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December 21, 2021
While getting stronger is undoubtedly a nice little ego boost in the gym, the real benefit of building strength is how much it can improve, and as studies show, extend, your life. Not to mention, the more strength you have, the more potential for building muscle too.
Now, we are not saying that you need to become a powerlifter or strongman (or woman), but it is important that you do your best to keep your strength levels high, relative to your natural genetic potential. By doing so, you will enhance your life in many ways and build resilience to injury long into your latter years.
In this article, we are going to cover the following:
Your ability to move and lift objects is based on muscular strength. Muscular strength represents the amount of force a muscle can create in a single maximal effort and how much weight you can move at near maximal force in a short duration of time. Muscular strength depends on the size of your muscle fibers and your nerves capability to activate these muscle fibers. Your nerves activate muscle fibers when you contract your muscles.
Muscular strength is usually referred to when talking about exercising. Resistance training, such as bodyweight exercises, weightlifting (i.e. barbells and dumbbells), and resistance band exercises are all ways you can build more muscular strength.
Although your muscular strength determines how much force you can generate during any particular exercise, there are other factors that can affect your strength when working out or even completing daily activities like chores around the house. This makes defining muscular strength a little complicated. So, let's dig into that.
Muscular strength is tied together with muscular power and endurance.
They are all equally important and both play into overall muscular strength.
For example, if you were to do one minute of push ups, you would need muscular strength to lift yourself up, muscular endurance to sustain this for the allotted time, and muscular power if you want to do as many reps as possible.
Strength, power and endurance aren’t the same, but they do go hand-in-hand. Muscular strength helps muscular endurance, muscular endurance helps muscular strength. What’s more, without a combination of strength, power and endurance, you can not build the muscle you likely desire, which in turn will give you more strength. To ensure you're including all of these, follow the FITT principle guidelines to create a workout program that can improve your strength, power, and endurance.
Bodily Factors of Strength:
Strength relies on your muscles having adequate support, which means your joints, bones, ligaments and tendons need to be up to par.
Another important point is your neural connection, as your motor neurons must coordinate with each other to fire off muscle fiber contraction at the same time during movements and lifts.
More to the point of the muscles specifically, the size of your muscles and their ratio of slow and fast twitch fibers determines strength and endurance. Your muscles work as one component but you need to train strength in a variety of ways to have well-rounded ability in your muscular strength.
Muscular strength can be broken down into four main categories. This will help you understand how power and endurance relate to strength and the purpose of adding variety to your training program. If you want to be strong in every sense of the word, you need to train for all of the below.
1. Absolute Strength:
Absolute strength is another term for maximal strength. It relates to a 1 rep max. It’s the absolute maximum weight you can lift in one shot.
Exercises that are good for training absolute strength are squats, deadlifts, and presses. These compound exercises require your motor neurons to fire together, incorporating large groups of muscles to complete the lift.
To train for absolute strength, you don’t want to just do 1 rep max lifts all the time. The best way is to incorporate a 5/3/1 method.
Round 1: 3 sets x 5 reps
Round 2: 3 sets x 3 res
Round 3: 3 sets x 5/3/1 reps
Round 4: Deload
During the 5/3/1, you can take as much time to rest between sets as needed.
Training for maximum strength won’t only increase your strength, but it will give you denser muscles, bones, and higher levels of muscle building hormones.
After you finish a 5/3/1, you should do another 2 or 3 exercises that train other kinds of strengths…
Note: The 5/3/1 method is not the only way to go about training absolute strength, it’s just one of the best.
2. Explosive Strength:
Explosive strength refers to the speed of your strength. How quickly you can move the weight. The better your capability to exert a lot of force in a short period of time, the more explosive strength you have (i.e. power). This is a very important type of strength for athletes.
Note: Explosive strength is about max speed during the concentric phase not the eccentric phase. The eccentric phase can be controlled, but the concentric should be explosive. For example, if you do a deadlift for explosive strength, you lift it up with max speed, but you bring it down normally (you could even drop it down if your gym doesn’t mind).
There are many ways to train for explosive strength, and it is important that you train for explosive strength in various ways besides just your typical free weight lifts or bodyweight exercises. For example, ballistics with kettlebells, plyometrics, sprinting, and rotational movements are great for improving explosive strength.
Explosive strength training is very dynamic. You are not focusing on a lot of weight, you are emphasizing speed with sub maximal resistance. This is why bodyweight exercises are great for working explosive strength - pull ups, push ups, dips, jumping squats, box jumps, sprints, etc.
