Many people, when they want to get in shape, focus solely and looking and feeling good. While this should be the number one goal for someone who is aiming to lose fat, build muscle and change their body shape, it can be easy to forget the other signs of improvement, one of which is strength.
As you progress through your fitness journey, one of the things you should be focusing on is getting stronger. When you notice improvements in this area, it is a fantastic feeling and has positive impacts on numerous parts of your life, from everyday chores to your performance at work.
But how do you achieve it? How do you increase your strength so that you improve your health and quality of life?
Consistent Resistance Training
The first thing you need to prioritise is a consistent resistant training programme. You are not going to get stronger each week if you are overdoing cardio and making it your primary form of exercise, nor if you are very inconsistent with your training and are not getting in two to four sessions per week. You need to be constantly working multiple muscle groups around your body each week for the body to adapt and build strength.
When it comes to the type of exercises, compound movements are excellent for strength as they work multiple muscle groups and require more work from your body. However, if you are unstable, weak and lack flexibility you will need to train certain muscles in isolation, either through machines, dumbbells or with your own body weight, so that your body can easily adapt to the more demanding compound movements. So, train consistently, train well and you will start to notice your body getting stronger each week.
One mistake many people make when it comes to strength is overdoing a one-rep max, which is a set one repetition lifting the heaviest load you can lift. While this is good to test strength levels and see where you are at in terms of the maximum weight you can lift, this will not ultimately build strength and increases your chance of getting an injury, particularly if you have not perfected good technique.
To build strength, you must focus on sticking to an 8-12 rep range, with the intention of muscle breakdown through time under tension, which will lead to a much bigger chance of muscle growth and development. Consistent repetitions with a weight that is safe but manageable will allow your body to adapt to lifting more weight over time. So, pick the weight that is appropriate to you and stick to a larger rep range to build strength in your body.
One of the most important things to remember when looking to get stronger is that you are making progress with the weight you are lifting. In order to gain more muscle, you need to make sure that you are consistently overloading the muscle(s), week by week so that it is working harder, meaning that the breaking down is more intense during the session and therefore new muscle tissue is being developed during the eating and recovery phases.
It is important, however, that this process is gradual. Getting stronger takes time, particularly on the compound lifts, and after prioritising technique first, make sure you increase the weight slowly per week so that you are progressively overloading the target muscle in a safe and efficient manner. For example, on the barbell squat, there is no point in doing four sets of four half repetitions on 100kg during the session when it is clear that the weight is too heavy for you at the time. Focus on performing eight to twelve quality reps per set with a manageable weight before gradually increasing it over time. You should then find that your strength increases safely and efficiently.
Another huge part of increasing your strength will be your diet. This will be vital, not only in achieving your goals, but also fuelling your workouts and remaining full of energy throughout the day. It is vital that you have a diet that features a good balance of protein, carbohydrates, vegetables and, to a lesser extent, fats to support you.
Consuming plenty of carbohydrates, in particular, is going to be important because it is going to be your primary source of energy throughout the day. Aim for carbohydrates that release energy slowly, such as oatmeal, rice, potatoes, pasta and bread, so that you avoid sharp spikes and dips in your blood sugar levels and that your energy levels remain consistent. Fruit is also a good, healthy option if you are looking for a sharper energy hit. Do not neglect carbohydrates from your diet, especially if you want to have balanced, high energy levels so that you can attack your resistance training sessions with maximum effort and intensity, which will be key to increasing strength.
This is an area that is crucial, not only to your fat loss progress but also to your overall health. A high-quality night’s sleep of 7-9 hours gives your body much-needed rest and recovery from your daily exercise and tasks, which is also vital to progression. Furthermore, you produce a large portion of your growth hormone when you sleep, particularly in the first two hours. In order to build lean muscle tissue, increase strength and burn fat efficiently, we need growth hormones, and as your growth hormone levels decrease gradually in your late 20’s, the importance of sleep then increases.
Sleep also produces Melatonin in the pineal gland and is involved in energy metabolism. It also balances your cortisol levels (the stress hormone that is part of our survival mechanism), and your levels of your insulin (the major hormone that controls your blood sugar levels), which is vital for your body to be able to rest and recover from your activity during the day. So, make sure that you are prioritising consistent, high-quality sleep – it is a gamechanger to your strength progression and overall health.
This a supplement that may not be necessary at the start of your fitness journey, but as you get stronger and start to lift more weight during your resistance training sessions, it can be very effective. Creatine is a substance, found naturally in muscle cells, that helps your muscles produce energy during heavy lifting or high-intensity exercise.
It is known as the best supplement for improving your performance during resistance training sessions, while certain studies also show that it can increase muscle tissue and strength, as well as potentially protecting against neurological diseases. It is also has proven to be very safe to take and is the most tested supplement in the world. Another benefit is that it is very cheap and lasts for a long time, due to the relatively small amount you have to take every day. So, as you improve week by week, make sure that you add creatine into your routine, with 3-5g mixed into a drink per day.
So, if you want to get stronger, you need to focus on several key areas. These include consistent resistance training two to four times per week, a safe rep range of eight to twelve per set, gradually increasing the weight each week, good, balanced nutrition and taking creatine. Make sure you prioritise these areas and you will find that your strength will increase in the safest, most efficient way possible.
Photo Credit: Envato Elements