As with all weight training programs, you need to pair lifting with healthy eating over time in order to see results. Now that we have those crucial points out of the way, let’s talk about how you can weight train for strength. A general concern with everyone who wants to start weight training is that they have a fear of gaining too much muscle mass and “bulking up”. But it is entirely possible to build strength via weightlifting without adding all that extra mass; and to do that, you’ll be lifting for strength and not for size.
There are two types of strength training: relative strength and absolute strength. Relative strength involves building strength while adding cardio and controlling your calorie intake, while absolute strength (also known as sarcoplasmic hypertrophy training) aims at becoming the strongest person possible with no concern for mass or weight gain. We’ll be focusing on the former in this article.
Here are a few good pointers to keep in mind when weight training for strength:
1. Lift heavy and explosively, with long rests in between
Unlike weight training for endurance, you will want to lift heavy with long rests in between your lifts. You’ll want to lift weights that are no less than 85% of your one rep maximum (1RM). The aim here is to lift a large amount of weight for a limited number of exercises that work the most muscles possible. Suggested rest times between each set should be anywhere between two to five minutes, depending on the exercise.
Additionally, the key behind strength training is lifting with speed while still being in control, also known as speed-strength conditioning. Men’s Fitness writes that lowering the volume and focusing on bar speed will have a better training effect for improving strength and explosive power rather than muscle growth.
Popular lifts for those looking to build strength include the deadlift, bench press, overhead press, barbell row, squat, clean and jerk, hang clean, and overhead snatch. You can also use resistance bands or body-weight exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, dips, and pistols if you don’t have easy access to the gym (or just want to workout from home). One of the more popular training programs you can follow is the 5×5 (meaning five sets of five reps), a routine that uses the five free weight compound exercises.
2. “Progressive overload”
“Progressive overload” means spending more time in the discomfort zone. By varying your loads and volumes during your workout, you’ll be taxing your body so that it is forced to repair and reinforce itself. As Robert dos Remedios, football coach at the College of the Canyons, mentioned to Men’s Health: “The human body is amazing. The more work you do, the more you will be capable of doing over time.”
We gain strength through lifting weights in the following three ways: increasing the number of sets, increasing the number of repetitions, or adding weight. For strength, we need to add heavy weight over time coupled with a low number of reps.
For added overall strength, try varying the positioning of both your hands and feet. As Men’s Fitness equates: by using more angles, more fibers, and longer ranges of motion, you’ll gain greater strength. By varying your positions, you can add to your existing exercises and (hopefully) will refrain from becoming bored with working out; this adds an extra element to your routine.
3. Balance and cycle your workouts
When we say balance, we don’t mean hopping on top of an exercise ball in the hopes of strengthening your core while lifting weights. Also known as periodization, balancing your workouts involves a few things. One of the things you’ll want to do is to incorporate a horizontal exercise for every vertical exercise, and vice versa. These involve the horizontal push and pull, vertical push and pull, knee dominant and hip dominant, and rotational core and stabilized core; these will ensure that you have a balanced workout and are working all sides of your body. Periodization also involves pacing out your workout, so that you are increasing your volume and weight lifted over time, while giving your body ample amounts of time to rest. Be sure to exercise all muscle groups and areas, especially those that are your weak points (rotator cuffs, abdominals, etc.). By strengthening your weak points, you’ll be able to get more power and usability out of your prime mover muscles (pecs, quads, etc.) By focusing on these weak links, you’ll ensure that you don’t suffer from a muscle imbalance when training and will lessen your risk of injury.
You can certainly still include cardio into your workout routine when training for strength, but limit these sessions to 20-30 minutes, once or twice a week.
When it comes to training for strength, your main focus should be on getting stronger and not on isolating muscles or achieving the most perfect abs. Over time, strength training will help you build the body that you want without making you look like an Olympic bodybuilder. It a great way in which you can build lean muscles, burn fat, boost your stamina, develop strong bones, and earn the physique you want.