At DC Health Performance, we pride ourselves on giving the best Training, Nutrition and Mindset Coaching possible. So with that in mind we want to talk about building strength and the principles it requires to get the absolute best results.
Strength seems simple enough. Lift really heavy things, do it a lot and you will get strong. There is more than a sliver of truth to it, but if truly want to optimise our strength and get the best possible results, we need to do things a little bit more intelligently.
Here are the 5 principles we need to follow to build strength in the most efficient and effective way possible.
Specificity basically means that the training stimulus should tax and create adaptation in the underlying systems of the task you are trying to get better at. Seems straightforward right?
This can mean training the involved muscles (quadriceps for squats), training the nervous system( doing plyometrics and power training) and training the actual movement itself (squatting, bench and deadlift). Now for our purposes we are training strength so we will be looking at training movements that we can use to measure strength in the gym. The 3 main lifts for this are the Barbell Back Squat, Bench Press and Barbell Deadlift, but any good compound lift can be used.
The thing to remember here is that specificity is a spectrum and a lot of things can help you get better at the big 3 lifts. Training can be specific as doing the 3 lifts themselves, training that trains the primary muscles involved, training that is not really a net positive or detrimental to performance, or training that is detrimental to performance. Lets explore each one.
Training the Big 3: This is doing a program that is incredibly specific and has no room for other activities. All training is basically doing the 3 lifts with heavy weight. Even though this would respect the law of specificity, this would eventually lead to staleness and possible overuse injuries due to eventual adaptation. Doing heavy lifts on a weekly basis would eventually lead to wards too much cumulative fatigue. This is training the actual movement itself.
Training the primary muscles: This would work on getting the primary muscles bigger and stronger through training. This is helpful as training these muscles will get you stronger but this new muscle mass and strength needs to be directed to wards skills practice at the lifts you are trying to improve.
Training that is not positive or detrimental: This is stuff that may or may not help, it is a grey area. An example of this is Biceps training for powerlifting, it may help you or it may not. This is where a skilled needs analysis is needed.
Training that is detrimental to performance: This is performing training that is going to impede your results. An example of this is doing powerlifting and a endurance sport like Tough Mudder. By doing them both you will not reach your capacity in either, they are in direct contrast to each other.
The solution in that case is to follow a periodised program. Begin by building a broad base of strength and hypertrophy, move onto focusing on the main muscles responsible for success in those lifts and then do a phase where you focus on the main lifts almost exclusively to set a new Personal best. Simple, right?
2. Progressive Overload
This principle was expanded upon greatly in our hypertrophy article. Check it out here. For our purposes of strength training, it means doing higher workloads and intensities than you have ever done before!
Instead let’s look at some incorrect applications of overload that a lot people do regularly, holding back their progress.
- Training to failure too often – intuitively it makes sense to train to failure (how else will I get gains?) but the fatigue it generates is enormous. It can also increase the risk of injury which is the fastest way to hold back progress.
- Making every workout harder than the previous – this can cause a problem as fatigue needs to dissipate. Some workouts can be non-fatiguing to allow recovery and then overloading will be even more effective at the next stimulus!
- Random destruction workouts – we all love to train hard and sometimes doing a crazy workout is all we want to do! The issue with these is yes they can be overloading but rarely in the direction we want to go! The fatigue they generate may also cause issues with future workouts!
3. Stimulus Recovery Adaptation
Stimulus, Recovery and Adaptation (SRA) is the actual process our bodies undergo when we perform, recover and get better from training! We need to be aware of how much stimulus each drill provides, how much recovery it will need and what the adaptation will be and is it the adaptation we want.
Each session we do has 4 distinct curves to be aware of that affect our programming – Nervous system technical ability, hypertrophy, nervous system force output and connective tissue integrity.
Each of these topics could be delved into in great detail but we will stick with practical recommendations. For a light session, 2-3 days is plenty, for moderate, 3-5 days can be ideal and for heavy overloading work once every 7-10 days may be ideal!
The thing to keep in mind as that as you become a more advanced lifter, you will need longer to recover from sessions and that some exercises are more fatiguing than others. For most people the deadlift is the most fatiguing lift and can only be trained heavy once a week. Smaller muscles such as the Biceps and Deltoids and upper back can be trained much more frequently, up to 4 times a week. Squats can be done twice a week as the quads tend to recover quickly and the Bench Press is generally similar.
A good way to train for most is 2 heavy Squat sessions, One heavy bench and one lighter session and one heavy deadlift with some technique work thrown in there. This will give you enough frequency of training and allow for adequate recovery.
4. Train To Your Strengths
At the beginning parts of training for strength, your goal is not to train your weaknesses. If you don’t have any real strengths, how can you find out what your weaknesses are?
As you train you will find you have some areas that are naturally stronger than others. You may have great quad strength which makes your high bar squat great and your initial pull off the floor awesome. Neglecting to build this while bringing up your glutes is a recipe for an early plateau as you will not actually turn it into a strength. Get strong first!
5. Build On Your Weaknesses
Once you have got to a decent level of strength, then you should start working on your weaknesses. Everyone has some and they will hold you back eventually. Only by training your strengths first will you respect the principle of specificity. They need to be addressed once you have developed some decent strength levels.
If you follow the 5 principles, we guarantee you will get stronger in the most efficient and effective way possible. Time to get in the gym and get yoked!