How to Build Strength

  • Lift heavy. Lifting heavy (greater than 90% of your one-rep max 1RM) will improve strength by recruiting what are called high-threshold motor units.
  • Lift explosively. Speed lifts (e.g., box squats, speed deadlifts, and speed bench) are an excellent lifting style to teach acceleration and power development.
  • Do plyometrics. Otherwise known as jump training, plyometric training involves hop- and jump-type exercises that train and develop what’s called the stretch shortening cycle.
  • Slash the volume. A common protocol for building size and strength is 5×5; that is, five sets of five reps. 
  • Use sprints and drills. Nothing builds running speed and quickness on the field than sprinting itself. 
  • Contrast training incorporates heavy strength training with plyometric training in the same workout. The physiological mechanism behind this training method is known as post-activation potentiation, or PAP for short. Basically, you’ll start with a heavy strength training exercise (roughly five-rep max). After a 3–10 minute break, you’ll do a similar plyometric exercise for about 5-10 reps.
  • When bodybuilding or training for muscle growth, lifters typically rest for only about 30-60 seconds between sets. When training for strength, though, you should increase your rest period to about 2–5 minutes, depending on the exercise. Because you’re lifting heavier loads, your body will need those longer rest periods to ensure you complete the same number of reps in the subsequent sets. Your mental strength and ability to focus on the heavy set will also appreciate the longer break.
  • You’re only going to be as strong as your weakest link. The major muscle groups that perform traditional exercises are known as your prime movers (e.g., pecs, lats, quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, deltoids, etc.). Often, an athlete’s weakest link will be his behind-the-scenes muscles, (e.g., rotator cuff, middle and lower trapezius, serratus anterior gluteus medius, abdominals, etc.). Incorporating exercises to strengthen these muscles will reduce the chance for muscle imbalances and decrease your risk for injury. The better able you are at recruiting these muscles, the more potential you have of increasing the strength in your prime movers.
  • Functional training has its place, and adding instability to your workout isn’t a bad option for rehab or accessory balance work. But if you’re really focused on training for strength, then just focus on strength! Stand on stable ground, focus on proper form, and make sure you’re recovering properly to fuel your progress. Otherwise, you’re liable to just waste your time.

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