by Dave Thomas
CPT-NSCA, USAW, RKC
Here are four quick tips to increase your strength efficiently and safely.
Groove the Movement
This may seem like an obvious statement, but I am not talking about just learning it. I mean, LEARNING it. Getting really good and comfortable at it. If you don’t master a body weight squat, goblet squat and light barbell squat, you have slim chance at ever mastering a heavy barbell back squat. A critical error that is rarely unwound is the choice to go straight into heavy strength training without the basics of movement pattern and conditioning first established. Without proper kinetic awareness, there is no successful heavy lifting. As powerlifter, strongman and deadlift world record holder Andy Bolton cautions, “It takes five hundred reps to make a movement automatic, but three thousand to undo a faulty movement pattern and re-groove it”.
It’s a-okay to suck at first. We all did. Just respect that process. Do light weight, easily implemented squats until you no longer suck at them. Then, begin your quest of strength. If you begin heavy without grooving the movement, it’s much more likely you just won’t get strong, rather than injured.
If your board calls for a 5 x 3, then hit all 15 reps. Don’t go rogue and start wingin’ your reps, attempting a random one-rep max in your third set. Your training is shot for the day and then you’ve accomplished nothing. Save your one-rep attempts until after your sets are complete, or better yet, on days that take us to low rep programming and call for it. Strength is a volume game at high percentages. Both ingredients are required in equal parts and if you routinely skip either one of them, you are cutting your strength gains short.
This is a proven method to strength and one of the easiest to follow in terms of linear growth. If you are trying to improve at a movement, perform it at 5×5 for a few weeks or months. Every week, attempt to increase your work by five pounds and at the end of the cycle you will likely see a 15 – 30# increase in your working rep weight. I’d love to sit here and prescribe you rear elevated Bulgarian rhinoceros lunges, but you don’t need that and neither do most people. You just need consistency and awareness and that’s the beauty of dedicated 5×5 work. There’s no magic in it beyond that.
Lastly, you don’t need this until you are really stalled and again, after you have really established proficiency.
Actually Train Heavy
Strength training requires we train heavy. Duh, right? Have an honest discussion with yourself and find out if you’re actually training heavy and pushing this particular skill. If you are breezing through your sets in a matter of minutes, you are not strength training. A proper strength athlete takes the time to find out their 5, 3 and 1-rep max so you can then base percentages from that. Winging it works, until it doesn’t. And at that point you must get serious with the numbers and respect them.
Strength training is a blend of art and science. It’s not an all out assault on your max every time you train, nor is it something you can stroll through and expect to see big numbers. Take the time to track what you’re doing, inform yourself of…yourself, and always be aware of your plan for that particular day. The most productive day of strength is one that is productive, but doesn’t destroy your body and deplete your week.
For more tips, check out our library of strength training resources.
Dave Thomas is an owner and coach at Performance360 in San Diego, CA.