Whether you’re a professional weightlifter or a beginner at the start of their fitness journey, consistently adding strength to your repertoire can be a mind-numbing task.
However, we’ve compiled a list of 10 of the most essential rules to building more strength, many of which are as old as fitness itself and have stood the test of time—and for good reason.
1. Work Anything and Everything
In this bodybuilding age of isolation movements, “Top 10 Workouts” articles and more supplementation than you can shake a stick at, we forget one very simple thing: all exercise is good exercise.
It’s all well and good if you want a big chest, Hulk-like arms and godly legs, you of course need to train those body parts, but stimulating the entire musculature of the body is more important than many let on.
Don’t forget the minor muscles that may only be engaged through lighter work and stretching. You want the whole package, not just the letter that came with it.
2. Barbells Are King
Even the most affordable of gyms these days houses a multitude of machines and new-age equipment, but barbells remain the quickest route to strength Nirvana, largely due to the fact they promote practice of the best exercises.
Squats, deadlifts and the bench press remain the strongest foundation of lifting exercises for any regime, particularly when performed in lower rep figures of between one and five.
Unlike machines, barbells require the user to maintain a better mastery and control of the weight, meaning no energy is wasted and your time in the gym is optimised.
3. Form is Important; Gains Are Important-er
Yes, we’d all like to lift weights like Lego men and have the kind of resolve even Dwayne Johnson couldn’t shake, but the fact is there’s a time and a place for form.
Momentum and swinging can be incorporated in some of the smaller lifts—mostly when using dumbbells—if it means powering through two or three more agonising reps will result in extreme muscle breakdown—and therefore building—which it will.
4. Keep a Journal
It’s far from the most glamorous part of weightlifting, but keeping a proper record of your figures is critical if one expects to maximise progress, and that comes from a former freestyler of the highest order.
Aside from simply remembering your lifting numbers, keeping a journal also makes it more difficult to find excuses for not taking that extra step into discomfort and pushing up the weight on a gradual basis.
5. Consistency is Key
A no-brainer to most people even slightly in tune with the main principles of fitness, but you cannot expect to make your dream gains unless you’re willing to commit to a strict regimen free of distractions.
Fit lifting around your schedule, sure—after all, strength isn’t the be-all-end-all of life—but once you have a goal in mind, ensure you’re out of the door and to the gym when you need to be, as well as dieting to your requirements with little in terms of detouring.
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6. Reverse Pyramid Training
Many out there disagree, but it’s largely advantageous to adopt a reverse pyramid approach to training, performing your heaviest exercises/sets at the start of your routine, rather than the end.
You’ve just had a good meal, your pre-workout is kicking in and you’ve got energy to spare—what else would make sense?
Yuri Verkhoshansky was a Soviet sport scientist you theorised that weights can be made to feel lighter if the lifts preceding them were of the heavier variety:
“When you perform a 3-5-rep max, followed by a light explosive set, to your nervous system it’s like lifting a can of water [that’s only half full] when you think it’s full.”
7. Value the 5×5
Of all the strength-building rep ranges, the 5×5 holds its place at the pinnacle and is regarded by many to be the best split, pushing any participant close to their limits for a prolonged, uncomfortable period and thus developing quick results.
In essence, 25 reps doesn’t sound like a lot, but combining this rep range with one of the big compound lifts such as the squat or bench will allow you to maintain form while climbing close to your threshold.
8. Food Is Fuel
You are what you eat—were truer words ever spoken?
This is the only pointer on this list not directly related to lifting technique or bodybuilding, but it’s as essential as any other. If you want to add strength, it’s terribly hard to do so unless you’re consuming sufficient calories for your body to devote to that very cause.
9. Always Warm Up
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Founding Father Benjamin Franklin once mused how preparation was key in a general sense, but if he knew the damage that could be done by neglecting your warm-ups, he definitely would have placed a fitness emphasis.
Take the 10 or 15 minutes extra at the beginning—and sometimes the end—of your workout to ensure not only that you limit the possibility for injury but maximise your lifting potential, too.
10. Gradual Progression
Progressive overload is the “gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during training,” but “progressive” does not mean quick, so ensure you take things slow and steady when it comes to following your path of strength.
Plateaus can be maddening when they occur, but most are down to lifters going too heavy, too fast. Slow your roll and play for the long game, working at 80% to 90% of your max instead of trying to stick as close to it as possible.