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What to bear in mind when training for strength

Strength has long been a point of comparison with others and a way of rating our physical prowess in the gym.

As a personal trainer, I am often asked the best way to increase strength quickly—so I have had plenty of opportunities to find a workable plan. Using the below programme you should be able to add 30kg to your squat and 15kg to your bench press... in just four weeks.

Remember, new exercise sho-uld always be undertaken with professional help, and you should consult a doctor before starting if you have any pre-existing medical issues.

Before we get into the minutiae of the regime, it is important to go through a few rules that will guide your training.

1. Stick to lower rep ranges

Strength is best gained through lifting in the lower rep ranges, ideally one to five reps. This is because the body is forced to adapt to the kind of stimulus you give it through training. At a low rep range your body finds ways to recruit muscle fibres more efficiently, which makes you stronger in the long-run.

At the extreme end of this, some experienced lifters use 'one rep' training. However, for most of us, such an approach is fraught with risk of injury. Far better to aim for five reps on each set.


2. Keep track of where you are at

Strength training relies heavily on utilising a progressive load, meaning that every time you successfully meet your desired rep range, you should move up in weight to continue to make progress.

Make sure you keep track of every lift you make so that you can stay on top of your progress. This is extremely important.

3. Don't forget your nutrition

You are going to be working extremely hard on this training plan, so it is important that you fuel yourself adequately.

If you are serious about strength training as opposed to using the workout to reach an aesthetic goal you may not be too focused on how ‘clean’ your diet is, but you will still need to make sure you arrive at every workout well fuelled or you simply will not have the resources to make progress.

Most people eat a carb-heavy meal two hours before a workout. Others (like myself) who work out in a fasted state would benefit from a carb-loaded meal the evening before these strength workouts.

The re-fuel meal will depend on your current conditioning. If you are a lean guy you may want to consume carbs immediately, if you are carrying a few extra pounds you may benefit more from waiting two to three hours before you eat.

4. Keep it simple

The exercise selection for strength training is best kept very simple, utilising classic compound exercises for maximal muscle recruitment. This regime focuses exclusively on the squat, deadlift, military press, bench press and barbell row.

5. Rest

Your ability to rest is going to determine the extent to which you are able to make progress. First, during the workouts you will need to rest three to four minutes between sets to allow your body to recover enough to move on to the next set and perform. Remember that the goal of the workouts in this training phase is to successfully meet your desired rep range.

Second, you will also need to rest well between training sessions so your body can recover and grow. This means getting adequate sleep and taking steps to minimise stress.

6. Cardio

By doing intense sets of low rep weight training, you will get plenty of cardiovascular benefit.

However, many people insist on supplementing their regimes with cardio work—which is fine, so long as you go about it in the right manner. I recommend steady state training at a heart rate of 105-120 BPM. This way you will not interfere too much with your workouts in terms of muscle soreness. A brisk walk would be perfect.

7. Keep your form

You must be very honest with yourself during the strength training phase: slow, controlled reps with proper form is the name of the game.

You will notice when you reach certain loads this becomes extremely important. For example, as you reach your maximum resistance on the squat, you will be surprised how much you need to harness the strength of your abdominals.

8. Pay attention to your warm-up

You should not go into maximal exertion sets cold. Instead, go through a thorough warm-up and gradually get acclimatised to heavier and heavier weights.

On the other side of the coin, you should not waste too much energy on practice sets. The best idea is to perform one or two reps with two or three slowly increasing loads as you move towards your working set.

The programme:

The programme is known by the name ‘Strong Lifts’ and is originally attributable to the late Peg Park, one of the pioneers of bodybuilding. It involves squats on every workout day, with other body parts hit either once or twice a week, alternating week by week. The programme is built into a week A, week B, week A and week B pattern.

Select a comfortable weight for your first two training days, the weights will rise very quickly. For each workout that you complete your desired rep range, move into the next session with the smallest available weight increase (usually 1.25kg on each side of the bar).

Take 7 to 10 days of active rest after completing this training phase to ensure full recovery and do not hesitate to take a forced rest day if you feel that your muscles and joints could use a break.

At this point, if you wish to continue gaining strength, I would drop to 3 sets of 5 reps or 5 sets of 3 reps and continue for another 2-3 weeks.

Laidler is a personal trainer and personal development coach based in London.

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