5 Ways to Get Stronger (Right Now)
Today we’re going to give you some tips based on less obvious ways you can see your strength go up in the gym. While the most effective and immediate suggestion is to increase the weight that you lift globally across the board, there are opportunities that are much more specific that can provide a very high return.
Here they are.
1. Flip the “Systems” Script
If you always go for the lower rep strength option on reps for goal days, mix it up for a cycle and focus on the muscle building option. Conversely, if you always train muscle, then go for strength for a cycle. The body gets stronger when it is forced to adapt to increasingly challenging demands so if you’re always camped out in a certain rep count, it may just need to be challenged in a different way so that it can continue to make adaptations.
Strength building and muscle building each have a bias towards a different system in our body. Training for strength is more targeted of the Central Nervous System since strength is mostly a neural phenomenon whereby our brain gets better at communicating with our muscles to perform a lift. In the range of about 1-5 reps, this is what we’re accessing. This phenomenon goes by a few different names. ‘Motor learning’ in beginners, and ‘neuromuscular efficiency’ in proficient athletes, and the concept is why beginners always experience fast and steady strength gains. The CNS has never been trained and expands rapidly when first trained properly.
On the other hand, training for muscle growth (hypertrophy) is largely a Musculoskeletal System endeavor. We are not so much training our CNS at a neural level, but our actual soft and connective tissues to break down and regrow bigger and more useful. This occurs most predominantly in the 6 – 10+ rep range.
Strength requires both the ability for your CNS to be effective at communicating and your body to have more functional muscle. If you always train one and not the other, you are leaving strength gains on the table.
2. Jump Higher
You may have caught our IG post centered around plyometric education, specifically the box jump. Increasing the height that you use in class for box jump reps will improve strength through the following mechanisms.
- Phosphagen System — This is the same energy system that we use for bigger barbell lifts. The short, maximum power and strength system that gets used up pretty quickly is also the same system we train when we are jumping for a challenging height. There is direct carryover, and it’s why every single person who has ever been in Level 4 Flight Club has also been in a Barbell Club.
- Type II Muscle Fibers — These are the fibers that are responsible for fast twitch, burst power movement and our legs have a lot of them. Contrast these against our shoulders, which are primarily made up of slow twitch muscles and don’t present a lot of opportunity for strength carryover, the jump will have direct and immediate transfer to movements like squats and deadlifts because you are training those muscle to be faster at creating peak contractions.
No need to crazy or be that guy or gal who takes five minutes every set of box jumps because you are trying to hit PR. Effective, manageable increases is the way to go so next workout, go up 4-6″ and stay there for a month. You’ll get stronger.
3. Train Your Grip
Your grip is your gateway to your Central Nervous System, a system in our body that happens to be global (meaning, if it gets stronger somewhere it gets stronger everywhere). Men and women who have strong grips tend to be strong movers, so give extra attention to farmer walks, cleans, work a double overhand grip on your deadlifts for six weeks, perform heavier renegade rows and kettlebell swings. Do those things and watch your strength in obvious movements like pull-ups, deadlifts, cleans and rows go up, but watch it also go up in non obvious movements like presses and squats.
4. Use Heavier Dumbbells
Barbell movements are incredibly effective at building strength but their limitation is that they only do so in a bilateral, fixed position. Both limbs are working at the same time and because the barbell is designed for perfect balance and weight displacement, it is a much better tool to express stability rather than train it. The poor dumbbell will always battle for the spotlight from it’s sexier cousin, the barbell, but in reality it has benefits the barbell doesn’t.
- Range of Motion — We can express full range of motion much easier.
- Stability — Much, much harder to stabilize for say, a heavy dumbbell press than it is a barbell press.
- Unilateral Overload — A set of 50 pound dumbbell presses will get you stronger than a set of 100 pound barbell press. 50 pounds in each hand with greater range of motion and stability needs will create more adaptation than 50 pounds in each hand, with easy displacement.
Re-think the left hand side of the board. Yes, the dumbbells are a progression to the barbell but that doesn’t imply inferiority, just accessibility. There’s a reason you often see a lot of smart people who prefer them.
5. Move in Different Planes
Why do we frequently program movements in not just the popular sagittal plane, but also transverse and frontal planes? Because muscles exist in those planes, too! Important muscles like lateral deltoids, rear deltoids, obliques, glute medius, adductors and inner hamstring muscles. Those muscles that contribute directly to larger lifts by helping us lift more, and also as stabilizers by keeping our structure safe. You need both in the pursuit of strength, so rather than treat movements like side lunges, rotational slams, curtsy lunges, etc. as throw away movements, give them the focus and attention they deserve if you care about your strength.
It can be frustrating at times, when people perceive that strength opportunities only exist in days where we have a 1-5R barbell lift. Please never confuse barbell specific strength with strength. There are opportunities for the latter everywhere, everyday. Focus a little outside of your perceived box and you will be stronger and healthier.