In the fast paced society we live in today, everyone expects everything to happen quickly. Just a few years ago the idea of having Internet on our phones was just that (an idea). Now, if my iPhone doesn’t load a page in a few seconds, I’m complaining about how slow it is. We expect to be able to record our favorite shows so that we don’t have to watch commercials and have completely done away with the idea of actually sending a written letter. With the rate Twitter and Facebook are going, we won’t even be using e-mail in a few years.
Since we have gotten so used to technology constantly advancing, we expect everything in our world to speed up at a similarly tremendous rate. The only problem is that the human body itself doesn’t advance so quickly. Just because we have new exercise machines or techniques, doesn’t mean we’re going to get results any faster than we would have 20 years ago. Sure, we have gotten much smarter with the way we exercise and the equipment has helped make things more efficient, but the evolution of the human body hasn’t really changed at all. Goals we set still take hard work to achieve. We think because the Internet has gotten so much faster over the years, the ability to put on 10 pounds of muscle should have gotten equally as simple. I don’t mean to drop a bomb on anyone and ruin your expectations, but the more extreme your goals, the harder and longer they will take to achieve.
Now that I brought your expectations down to earth a little bit, let me offer some tips that will serve as a little broadband booster in your workout signal. If you follow these techniques, it is likely you will be able to reach your goals a little faster than if you hadn’t. These aren’t miracle pills or machines, but time-tested methods of lifting weights that have put pounds of muscle on some of the strongest guys on earth.
1. Get Away From 3: For some reason the idea that 3 sets is all you need to do of an exercise has been burned into peoples heads. When you are looking to get really strong, you should be stepping in the 4-6-set range for most of your big lifts. Five sets of five is a safe route to go with when you’re looking to drastically increase your strength. From week to week it will get harder to make that 5-pound increase in the weight you use for an exercise (most dumbbells only make 5-pound jumps). When that occurs, look to throw in an extra rep of the weight you used the previous week. So, if you did dumbbell bench at 80 pounds for 5×5 last week and you know you can’t jump to 85 pounds for 5×5, stick with the 80 pounds and go for 5×6.
2. Slow It Down: What many people fail to realize is that we are much stronger eccentrically than we are concentrically. The eccentric phase of a movement is when you are yielding to the weight. In a bench press it is when the bar is being lowered to the chest, in a tricep push down it’s when you are allowing the weight back up, and in a pull up it is when you are lowering your body from the top down. The concentric phase is the hard part of the lift, when you are trying to overcome the weight.
In order to increase your overall strength, you need to increase your eccentric strength. A quick way to do this is by going through the eccentric phase slower than the concentric. Challenge your muscle by taking 3-5 seconds to lower the bar to your chest on a bench or take 3-5 seconds to lower your body during a pull up. This will challenge your muscles eccentrically and make it stronger.
3. Hold It Right There: Isometrics is a type of exercise that is way under used in the workout world. An isometric or static exercise is when you get into a position and pause at a certain spot. When you hold a movement statically, you allow for more muscle fibers to be recruited than if you were to move constantly through an exercise. The next time you bench or do a row, do a set or two of just holding the weight right in the middle. For both those movements you would hold the weight at your chest for a few seconds. If you are benching with 225 on the bar, take that set or two to hold it just off your chest for as long as you can, then have someone help pull it back to the top. If you get 8 seconds this week, look to get 9 or 10 seconds the next week.
4. All You Got: I talked a bit about eccentrics and concentric in tip #2, with a focus on eccentric. This tip is to try and move as fast as possible when you are doing the concentric (overcoming) part of the exercise. If you look at an athlete, they usually have great physique and are as strong as an ox. Sure they likely work out a lot, but something you probably don’t think about is the speed at which they move and how that affects the body. When you try and move as fast as you can through a movement, you’re recruiting your fast-twitch muscle fibers. These fibers are the hardest, biggest and strongest in your body. So next time you bench, lower it at that 3-5 second rate, than attempt to throw it off you as fast as you can. Just because I am saying to move a weight as fast as possible, doesn’t mean it should be light. The actual speed of the exercise isn’t the concern, but the attempt is. If you are lifting a weight that is heavy for you, it obviously won’t be moving too fast, but you want to try and move it as fast as possible to recruit those fast-twitch fibers.
5. More Than You Can Chew: Sometimes you need to let your body try to handle more weight than it can actually lift. The technique of using a supra-maximal load is to put more on the bar than you have ever lifted before. This should be no more than 120% of your max and you should always have a spotter to help with the concentric phase of the exercise. During the eccentric phase, take that extra weight and attempt to move it as slow as possible. This will help recruit some extra muscle fibers and make you stronger eccentrically which in turn will strengthen you all around.
Put those 5 tips into practice over your next few workouts and you will be on the path to getting much stronger than you currently are. Instead of using all 5 tips in the next workout, space them out over multiple workouts or multiple weeks.