There are plenty of articles out there that tell us how to go about building muscle, getting ripped abs and generally developing the body of a god. However what a lot of these articles seem to leave out is how to actually become strong with it, and while the two often go in hand there is certainly a distinct type of ‘functional’ strength that you can develop that will give you the most raw power and it’s not always the same kind of training used to achieve this end.
Here we will look a little at how to build actually strength and power, and how you can do so fast.
Firstly you need to be training with heavy loads. That means that you are taking a very heavy weight and doing fewer reps with it – it’s the opposite strategy to doing lots and lots of reps with a very light weight. Many gym instructors when you start training will tell you that you need to be doing sets of 10-15 on each exercise and using a weight where you could carry on doing a few more repetitions. In terms of strength gains though this is practically a useless strategy that will only serve to improve your endurance and tone your muscle. You’re not challenging yourself to lift a very heavy weight, and so you’re not going to need to get any stronger.
You want to tear the maximum number of muscle fibers in the shortest space of time possible and that is achieved only by trying to lift huge loads and doing a small number of repetitions with them. For instance try doing just three or four reps of a weight that you couldn’t lift any more. This way you will be using all of your strength to do just those few reps, tearing all of your muscle fibers, and telling your body it needs to learn to lift heavy. This is how powerlifters train – they do just four repetitions of each movement in a set an insanely heavy weight.
Another thing that powerlifters do is to constantly challenge themselves to lift heavier – and that’s even if they can barely do the movement. So don’t just top out at what you’re on now until it’s comfortable – every few weeks challenge yourself to go higher and to lift more than you ever have before. Making yourself do it before you’re comfortable with the movement is the only way to build yourself up. Likewise make sure you have a friend on stand by to help you train as they can motivate you through the more difficult moves, spot you, and provide a competitive spirit.
If it’s real strength you want then you need to train for functional power. This is the term used to describe the kind of strength you might use in the real world – because believe it or not you are actually very unlikely to ever need to do bicep curls in the real world. These are ‘isolated’ movements that put your body into an unusual position and force you to train only that muscle. They’re useful in bodybuilding because it allows you to inflate just one muscle group – to get big arms for instance – but in the real world that’s just not the way things work. In the real world we use compound movements meaning that we exercise in a way that involves the entire body – all of the muscles working together in unison to achieve a single aim such as a bench press or a pull up.
The more muscles you use at once then, the more you’ll teach your body to coordinate its movements, to grow in the right proportions and to stimulate your body to produce growth hormone and the other chemicals that you want to grow bigger. There are many different types of compound movement but the most interesting are often referred to as the ‘big three’ and these are bench press, squats and deadlifts – make sure you work them all into your routine. At the same time you should also try using the weightlifting moves such as clean and jerk or clean and press.
There are many different training techniques out there all with different advantages and some of these are highly useful for building strength. This one, ‘static contraction’, is a technique that Bruce Lee swore by and this is coming from a man who could allegedly hold a 40kg barbell out at arm’s length and keep it there for several minutes.
Static contraction essentially works by getting you to pull or to push against an immoveable object. Thus instead of doing a bench press you might just load it up heavier than you can lift and then push against without being able to get anywhere. Hold this for around 10 seconds and then rest and that’s one rep. Do several sets of five reps.
Some people worry that static contraction won’t train your muscles through the whole range of movement, so you shouldn’t use this kind of training on its own. However it is believed by many to be perfect for strength gains and it will also improve your muscle endurance so give it a go.
However when most people talk of strength they aren’t talking about muscle endurance – they’re talking about explosive power. In other words how much power your can throw into a move in one go in order to push someone, lift something or whatever else. To train this you need to train the fast twitch muscle fibers in your body as these are responsible for those kinds of movements. To do that you need to do exercises that require short bursts of power and that means things like box jumps or clapping press ups. Do your bench presses in a short and explosive manner and see how many repetitions you can get out that way.
As static contraction will train your slow twitch muscle fibers, a great way to train is to include both these types of training as that will target all the fibers in your muscles and give you both types of strength. These are the two opposite forms of training – plyometric and isometric – and they are perfectly complimentary.
Training and Recovery
Your programme then should involve lifting weights that you can only rep three or four times. But you should also make sure that you do lots of sets on each body part and that you make the workouts very intense. This is what will tear your muscle fiber and make you start growing. If you don’t ache after a workout then you haven’t done it right. From here you then need to make sure that you give yourself time to rest, and that you eat a lot of protein in the form of protein shakes or meat. This way you will give your muscles recovery time so that they can start to grow and by eating the protein you provide them with amino acids – which is what your body uses to build them back stronger. The rest is just as important as the actual training as otherwise your muscles won’t get stronger – they’ll just get battered.
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