Getting strong is a hugely important part of your training. Even if pure strength numbers aren’t your main target, getting stronger helps you perform better in your day to day activities and in any sport you take part in. I haven’t yet found a single client who has gotten worse from getting stronger.
Don’t just take my word for it though. There’s plenty of research out there to show that increased strength levels decrease overall risk of mortality, improve quality of life and improve mental health.
The problem is is that getting stronger takes effort. Particularly if you have been training for a while and are looking to push your strength levels ever higher.
If you are new to training, just getting into the gym and following a reasonable training program, with a little progressive overload, 2-3 times a week will work wonders. All of a sudden, going up and down stairs is easy, you can do all your day to day “stuff” without having to sit down for a break every 10 minutes and generally all is better.
Once the newbie gains period is over (which is most neurophysiological, you mostly get better at the movement), getting stronger is about 2 main things:
- Applying just enough stress to your body to force an adaptation, and
- Recovering from said stress to actually allow that adaptation to occur.
Typically, those who are struggling to make significant progress fall into one of 2 camps. Either they don’t apply enough stress, or they don’t allow adequate recovery.
Not enough stress.
When training for strength, you have to lift heavy enough loads to be able to stimulate the positive adaptations to better handle the loads next time. This is usually lifting above around 85% of your max effort for the big compound lifts on any given day. In normal words, working with a weight that’s no more than about your 5 or 6 rep max. While this may vary slightly from day to day, it’ll be around the same number +/- about 5 to 10kg.
Any load you can lift for more reps should only be considered part of your warm up and not counted in your working set total, or as part of your accessory work.
You’re deadlifting and aiming to work up to 4 sets of 4. This should suck a little bit. 4 reps works out at around 87.5 % of your max. Getting strong takes effort.
Anywho. You warm up with some RDLs with the bar, grooving the movement. Pop a 20kg plate on each end and work through 5-6 reps at 60kg. This feels like about a 6/10 for effort, so you add a little weight. 70kg x 4-5 feels like a 7/10, 75 is an 8.5. Now you’re in business. 75kg x4 is the minimum required for today’s session. Everything up to that point is a warm up set and no more.
If you were to do:
Then you’ve only really done 8 of your 16 total reps in the strength range. You’re missing out on 50% of the possible stress you could be using for improving your strength.
Too much stress/ not enough recovery
The other side of the coin is not allowing adequate recovery, either between sets or sessions. The magic of training is in the recovery from the stress you provide in your sessions.
The problem with adding this stress, is all the other stress we have going on. If you’re lucky/ organised, then you hopefully don’t have much in the way of life stresses. Work, family, finances etc all can provide a certain level of stress and adding training stresses to that pile has a negative effect. Our body doesn’t much care where the stress comes from, it’s all dealt with in the same way.
Let’s assume that you have all the external, life stresses under control.
Training should take a slight toll on you physically. You’re applying just a little more stress than you can easily handle right now, in order to get the response you want. That is going to take time to recover from.
- Between sets. You should be taking enough time between strength sets to be able to repeat the effort. This is usually between 3-5 minutes for most of us (with 5 minutes being up at the top end). If you can go again after 90 seconds, see point one, above.
- Between sessions. Training 3-4 days per week is a good place to aim for. This gives you 3-4 days of recovery time between sessions, making sure you can hit each session fairly fresh and ready to go.
Getting enough good sleep, adequate food intake, and no more than 2 days training in a row are all necessary for strength improvements to be made. While it’s possible to train more often, I usually find that most people either don’t have the time to do so, or can’t recover from the volume.
I was chatting to a guy at my local gym who was complaining that he never seemed to make any headway into his strength goals. I asked him about his diet and training approach and within a few minutes I had the answer. He was training 7 days a week, whilst dieting to lose some body fat. And, unsurprisingly, making zero progress on both. Getting stronger will add muscle and burn a ton of calories, but it requires enough food to fuel and recover from the sessions. You also need to give your body time to recover between sessions. And this poor lad was doing the exact opposite of both of those things.
Ironically, taking 2 days off each week and eating a little more food, will get him a whole lot stronger and leaner to boot.
Here is a good training plan to help you out. It’s set up as a 4 day per week plan, but you can make it a 3 day by simply rolling into the next week.
A. Hollow body progression 3 x 30-45s
This can be set up either 4 days, (Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri for example) or 3 day (Mon – session 1, Wed – session 2, Fri – session 3, Monday – session 4, Wed – session 1 etc)
Stay strong, work hard,