Six of the Best Plateau-Busting Methods for Getting Freaky Strong
Progressive overload, a crucial cornerstone of all good resistance training programs, is a key predictor of the extent to which our muscles will respond positively to the demands of intensive training. Resulting from the incremental increasing of resistance across a given training cycle, progressive overload must form the basis of our training approach if we are to force our muscles to grow and become stronger. Without it we might as well take up lawn bowls or some other less physically challenging, testosterone-optional pursuit.
To overcome unaccustomed resistance (usually in the form of training weights), our muscles will remodel their tissues so as to meet further such challenges with greater success. This is done through the building of larger and stronger muscle fibers in the aftermath of increasingly heavier workout sessions. By becoming progressively stronger we prompt our muscles to adapt and grow. By failing to properly overload our muscles on a regular basis we will remain at our present size and strength – bottom line.
Provided we train with excellent form and periodically modify the structure of our workouts by changing variables such as rep range, sets, intensity methods (how hard we train), volume (how much we do in each session), and frequency (how often we work out), we must always look to increase our training weights, to become stronger.
Getting stronger seems a relatively straightforward process; we simply add more weight to the bar, or at least try to, each time we train. But this is not the case at all. Genetic factors, years spent training, a finite capacity for strength gains, and fluctuating strength levels means that to become stronger is not a linear process. We must instead be patient and value any small strength increase.
Clearly we cannot expect to continuously add weight to the bar for the rest of our training days. There is a limit to how strong we may ultimately become. But unless we find this limit (and most of us are far from doing so) we will never tap our full muscle growth potential. This article will explain how you can become progressively stronger. By incorporating the following six tips, your muscle gains will soon be increasing in line with your burgeoning strength levels.
Strength tip 6: drop the reps
Working in the so called hypertrophy rep range of 8 to 12, and progressively increasing the resistance through this range, is undoubtedly critical to the muscle growth process: here we provide optimal duration and time under tension with sufficiently heavy weights to encourage adaptation and subsequent size gains. However, by periodically dropping the reps to 4-6 we can significantly increase the resistance and challenge our neuromuscular system to cope with increasingly heavier loads.
While maintaining perfect form and optimal tension on all target muscle groups, complete up to 6 reps with a weight that will allow you to fail on the final rep for 1 set of 2-3 movements per workout. Over time you may find that not only will your muscles become more responsive to your regular rep training protocols but your tendons, ligaments and bones will also become stronger and better able to support heavier weights when lifting at all rep ranges.
It is important not to become complacent when dropping the reps to fewer than 6. Indeed, we must look to address volume once we have mastered a particular lift at a certain weight. For example, once a 2 repetition max is completed with relative ease, aim to extend it to 3-4 reps. Once 3-4 reps can be achieved, it is again time to set a new 2 rep max, with a greater resistance. Strength gains can and should be incrementally increased in this manner. It is important to rest fully between sets to ensure your heaviest weights can be lifted with good form: your body must generate sufficient ATP (a cellular fuel source for muscular contraction) when heavy iron is to be lifted repeatedly in a single workout, a process that can take between 3 to 5 minutes.
Furthermore, by upping our weights by around 85-90% of our one repetition maximum (1RM) rather than the usual 70-75%
we become more confident handling heavier loads; we gain the psychological advantage of knowing that our muscles are more than capable of lifting close to 1RM for reps. This makes us more willing to up the poundage on all sets. Our mind is thus programmed to overcome the heavy iron.
Strength tip 5: improve attention and awareness
Lifting big requires a great deal more focus compared to hoisting moderate weights. Whether we are aiming for a personal best one rep max or hoping to hammer out 4 reps with 80% of this 1RM
both of which are usually done on one of the big three powerlifting movements: bench press, squat, or deadlift
it is imperative that we channel all of our attention into what we are doing; we must be aware of how our muscles are responding from the first rep to the last. A failure to properly engage correct lifting technique and to remain mentally sharp when moving maximal poundage may prevent the desired number of reps from being achieved and, worst case scenario, may lead to injury. Bombing out destroys confidence while becoming injured disrupts training progression. Both are to be avoided at all costs.
