive overload and programming.
Once we have our technique down pat, we know applying progressive overload will be beneficial in the sense of things being consistent, a reduced risk of injury and allowing us to train optimally.
When thinking about actually applying progressive overload there a few things to consider in relation to strength training. As I said in my “What is Progressive Overload” article, it can come in many forms. With strength training, we will be using an increase in weight most often as it is the most relative to our goal. With that being said, it makes sense that we prioritize this, whether this being adding weight weekly for beginners, every couple weeks for intermediates or even a month or more for those who are more advanced.
Within this progressive overload comes other methods such as adding reps or sets, using slow eccentrics, etc. This to bridge the gap if adding weight for progressive overload becomes too difficult (to a point where it has adverse effects) or is infeasible.
Assistance exercises get their own little section as there is a fair bit to go over. Assistance exercises can be in the form of variations (ones that look similar to the main movement) or just straight up assistance exercises (ones that may look different from the main movement).
Assistance exercise can be extremely beneficial and are a big part of any good strength program. They allow you to breakdown the lift into different areas (some of which may be weak points for you to work on), and develop them. This could be in the form of paused squats as a variation to help work on getting out of the hole in a squat, or a bulgarian split squat to work on possible muscle imbalances and develop stability.
Assistance exercises are typically performed after a main movement and trained slightly lighter than the main movement (this is relative to the exercise of course). Sometimes, variations can be a part of your main movement strength training to help work on weak points and give your body a different stimulus. This could look like performing a heavy single variation with back off sets utilizing the main movement itself. Other assistance exercise that would likely be performed after the main movement (like the bulgarian split squat) may be performed in the 6-8 rep range. This will still be relatively heavy training, while allowing you to focus on the exercise itself and its characteristics that can help develop the main lift.
This is a rough guideline, definitely not something you must follow to a tee in order to see optimal results.
Managing Stress & Fatigue:
This is definitely something important to consider with any training, but especially strength training. Handling heavy weights frequently, often times with some good volume to follow up can definitely take a toll on your body. With this in mind, you should be able to see there is an importance in managing stress and fatigue.
If you become to worn down with training, a decrease in performance and increased risk of injury can become an issue. That is why utilizing proper programming to find the balance between enough work to produce results while balancing the fatigue from it is important. I will talk more about this below.
As far as managing stress goes, this is referring to how often you’re lifting heavy weights. Although it should be frequent within a strength program, too much is not a good thing. Working up to a max effort single or sets of 3-5 at RPE 10, done6-7 days a week will likely be too much. However, if you were to do some max effort work 2-3 days a week, with more of a focus on challenging, yet not detrimental back off sets, this may be a better approach.
As far as fatigue goes, this is in reference to doing too much volume. While this won’t typically come from your main movements or even secondary assistance exercises, going in and doing a ton of volume after that can have its effects. Maybe a day with some max effort work and some follow up volume, with another day focused on speed work and a bit more volume may be more suitable.
With any program, we of course are going to have our priorities. With that being said, in a strength program, if you dialed back the volume and didn’t lift super heavy on the majority of your exercises, you may be able to do more heavy lifting on your variations, main lifts and secondary assistance exercises. It is a trade off, you need to have your priorities as you can’t do everything.
After reading this article you have learned of the fundamentals of gaining strength. With the reasons why they are important and some ways you can implement them within your training.
I look forward to you being able to implement these principles into your training and them being able to help with your strength gains. I thank you for taking the time to read this article! As always, if you have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to leave them below!
Until Next Time,
Please refer to my liability disclaimer to ensure you know who is responsible for use of this information after reading.