Adding resistance bands to bodyweight exercises and barbell exercises are great for boosting explosive strength as well. Bands will decelerate the eccentric phase, causing a superior stretch reflex. Moreover, the resistance increases as the bands stretches during the concentric phase. Here's a post where we go into more details about free weight strength training with bands.
When working on explosive strength using free weights, choose a submaximal weight that you can lift with maximum speed. You want to really be able to move the weight quickly and explosively. Too heavy and you won’t be able to do that, but also too light and it is not as effective.
With free weight exercises like presses, do sets of 6 at maximum speed while maintaining good form. For squats and deadlifts, 2-4 reps is good. Remember, keep good form and move as explosively as possible. Contract those muscles with explosiveness!
For difficult bodyweight exercises like pull ups, you will want to keep the reps low. If you can do 10 pull ups, you will likely want to do 1-3 reps at max speed and full range of motion. If your pull up slows down, you want to stop, rest and repeat.
Work in a rep range that you can maintain the same max speed. This applies for all explosive strength exercises, which is why many exercises may just be 1 rep.
Another important thing to note is that absolute strength goes hand-in-hand with explosive strength. The more you improve maximum strength, the greater your explosiveness will be, and vice versa.
All in all, if you want overall strength, training for explosive strength is vital. Plus, it will make you more injury resilient as well.
3. Endurance Strength:
Endurance strength relates to muscular endurance when resistance is in play. It is the ability to repeatedly exert force against a form of resistance. So, any activity that has a relatively long duration of muscle tension will increase muscular endurance. The goal is to not decrease the efficiency of your muscular strength for that duration of time.
Strength endurance is a kind of training that is going to give you the most pain and pump.
Strength endurance can be trained with bodyweight movements, such as push ups, squats, handstands, and so on. Your goal is not speed, it is to do proper reps for as long as you can. You want maximum tension for a longer duration of time.
Another great way to train strength endurance is with submaximal weights for high reps, like bodybuilding. So, 15-20 rep range with free weight exercises.
You can also do hill sprints, sled pushes or the likes to build strength endurance. It’s all about building those slow-twitch muscle fibers.
With strength endurance, you want to keep your rest time low between sets. Aim for 30 seconds between sets. Although up to 1 minute is ok as well.
Like the rest of the strength types, strength endurance will translate into improvements in the other forms of strengths. It will also improve your overall fitness capacity and your postural stability. On the whole, it is a great method of strength training for improving your performance of working out.
4. Relative Strength:
Relative strength is exactly how it sounds, it is relative to your size and weight. It has to do with your body weight-to-force ratio…or in other words, how much weight you can move in comparison to your bodyweight.
Relative strength could also be referred to as efficient strength.
Two examples of relative strength:
Two guys of the same weight go to do pull ups. The first guy can only do 10 pull ups and the second guy can do 15 pull ups. The second guy has more relative strength.
Let’s say a 200lb guy can bench press 200lb once and another guy at 150lbs can bench press 175lbs. The 150lb guy has less maximum strength but he has more relative strength.
For relative strength, all strength types matter. There is no specific way to train for relative strength, but if you focus on the other areas of strength, your relative strength will increase. This is especially true with training maximal strength. If you train for maximal strength, your relative strength will typically increase. Endurance and explosive strength are equally as important if you want to increase relative strength.
So, to sum it up, relative strength will increase if you train the other three areas of strength.
Put together a training program that incorporates everything and you will improve the quality of life on all fronts where strength matters!
There are so many benefits that come from improving muscular strength and definition, especially if you work on all of the types of strength we mentioned above. This applies to people from all walks of life and professions.
There are four exercises we recommend for the 1RM Test (one rep max test) - Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Press, and Military Press.
Be careful and warm up before testing yourself. Don’t get yourself injured just to test your 1RM max. But, if you know how to do these exercises with good form, you will be able to see where you stack up with others of the same height, weight and age. Write down your numbers and then do a Google search for a Weightlifting Calculator Strength Level.
The test above is going to test your maximal strength. To sum it up, you want to be able to at least squat and deadlift 1.5x your bodyweight, bench press 1.25x your bodyweight, and overhead press .75x your bodyweight. But don’t worry if you can’t right now. Just make that your goal.
Other types of strengths will be harder to determine. But the 1RM test is a good overall indicator of your strength. Note: you can test your relative strength with bodyweight exercise calculators too.
See how you match up with average strength standards for men & women.
How's your grip strength?
Grip strength is a good indicator of your muscle mass and strength. Poor muscle strength is often correlated with weak grip strength. You can squeeze a dynamometer with your non dominant hand to see where you stack up with others.