Strength tip 4: supplement for success
Supplementation, as part of a balanced nutritional approach, can assist our strength gains in many ways. A detailed analysis of all the various products designed to optimize workout performance is beyond the scope of this article so I will suggest 4 that will help to vastly improve strength levels and which no serious bodybuilder should be without: creatine, whey protein, a pre workout formulation and NO (Nitrous Oxide) boosters.
A cell volumizer which enables us to generate sufficient energy to train anaerobically, creatine is also a lactic acid buffering system which boosts recovery during heavy lifting sessions.
Strength gains are unlikely to occur without a readily absorbed post-workout protein source: whey protein remains the go-to product for optimal protein assimilation and rapid strength and musclebuilding gains. Pre workouts provide fuel to fire us up for the heaviest of sessions: loaded with performance ingredients, a good pre workout will energize, motivate, and enable us to focus on the task at hand with greater confidence, drive and determination.
Poor blood supply to working muscles means limited workout performance. In addition to their many performance and muscle building benefits, NO boosters dilate the arteries so we may experience optimal blood flow and significant muscle pumping. Crucially for heavy lifters is NO’s ability to enhance between-sets recovery. Because heavy lifting requires much rest between sets and can seriously tax the nervous system, intra-workout recovery is essential.
Strength tip 3: vary exercise selection
Getting stronger, for most lifters, means performing maximal lifts with multi-joint movements such as the squat, bent over row, and dumbbell press.
However, by upping our poundage on the so called smaller movements (for example: triceps extensions, dumbbell curls, and leg extensions) we become stronger overall. To successfully complete a multi-joint movement we must have few, if any, physical weaknesses. One weak link may prevent us from shifting those extra few kilos or achieving that additional rep. By becoming stronger on the single-joint lifts we work our muscles from a variety of angles to address certain sticking points and structural weaknesses that may limit our performance on the larger lifts.
Specific supplemental lifts such as deadlifts and floor presses from the power rack and box squats also help us to improve our technique when it comes to tackling the mass builders. Supplemental lifts enable us to become stronger on the big lifts from a technical standpoint while providing stability and the ability to absorb more force when hitting all multi joint movements. Include as wide a range of movements as possible, and try to get stronger on each. Occasionally perform ultra heavy lifts with smaller movements to test and build strength through different ranges of motion.
Strength tip 2: prioritize the big three
A key strength-building tenet states that to get big we must both prioritize the major mass building movements and, as a first requirement, become technically adept with each. For mass building and strength gaining no three movements will ever take the place of the squat, deadlift and bench press, each of which, when perfectly executed, enable a pure expression of strength:
to be considered strong we must be able to complete at least one rep with double our bodyweight on both the squat and deadlift and 1.5 times our bodyweight on the bench press.
While it is advised to routinely mix and match most resistance training movements (to force a continual state of adaptation), the squat, deadlift and bench are to be included in each of their respective workouts (legs, back, and chest). Becoming stronger on these three movements allow us to become stronger overall due to 1) their systemic nature (they work multiple muscle groups to optimize growth through the whole body) and 2) the greater testosterone and growth hormone levels that are released when they are completed with heavy weights in the 6 to 8 rep range.
To further maximize the effectiveness of the squat, deadlift and bench press we may incorporate two intensity methods: spotter-assisted forced reps and heavy negatives. By employing forced reps and negatives we not only signal more growth by further overloading the target muscles but we will also become stronger due to the firing of additional fibers that are called into action during the final 2-3 reps of each set.
Strength tip 1: eat, rest, recover, and repeat
Regardless of whether we diligently employ all of the above detailed strategies for building strength without overlooking a single step, our gains will not materialize if we fail to properly address the crucial recovery factors of rest and nutrition. Apportioning sufficient protein, carbs and fats throughout the day along with a full array of muscle building supplements must be a first requirement for all lifters looking to skyrocket their strength levels.
Stimulating a muscle to become stronger cannot be done without the energy to perform;
allowing this muscle to become stronger, and more muscular, post-training is impossible without the right building materials. Equally as important, we must also provide our muscles with an anabolic environment conducive to continued growth: this means getting enough rest, structuring our training so as to ensure full recovery between sessions, and sleeping soundly each night for between 8 to 10 hours. You have done the work to stimulate unprecedented strength gains: now sit back, rest, eat, repeat and attack those weights with renewed vigor!