Using weight training to increase your muscle strength for another sport or for daily activities is the solution of choice. For a bodybuilding practitioner , wanting to increase their strength can also help unlock a period of stagnation. The problem ? Pushing weights without a method does little to help.
In theory, there are a number of ways to do this, but the idea is to focus on the best that is done. That’s why I’m going to give you 4 ways to increase muscle strength quickly and effectively. Inspired by powerlifting practitioners, strength specialists.
Here is the summary:
Increasing muscle strength is not just a big deal
Who hasn’t heard that weight training is bloat?
Between a non-athletic person and a bodybuilder with a lot of muscle mass, it is obvious who will be stronger. However, we’ve all seen a video where a bodybuilder gets beaten up by a professional arm wrestler, even though he looks less muscular. People therefore deduce that weight training does not necessarily make you stronger.
The arm wrestling example is perfect, because indeed, the size of a muscle is not the first factor of strength . Much of it comes from the nervous system, the one that sends information to muscles to contract.
Indeed, the training of this professional will be oriented so as to become strong on this movement in particular. Not only by working the muscles requested during the effort, but also his technique, by repeating the same gestures over and over again.
This is how he strengthens, creates and learns to use the same nervous circuit . His nervous system will then be able to quickly and efficiently mobilize the muscle fibers .
Ultimately, the goal is the same, to work on your nervous system to increase your muscle strength . Therefore, the best way is weight training, but the way to practice it must be adapted.
Prepare before and during training to be strong
At first glance, if you are looking to increase your strength, then you need it for something in particular. Whether for a athlete or not, it is important to know that to get closer to your maximum potential, you have to prepare.
Indeed, many people throw themselves under the bars or start to practice their sport without warming up properly. It’s a bit like a car, which needs to be heated before you can enjoy it. Therefore, unprepared training can not only lead to injury, but also decrease its effectiveness.
Therefore, it is essential to follow a few steps. To know first of all its real performance, although part of it is also impacted by healthy living.
Warm up well to force yourself
Warming up isn’t all about injury prevention. It also helps to prepare the nervous system for a intense effort .
Take the test, load a squat bar at your usual workload without any warm-up. In this case, you will feel like the bar weighs a ton on top of your legs shaking. In fact, one way to know that the warm-up was insufficient is to see an increase in repetitions over the series on the same exercise. The nervous system was actually unprepared.
First, to warm up well, you can follow its steps:
- Global warming: to raise the body temperature thanks to a rower or walking for example.
- Warm up the muscles and joints: light, with exercises for the muscles that are going to be used. For example, to prepare on a bench press , it is necessary not only to warm up the pecs , but also the triceps , the biceps , deltoids and rotator cuff .
- Build up gradually: On the final exercise, do 2 to 3 sets before starting, gradually adding weight without getting tired.
The potentiation to gain muscle strength instantly
A little bonus for gaining strength immediately in a short period of time is to use potentiation . Indeed, it is possible to give yourself the illusion of wearing a bar lighter than usual by “fooling” your nervous system.
In theory, using an electro-stimulator is ideal for potenting your muscles (although I never had the opportunity to test). In practice, since it is rare to have access to this device, it is possible to do otherwise.
For this, several scenarios:
- You want to temporarily gain strength on a classic series. For example a set of 10 reps: Before starting your sets, you can do 2 to 3 repetitions with a weight heavier than your workload.
- You want to increase your strength for 1RM (one repetition maximum). In this case, just put heavier than your 1RM, say 120%, then maintain the weight 5 to 10 seconds, without movement. For example your 1RM bench press is 100kg, the idea is to put on 120kg to hold the bar at arm’s length without doing repetitions.
It is also possible to use potentiator exercises , such as heavy shrugs for the upper body and the press (or squat) for lower body.
The rest time too short
Sometimes the lack of strength can also come from rest periods .
Indeed, a bodybuilding practitioner can quickly stagnate on a polyarticular exercise in particular, if he does not give his nervous system time to recover sufficiently between two sets. Unlike the breath and the burning sensation, it’s hard to know when our nervous system is ready to resume effort.
A simple way to know if you need to lengthen your rest or not to regain your strength is to see a decrease in the number of repetitions over the sets. For information, rest times can easily go up to 5 or even 7 minutes if the goal is to increase your strength.
The execution of the exercise and the number of repetitions
To become strong, it is important to follow a few rules, especially about performing the exercise and repetitions. The main goal is not to be stamina or to gain muscle mass, but always to work on your nervous system. Therefore, it is important:
- Perform a low number of repetitions with a load close to your max: 4 to 6 preferably up to 10 for the legs.
- To work in explosive .
This is not about taking the negative, but rather taking advantage of the energy build-up on the descent to be stronger on the push (or pull). On the other hand, the use of a low repetition range, performed explosively, mobilizes the muscle fibers most appropriate for strength, especially the II-b fibers .