You can also kind of tell when doing exercises if your grip strength is weak. For example, if you have trouble holding on to the pull up bar or a barbell during lifts, you need to really work on your strength and in turn your grip strength.
The answer to this is simple. You need to do strength training! With muscles, you have a use it or lose it effect. Inactivity will cause a decrease in both muscle size and strength. Without consistent strength and resistance training, you will undoubtedly experience atrophy (loss of muscle mass and strength). So, to prevent muscle weakness, just workout! Train for strength with resistance training!
Here are 7 tips for improving muscular strength at home or in the gym, fast (or at least as fast as possible).
1. Train For All Types of Strength:
When creating your workout program, be sure to add the different types of strength we discussed - absolute, power, endurance, and relative strength. This will give you a well-rounded fitness. Moreover, each type of strength ties into the other, so by doing one, you will be improving the other as well.
Now, you might be thinking, how can I add all these different kinds of strength trainings into my workout plan. No worries, we will show you sample workouts that do further below. It’s not complicated.
2. Progressive Overload and Muscle Stimulation:
Progressive overload means you are adding more stimulus to your workouts with each week. It basically means you are continually making your workouts harder. You can do this in a variety of ways, such as adding more weight, doing more reps, decreasing rest time and so on. With strength training, to get stronger, you need to add more weight. At some point, you may hit a plateau, but that’s long into the future. Plus, the simple way to break this plateau is to implement other progressive overload techniques (i.e. add more reps). Also, working on power/explosiveness and starting strength (i.e. bench squats) will help you break plateaus.
Another thing you should do is switch up the exercise if you start to hit a wall. For example, do front squats instead of back squats. Do sumo deadlifts instead of standard deadlifts. Don’t forget about exercises like the back squat. Hit them at least every other week, but start working on other exercises. If you do this properly, you should be able to get back to your back squat gains quickly.
Of course, we all have a limit in regards to how much we lift. But, 99.9999% of people don’t reach it. So, keep up with progressive overloading if you want to keep on getting stronger.
And remember, if your workouts are getting easier, you aren't progressively stimulating your muscles as you should and you won’t continue to get stronger like that.
3. Switch Things Up & Variety:
You can do many of the same exercises every week or two weeks, but switch up the order. Like we said, keep your body guessing.
Change up the exercises. For example, if you do front squats all the time after back squats, try switching out front squats for split squats every other week.
If you want to get stronger, one thing we recommend that you keep consistent, week in and week out, is use heavy weights (relative to the exercise and your capacity) and work on all the different types of strengths. Do one or two bodyweight exercises every session. Do one or two big compound lifts every session. Do an explosive exercise every session. It’s that simple.
Note: As a beginner, you can get quite strong with bodyweight exercises, but if you want to take things to the next level of getting really strong, we recommend emphasizing the compound lifts. Of course, keep the other stuff as you want endurance, explosiveness and to be able to throw your body around like you do weights. If you can lift weights that are much more than your bodyweight, you must also be able to do bodyweight exercises like pull ups with ease. If not, are you truly strong? Strength is about what and how much you can move as much as it is about how well you can move.
Just don’t be lazy. Train to be well-rounded. A one hour workout is more than enough time to do it all.
4. Heavy Weights:
If you want to get stronger, you need to use heavy weights. This is all relative to your level. But, if you are doing a workout like a 5/3/1 that we mentioned earlier, you better be using weights that actually challenge you. If you are blasting through the 5/3/1 with ease, you need to reassess how much weight you should be lifting.
Also, if bodyweight exercises are easy, add resistance to them. Do weighted pull ups, banded push ups, weighted dips, etc. The same goes for explosive bodyweight exercises (i.e. banded box jumps or adding more height to your jump). “Heavy” is a many-sided word in the world of fitness.
5. Focus on Compound Exercises:
We already discussed this above. Compound exercises are king for building strength. They should make up 80% of your workout. In fact, they could make up the entire workout and you wouldn’t be missing anything in terms of strength training. That said, if you want to isolate some muscles by doing bicep curls or whatnot, so be it. Just make sure the majority of your strength training is with compound exercises (be that bodyweight exercises or free weights or even machines).
Note: While there are some useful machines for strength training (i.e. the classic leg press), don’t skip free weights and only use machines. Of course you can use machines once in a while, as, like we mentioned, it’s good to switch things up every now and again.
6. Add Resistance Bands Into Your Routine:
We highly recommend adding resistance bands into your routine as they provide elastic tension and all the other free weight training tools and bodyweight exercises are based on gravitational force/tension. Bands will target your muscles in a different way, which is great if you want to build all around strength. Plus, when you combine bands with free weights, you can eliminate strength curves.
