Strength Building Tips to Hit P.Rs – Ergogenic Health


Strength is a valued asset that gym-goers seek to build for a variety of reasons.  Strength provides a foundation for building mass, enhancing athleticism, and it has a positive correlation with health.  Many successful bodybuilders built the base of their physiques from lifting to get stronger.  In sports targeted towards general fitness like CrossFit, strength is one of the most prized skillsets with the top competitors getting progressively stronger each year.  Even for general wellness, things like grip strength get assessed by practitioners because of its correlation to health.  Here are some strength-building tips you can implement to break personal records.  

Progressive Overload: The concept of progressive overload was popularized by a U.S army physician during WW2 as a method to rehabilitate soldiers. [1] With progressive overload gradual stress is placed on the body to create an adaptation.  It’s something that is a fundamental strength building principle.  The most common form of progressive overload involves increasing the load (adding more weight) to the bar each week.  However, adding more load to the bar each week is easier said than done as progression is rarely that linear.  Fortunately, there are multiple ways to apply this concept including increasing volume (sets or reps), frequency (amounts of workouts per week), density (amount of work you do in a workout, usually this means shorter rest periods), or improved efficiency (lifting with better form/control)

Strength Building Tip #1: Apply progressive overload to your workouts by aiming to improve something each week.

Build More Muscle: A bigger muscle represents the potential to be a stronger muscle.  An increased cross-sectional area can allow for greater force production.  Powerlifters commonly use assistance exercises in their programs to target muscles that are the primary movers for key lifts in their sport.  A study on 20 elite powerlifters (including 4 world champions) found a significant correlation between muscle distribution (individual muscle thickness from 13 sites) and performance in the three main power lifts, leading researchers to conclude that powerlifting performance is a function of FFM (fat-free mass). [2]  

Strength Building Tip #2: Think of sticking points with your lifts and how building up a lagging muscle could potentially help that lift.

Use the Right Intensity: Strength is a skill set that requires the coordinated firing of muscle fibers and specific motor patterns.  Our bodies even have protective mechanisms in place that sense muscle tension and inhibit force as a method of protecting our bodies from getting hurt.  As we become accustomed to lifting heavier loads, this protective mechanism gets desensitized.  But for this desensitization to occur, our bodies need to be gradually exposed to working in these intensities.  A meta-analysis of 21 studies comparing high vs low load resistance training, the high load groups trained at >60% of their 1RM and the low load groups trained at 60% or lower than their 1RM.  The results showed that gains in 1RM strength were significantly greater in favor of high vs low load resistance training. [3] Simply put, if one’s goal is to lift heavy weights they must practice lifting (relatively) heavy weight.     

Strength Building Tip #3:  Many successful lifters do most of their training in the 70-90% range where the loads are heavy, but they still have a few reps left in the tank to avoid burning out.   

Use Periodization for Focused Goals – Periodization is a training method developed in Russia following the 1956 Olympics.  Strength coaches across the globe have gone on to adopt this concept.  This method of training organizes a program into sequential blocks with each block providing a distinct stimulus for specific training adaptations all leading up to a peak for competition.  A meta-analysis of 18 studies from 1988-2015 comparing periodized vs non-periodized resistance training was conducted.  The results indicated the magnitude of improvement in 1RM (1 rep max) was greater following a periodized program than a non-periodized program. [4] 

Strength Building Tip #4: Organize your training to target different specific small goals in the short term that lead you to your end goal of increased strength.

Prioritize Recovery: While training provides the stimulus for our body, it’s in between training sessions when adaptations occur.  One of the best ways to help this adaptation occur is to eat nutrient-dense foods so that you’re fueling your body with enough macro and micronutrients.  Another thing that’s going to help is getting enough sleep, in fact not getting enough sleep might even be detrimental to your strength.   An analysis of 17 studies on inadequate sleep led to researchers concluding that impaired sleep impairs muscle strength in compound movements. [5] 

Strength Building Tip #5: Make sure you’re eating an adequate amount of nutrient-dense food and getting enough sleep.

Supplement Wisely: Supplements have long been a piece of the equation for individuals serious about adding strength.  Old school Canadian strongman Doug Hepburn, the first man to bench 500 lbs. raw would drink protein shakes to help him reach his high caloric intake.  Creatine became a staple in gym rat’s stacks after it was popularized by Olympic athletes in the 90s.  In all likelihood, protein powders and creatine are already fixtures in your current strength stack.  Another supplement you can try that has decades of research behind it but has flown under the radar until now is Ashwagandha.

Ashwagandha is an herb used in Ayurveda medicine for improving virility, it’s said to bring “the strength of a horse.”  Ashwagandha’s potential strength enhancing effects go beyond anecdotal tales.   In an 8-week double-blind, placebo-controlled study on young males examining ashwagandha’s effects on muscular strength, the researchers found that ashwagandha supplementation resulted in significant increases in muscle strength in the bench press and leg extension. [6] It should be noted that in this study the researchers used the KSM-66 version of ashwagandha, this is the highest concentration full-spectrum extract on the market.  A full spectrum extract maintains the balance of constituents that you would find in the herb as if you found it in nature. 

Strength Building Tip #6: Round out your supplement stack with protein, creatine, and Ashwagandha

References

[1] Todd, J. S., Shurley, J. P., & Todd, T. C. (2012). Thomas L. DeLorme and the Science of Progressive Resistance Exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(11), 2913-2923. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e31825adcb4

[2] Brechue, W. F., & Abe, T. (2002). The role of FFM accumulation and skeletal muscle architecture in powerlifting performance. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 86(4), 327-336. doi:10.1007/s00421-001-0543-7

[3] Schoenfeld, B. J., Grgic, J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Strength and Hypertrophy Adaptations Between Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(12), 3508-3523. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000002200

[4] Nunes, J. P., Ribeiro, A. S., Schoenfeld, B. J., & Cyrino, E. S. (2017). Comment on: “Comparison of Periodized and Non-Periodized Resistance Training on Maximal Strength: A Meta-Analysis”. Sports Medicine, 48(2), 491-494. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0824-x

[5] Knowles, O. E., Drinkwater, E. J., Urwin, C. S., Lamon, S., & Aisbett, B. (2018). Inadequate sleep and muscle strength: Implications for resistance training. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 21(9), 959-968. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2018.01.012

[6] Wankhede, S., Langade, D., Joshi, K., Sinha, S. R., & Bhattacharyya, S. (2015). Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12(1). doi:10.1186/s12970-015-0104-9



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