Strength Vs Size
If you are male (or female) and lift weights you will have one focus: To get bigger and stronger. In my opinion there’s nothing greater than hitting a PB or noticing that you’ve gained a substantial amount of muscle. It is one of the most rewarding parts of hitting the gym and a reflection of your hard work.
For novices, they will make progress regardless of the modality. 3 sets of 10 will be enough to see some good results. However for those with a slightly longer training age, plateaus are very common and highly frustrating. Where the problem lies is when you start to neither strength, nor hypertrophy train but get lost amid a regime that focuses on chasing both. I’ve done it before.
“I want to add 2 inches on to my arms in 4 weeks but also want to bench 150kg”
Slow down Tinkerbell, which one do you want?
Hypertrophy training is based on a sarcoplasmic pump, adequate blood flow and glycogen levels. The idea is to cause the muscle to dramatically swell, undergo trauma and so grow as a way of dealing with the stress. In order to optimize this you need to focus on time under tension (TUT). The optimal time for this is 40-70 seconds (Siff & Verkhoshansky 2009) with the majority of focus being placed on the eccentric portion (lowering of the weight).
Strength training is purely physics. It will depend on CNS activation and the level of skill the trainee has at the movement. If training for strength your focus should not be to “pump up” or cause a high level of muscular damage but focused on 3 things “Bar speed, Bar speed and Bar speed”.
To get strong, and I don’t mean stronger than your friends, I mean, freakishly strong, you need to do 2 things, handle heavy weights often and train for speed. Strength is a highly complex skill that is very taxing on the brain. To maintain form and in order to avoid “the pump” sets should be short, fast and high in volume. For Example 8 sets of 3.
Chase 2 goals at once and you’ll hit neither of them. Focus on solely one and you might find you improve in another area as a by-product.
So, here are my tips to accelerate your progress in the gym. These are both based on scientific research and anecdotal findings from my own experience.
· Drop your ego and reduce the weight. If you usually bench 100kg for 3 sets of 5 try 70kg for 3 sets of 8 to 10.
· Tempo is paramount. Lower for anything between 3 to 5 seconds, pause, lift and squeeze (ever thought of squeezing whilst trying to shift 100kg, not a chance)
· Keep rest intervals short (45-60 seconds roughly)
· Mind in the muscle. If you can’t feel the muscle working, you ain’t doing jack s***. Reduce the weight, focus and lift again.
· Base training around percentages calculated by your 1RM. Not what you want your 1RM to be, what it actually is.
· Nail Technique. However you learn the technique is how you’re brain will drill it into the CNS. Get this wrong and you’ll plateau and have to take a considerable amount of time re-learning the movement.
· Practice. Weight lifting is just like any other sport, practice makes perfect. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Overtraining is a result of poor programming not training frequency.
· Structural Balance. If you have pain or see a noticeable in balance address this first. Heavy training will only make it worse and eventually lead to injury.
· Frequency. Train the movement several times per week. This is based on the Westside Barbell principles. Once for speed, once for power and once for strength. Use appropriate percentages to avoid overtraining.
· Take a break. Rest periods should be long, 2-3 minutes.
· Focus, be aggressive but stay calm. Controlled aggression is an awesome tool for strength training but over excitation can be detrimental. Do you need to grunt so the whole gym hears you? No, don’t be that guy.
· Get tight. When you’re lifting the big 3 (or 4) it’s about full body tension. Get tight, stay tight and the lift will follow.
By focusing on one and not the other you will see gains occur at a much faster rate. I would argue that there’s no point of being Big, if you’re not Strong and so strength training should be an integral part of any programme. However, I have had clients who solely wish to get big, so we concentrated on hypertrophy principles. Be specific, train smart and smash your targets.
Written by Personal Trainer Chris Knott. Click here to view Chris' profile!