3 Tips For Better Strength Training
Strength training is an important part of an athlete’s training program. Being strong helps athletes produce explosive strength, exhibit high rates of force development, and helps prevent injury by making your body more resilient.
If programmed and executed properly, strength training can enhance your athletic performance, improve your body composition, and make you feel better about yourself. Whether it is walking up a hill or having to defend yourself against an aggressor, lift is always easier when you are strong.
Unfortunately, many athletes make common mistakes in their strength training which can hold back their progress and limit their improvement in sport. So if you want to be as strong as possible and improve in your sport, follow these 3 tips for better strength training.
#1 - Pick The Right Exercises
If we want to get the most out of our strength training, we need to pick the right exercises. Exercises chosen for strength training should be simple movements with high stability and the ability to progress them over time.
Simple, Stable Exercises
Since the main goal of strength training is to generate force by activating motor units, we need to pick exercises that will allow for that to happen.
The more simple and stable an exercise is, the easier it will be to perform with high levels of force production, as well as making it easier to load. For example, it is a lot easier to focus on being forceful while doing a back squat or box squat than it is a single leg kettlebell snatch. Complex movement patterns should be avoided when it comes to increasing your strength, otherwise you’ll be too focused on figuring out the movement and unable to express maximal force outputs.
When the brain senses instability, it shifts its efforts to focus on balancing so you don’t fall over, rather than being solely focused on recruiting muscle and producing force. In contrast, a stable exercise like a squat or deadlift allows you to put all your energy into being forceful and explosive.
For your main strength development lifts, keep it simple with things like squat, deadlift, and bench press variations.
#2 - Progress Training Loads
A common mistake athletes make when trying to get stronger is that they keep lifting the same weights. They will tend to warm up with the same weight, progress through the same weights, and finish at the same top set weight over and over again.
The problem with this is that, after some period of time, your body will sense it no longer needs to adapt to training, because it gets used to pushing the same loads every session. The body is governed by stress responses, and it will be very lazy unless given a stimulus it feels to be a threat. To convince the body it needs to continue to get stronger and adapt to training, we need to progressively overload the body over time.
You can stick with the same loads for a while, but make sure that you push yourself as you continue to train. If you’ve always warmed up with 135lb on the bar for your first set, consider moving to 155lb after a cycle or two of training. Similarly, if your top set was always 315, push yourself to move 10-20 pounds more after you’ve done 315 for a few sessions.
We do not want to make drastic changes, but rather incremental changes that continue over time. One way you can go about this is by wave loading, both throughout the week with undulated loading and from week to week.
Daily Undulated Loading Example:
- Monday: Squat 4x3 @ 75%
- Wednesday: Squat 5x2 @ 80%
- Friday: Squat 5x5 @ 70%
Weekly Wave Loading Example:
- Week 1: Deadlifts @ 75-80%
- Week 2: Deadlifts @ 77.5-85%
- Week 3: Deadlifts @ 67.5-75%
Take a hypothetical situation where you squatted for 4 sets of 3, 3 times per week, with and without progressing your training. For easy math we’ll say your training loads start at 300 pounds.
If you did not progress your training loads, you would be performing 3600 pounds of volume per workout, 10,980 per cycle. If instead you added 5 pounds each week, your training volume would be 9% higher by the end of 12 weeks, with a higher volume of weight lifted in every training cycle.
If you can increase your training volume over time while maintaining high training intensities, you will likely get stronger than someone who did not perform as much volume at the same intensities in the same period of time.
Obviously we do not want to rush the progression, and you should avoid massive increases in load from session to session or from week to week. But, if you can safely add load, and you do this consistently over time, you will get very strong without getting injured.
#3 - Push Yourself On Accessory Movements
Often when we think of strength training, we think of the big three lifts: squat, bench, and deadlift. Athletes can make major gains in strength through the use of these lifts.
While these lifts are great for strength training, eventually your progress will stagnate and you will find it challenging to continue to add load to these exercises. Why is this? Because at a certain point, weaker muscle groups will hold your progress back, and your main lifts will not increase until these weak points are addressed.
To target our weak points, we use accessory movements or special exercises. In the bench press, most people need to work on their triceps, specifically the medial head of the triceps in order to increase their bench and protect their shoulders. In the deadlift, someone weak off the ground is lacking quad strength and someone failing at the top is likely to lack glute strength.
While many athletes will do accessory movements, they tend to either keep them light and only go for high reps, or they do not apply progressive overload principles to these special exercises. But, if you are not progressing your accessory movements, how can you expect to overcome your weaknesses and keep increasing your main lifts?
If you can do 10 tricep pressdowns with 100 pounds, but you never attempt 6 to 8 reps at 110-120 pounds, eventually they will stop helping your bench. If you always do back extensions with your body weight and never add load, you cannot expect your back or hamstrings to get much stronger.
You should treat your accessory movements just like you would your main exercises, and progress them over time. This may be in the form of load, such as trying to lift more weight over time, or it can be in the form of volume, trying to get more reps at the same weight. You can bounce back and forth between these goals, pushing the weight up, then hitting more reps at this weight, then adding load and dropping reps, and repeating the process.
If you can go from 100lb tricep pressdowns to 200lb tricep pressdowns over the course of a year, it is likely that your bench will continue to improve. Similarly if you keep building your glutes, quads, and hamstrings with accessory work, your squat and deadlift will benefit as a result.
If you can implement these tips into your strength training, it help you become a stronger, better athlete. When we get stronger, our speed, power, and sprinting can improve as a result of enhanced acceleration abilities.
Best of luck and happy training!