A way of doing that is often found is 5 × 5, that is to say, do 5 sets of 5 repetitions while increasing the load at progressively, until it gets as close as possible to its max. In my opinion, this is a little too mathematical. The strength being mainly nervous, there are days when you will necessarily be less strong, more tired. Thus, the number of sets (or repetitions) will have to be adapted. The nervous system being put to the test, there is no need to go beyond its capacities on D-Day.
Of course, no need to remind you to do the polyarticular exercises where you have the most energy, ie at the start of the session.
4 ways to increase muscle strength for sure
So far, we have seen how to bring together all the conditions to get closer to its maximum potential. Now let’s talk about progression, that is, how to increase muscle strength .
Sometimes it is enough to analyze your movement to know its strengths and weaknesses.
Take the bench press, for example. Let’s say you’re about to do your maximum rep, you:
- Grab the bar.
- Lower the bar to chest level (so far that’s okay).
- Shoots, and there … it blocks. But it blocks at a particular moment, usually in the middle of the movement.
The conclusion we draw, you lack strength in a part of the movement and that is precisely the key. You have to vary the load so that the more you contract, the more difficult it is, to learn how to be stronger where it is needed.
A little difficult with free weights… That would mean you should have someone add more weight to the bar as you push. These are its drawbacks:
- The resistance is always the same: on a bench press, the weight will be the same when stretching and contracting.
- Free weights are subject to gravity: On a dumbbell curl, for example, the up and down movement will be easy, the hardest part being when the arms are parallel to the floor.
Fortunately, there are a number of tools and methods available for this. I preferred to keep 4, easy to apply.
Elastics, the holy grail for gaining muscle strength
To start let’s talk about rubber bands, this accessory that everyone should have. Inexpensive, does not take up space and is so efficient. I managed to catch up on weak spots and increase my strength in a few moves with this simple tool. The idea is to supplement the free weights with elastic bands.
Consequently, the advantages are multiple and we solve a lot of problems:
- The resistance is variable : the more you contract, the more difficult it is (heavier), where it is generally the most interesting.
- The accumulated energy on a fast negative is more important: the explosive work is much better.
- We use more involuntary force thanks to the speed gain on the negative: the intensity of the exercise is increased.
However, rubber bands cannot adapt to all exercises. Sometimes it is difficult to find an interesting attachment point or the rubber bands make the exercise too unstable (especially on the bar bench press).
Thus, the use of rubber bands is more appropriate for machines rather than on free loads.
Chains, an alternative to rubber bands
However, there is an alternative to overcome the instability problem. These are the chains.
Indeed, this is not to decorate or make the exercise impressive. The principle is actually the same as the rubber bands. That is to say that the more you contract, the more weight there will be (the links of the chain resting on the ground relieves the bar).
Unfortunately, it is not often to find chains in the weight room and the sensations are much less interesting than the rubber bands. What’s more, the chains can only be installed on bars and over again. For example, use on a deadlift may not be necessary, given the little resistance it offers at the top of the movement (most links will stay on the ground).
Ok, let’s say you can’t add rubber bands or chains to your workout. There remains one solution, to make partial amplitudes .
As the name suggests, the goal is to work a fraction of the movement, so you can benefit from an overload without straining on the other part of the exercise. Therefore, it is interesting to analyze which part of the movement you are blocking. Then work where your nervous system is weak.
Let’s take the example of the bench press with a blockage in the middle of the movement. There are two solutions available to you:
- Add wedges on the chest.
- Settle into a squat rack by first adjusting the safety wedges.
Although in theory the method seems efficient, in my experience progress is still quite limited with this method. It allowed me to avoid “weak moments” on a move, without actually increasing my workloads.
My experience is still nothing but broscience … The best is to be skeptical and try. Note that it remains an inappropriate method for beginners. This can create muscle imbalances .
Stop And Go, Increase Muscle Strength and Speed
If we are talking about hypertrophy, it is clear that this method is not at all suitable. However, for sports where you need to gain strength and speed , without weighing yourself down with a substantial muscle mass , it remains an effective method. Especially in combat sports, such as boxing.
Indeed, the objective of Stop And Go is to perform only the positive phase of the movement, as quickly as possible with a heavy load , without a negative phase. So there is a time out in between.
Take the bench press example, you:
- Grab the bar.
- Bring the bar up to chest level.
- Marks a 2/3 second dwell time.
- Shoots as quickly as possible.
Therefore, this method allows:
- Not to benefit from the energy accumulation of the negative phase.
- To have better psychomotor learning .
It is therefore an appropriate method for efforts requiring immediate force and speed. For example, when a boxer performs an uppercut, he does not gain momentum to build up energy. The movement must be direct.
For a bodybuilding practitioner, the Stop And Go also allows you to load up and be faster on the exercises afterwards. The effort is totally different. It is clear that at the beginning your movement will be slow and the fatigue will be felt quickly.
You are free to test and even combine the tools and methods. For example, do Stop And Go on partial amplitudes…