Building strength is not always as common to see in people’s training, especially in comparison to building muscle or weight loss, but it is an important category. Strength is vital to your health and being able to support yourself throughout life, but it will also boost your training performance and help you achieve incredible feats. There’s a lot more to it than you might think though, both in and outside of your workout.


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Strength Training

Strength training is often tied in with building muscle, but it’s essential to know the difference. Building muscle is centred around just that - building muscle, as in increasing size and definition to improve physique and skill. Building strength is about performance. Definition isn’t much of a concern, but rather sheer power in what your body can do.

Building strength is based on pushing yourself to your limit every time by using your whole body to perform huge, heavy exercises at the highest weight it can. Not even for a set, but just for a matter of repetitions.

Style

Man doing a shoulder press with a barbell and weights

Now that we have investigated what it is to build strength, it’s logical to look at how to go about doing it. Strength is performance-based as we’ve said after all, so what is the best way to improve it?

Performance. Practise with huge and heavy lifts, and you’ll improve, like with pretty much everything in life. The best way to do this is through compound exercises because of the number and the size of the muscles that they use. This way, you can lift more than any other exercise. Huge lifts like deadlifts, squats, bench presses etc. are a perfect choice. They all recruit many muscles and develop them all at once, giving you an increase in your strength.

The strength that they offer is functional too. Rather than building some of the larger muscles as is with typical muscle building exercises, you’re building them across the board as they work together. This makes them applicable to real-world situations, not just the gym!

A good thing to note when you are doing compound exercises though is that you should be doing smaller reps than standard. A good way to do them is in blocks of 4x4. The amount of energy they require means that you need to be giving each rep your absolute all. It will tire you out incredibly quickly and use a massive amount of energy.

Variations

On top of your 4x4 set styles, there are other variations that come into play too when you’re looking at strength-building exercises. There are always variations in set styles no matter what it is you are training for, but strength training is a little different.

Plyometric

Plyometric exercise is always an interesting variation to include in your strength training. The basis of it is that you are using large muscles explosively to get a burst of extreme energy out of them for one quick blast, releasing massive power. Exercises like box jumps are a good example to look at. As you jump down from the box, use the landing phase as the downward motion of your next jump. From there, you’re using the momentum it offers to explode back up again and launch further than you normally could. Repeating this conditions, your muscles to be capable of these feats without the bounce, and build strength massively. It’s a great way to push yourself.

Negative

Another interesting variation that you can use to build your strength is negative sets. They are a fundamental of both strength and of muscle building, but they kick start your performance across both areas, helping you reach new heights. They work on the premise that you are building up muscles by doing the relaxing motion of the exercise but in a controlled way. It’s as close as you can get to doing the exercise normally, and it gives you that extra push that you couldn’t get with the standard set style.

Frequency

man training with weights

Now that you have some idea about what you need to be doing, it’s always good to learn about timing. Different goals have different guidelines for how often you should be training per week. Strength training is no exception. In fact, it’s quite an oddball because of the mechanics behind it.

The stress that you are putting on the body to make it perform to its limits does take its toll. Because of this, the rest time you need is greater. That limits your frequency, naturally. The best way to do it is to cap yourself at three workouts per week, ideally giving yourself 48 hours off per workout. But don’t worry, there are things that you can do on your rest days!

Recovery

Following on from training up to three times a week, your recovery is vital too. As we said above, you are putting your body through its paces, and really pushing yourself to the limit. To make sure that you aren’t doing too much damage to yourself, your recovery really does have to be paramount.

Give yourself adequate food, and proper rest to make sure you’re on form. Your body does most of its repairing while you are asleep, so get enough of it! Food is another pillar of what you need, but we will go over that below.

Safety Equipment

Thinking about what equipment would be best for you to use is another vital point in strength training. Outside of thinking about what weight equipment is the most practical, you need to be aware of the safety equipment you’ll likely need. Because of how much weight you’ll be moving for strength training, you need extra support.

Weight training belts, knee pads and wrist supports are all prime examples. If you’re trying to beat your personal best or set a new 1-rep maximum, it is essential that you have taken the proper precautions so that you don’t injure yourself!

Nutrition

table of nuts, seeds and fruit

The diet that goes with training to build strength is also extremely unique to what you’re doing. Most fitness diets revolve around keeping a very tight diet to maintain a slight deficit or surplus in your caloric intake to help you on your way. Strength training does that too but to another level.

You’ll be using huge amounts of energy per lift, and you’ll be working your body to its limits in pretty much every exercise that you do. This means that your calorie intake needs to be as strong as your lifting. You need to be eating high levels of carbs in line with your training to make sure that you’re going to be able to perform to the best of your ability.

Performance

Depending on how close your meal is to your training, you need to make sure you’re eating the right kinds of carbs too. For performance, you’ll be needing things like brown pasta and rice for the long haul, and quick releasing carbs like white carbs and even fruits like bananas to give that burst of energy.

Recovery

On top of performance, ensuring calories, your recovery calories are just as vital. On your days off or even just after you have been working out, you need to eat well too. Cut down on carbs other than what you need to make sure that your muscle glycogen levels are replenished, and you still have the energy for your day, but make sure you’re balancing it too.

When you’re having a rest day, for example, you need to really make sure that you’re getting good levels of nutrients from fruit and vegetables. At the same time, you need to consume protein for muscle mass and healthy fats for recovery. Everything that you eat has a huge part to play if you want to build strength and be able to recover properly.

Tracking Progress

Even after all the above, it’s always an important thing to be able to measure your progression. Every fitness goal has different ways of making sure that this is done. Strength training is no different. Instead of tracking your weight or even the size of your muscles or waist though, strength training has a huge advantage over other styles. The one-rep maximum or the general performance of whatever it is that you are trying to improve is where the answers lie.

The more that you can lift in comparison to when you first started, the further you will have come. This is what it’s all about at the end of the day. Unless you are single exercise performance specific though, make sure that you are tracking your progress across the board! One exercise is not enough for a full-body improvement!

Ultimately, you need to remember that strength is performance-based. It’s a complex training style that reflects almost entirely on your improvement rather than body tracking. That means you should be looking at the weights you can move and the effect your training is having on your body.

This is the biggest factor of strength. You are putting huge stress on your body when you start to lift larger and larger weights too, so remember that your recovery is just as important, if not more so than your training. Eat well, rest right, and you’ll see your work pay off soon enough. Safety is paramount, though, and this is one of the easiest goals to land yourself an injury.


general

Before beginning any exercise or nutrition program, consult your physician, doctor or other professional. This is especially important for individuals over the age of 35 or persons with pre-existing health problems. Exercise.co.uk assumes no responsibility for personal injury or property damage sustained using our advice.

If you experience dizziness, nausea, chest pain, or any other abnormal symptoms, stop the workout at once and consult a physician or doctor immediately.