7. Sleep Well & Eat Well:
Strength doesn’t just come from working out, you need to eat well and sleep well to get stronger, without that, you won’t progress.
Sleep 7-9 hours a night and eat a healthy diet. Eat a high protein diet to build muscle and don’t skip out on carbs and fats if you want to get stronger, they are essential too. Of course, don’t go overboard with any one type of food, just eat smart and eat enough so you can build muscle, as that is what it takes to get stronger.
BEST FOODS TO INCREASE MUSCULAR STRENGTH:
If your diet consists of unprocessed whole foods like the above and you workout properly, you will be on your way to strength city.
However, you also need to switch things up and vary your training. Here are the best exercises to add into your strength training program. These exercises cover all the various strength types we discussed.
Barbells and Dumbbells:
Related: 50 Best Kettlebell Exercises
Core strength is arguably the most important, so don't forget to keep your core strong.
Related: 30 Best Core Exercises
There are many other exercises that you can do, but the above are plenty to get started with.
Resistance Bands are great too! We already mentioned why, so here are a few exercises that are musts:
Cables are sometimes overlooked in terms of strength, but they can be great for building strength too (similar to bands but with completely flat resistance, which means the resistance is the same throughout the entire range of motion):
Now, we can’t tell you exactly how to design your workout program because we don’t know what equipment you have access to, but we can give you a principle to follow that will lead you to success with strength training. It’s called the FITT principle - Frequency, Intensity, Time, and Type of workout. When designing your program consider all of the points below.
This relates to the amount of workout sessions you do each week.
For beginners, you should be training for strength at least two days a week. Other workout days can focus on things like cardio.
That said, if you are very driven to become stronger, you should train 5 days a week, with 3-4 strength training sessions and 1-2 cardio sessions. If you are focusing on the various types of strengths, you will be able to fit everything in with this kind of frequency.
Intensity refers to the amount of weight used and the number of repetitions.
For strength training, you should do 1-10 reps of 60-90% of your max weight. Each exercise should be 2-4 sets.
Beginners can get away with lightweight for higher reps, but at some point, you will need to increase the weight if you want to continue progressing.
This is about how long your sessions are.
Each strength training workout should be 30 to 60 minutes.
You also need a good work-to-rest ratio. For strength training, aim to have a 1-to-3 or 1-to-6 ratio depending on the type of exercise. So, for example, if you are doing banded push ups and a set takes you 20 seconds, you can rest 60 seconds. For heavy lifts like deadlifts, if it takes you 20 seconds during the lift, then you should rest on the higher end (i.e. 2-3 minutes) before you begin your next set.
Type means type of exercise. The exercises should vary. Not only the type of strength you are working on but the actual exercises themselves. This is how you will continually improve and it keeps your workouts more engaging.
Remember to think about progressive overload.
Full Body Session A:
Full Body Session B:
You can rotate between Session A and Session B for several weeks before switching things up. Be sure to have a deload week every 4-8 weeks.
Here are a couple more workout examples that are well rounded in the strength department.
The following are split workouts which are good for building muscle as well.
Alternate explosive exercises for Box jumps (i.e. Sprints: 3-4 sets x 100 meters (60%/70%/80%/85% max speed)
Keep your work:rest ratio at 1:3 to 1:6. For the 5/3/1 method, you will be on the high end of this, but for the rest of the workout, you can keep it to around 1-2 minutes rest.
Note: You can swap out exercises each week, but try to keep the main lifts like squats.
Core training: Do core on cardio days or do 1-2 core exercises after every other strength workout.
If you want to become stronger, then strength training should make up 80% of your workouts each week. So, if you train 5 days a week, do 4 well-rounded strength training sessions like we showed you above and 1 cardio session. You could also do 3 strength training sessions and 2 cardio sessions.
At a bare minimum, you need to do strength workouts 2 times a week, with a maximum of 4. You need to give yourself time to rest.
Ideally, you would be targeting different muscle groups each session, so them your muscles will be able to rest and you can avoid overtraining. If you were to do full body workouts, then you can workout every other day. However, if you do split workouts, then it could look like this:
Monday: Leg Strength Training
Tuesday: Chest Strength Training
Wednesday: Rest or Cardio/Core
Thursday: Back Strength Training
Friday: Shoulder/Arm Strength Training
Saturday-Sunday: Active rest
For cardio, you can add a day or two on its own or you can do 20-30 minutes after your strength workouts. Same goes for core. One day 10 minute core workout after you training, the next a 30 minute light cardio. That way you can have 3 full rest days a week.
If you want some freebies, you can also go for one of these 5 Strength Training Programs.
More Training Resources:
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