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How to Increase Your Strength

train Jun 27, 2024
How to Increase Your Strength | Joseph Arangio

It’s a universal law: Your body reacts to the demands placed upon it, so if you lift heavy weights you become strong.

But most men and women, over the age of 40, treat their workouts like an assembly-line worker, doing the same things all of the time.

Problem is, once you adapt to your training plan, progress stops.

And to make future progress, you have to spend time working on the things you’re not good at.

According to a 2009 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, barbell-loading tools, like resistance bands and chains, boost strength and power better than barbell training alone.

Thanks to something called the “strength curve” nearly every exercise has an easy and a hard part.

Using a barbell squat as an example, the toughest part of the move is when you’re at the bottom; sitting “in the hole.”

Compare this to the top of the squat where you are strongest.

There’s another concept called the force-velocity curve, which is a fancy way of saying the faster you move a weight, the less force you need to lift it.

In short, you break plateaus by strengthening weak points throughout  the entire range of motion of a lift, as well as getting better at accelerating and decelerating the weight.

How to Increase Your Strength

I'm visiting a new gym while on vacation with my family, minding my own business, trying to complete my final set of barbell box squats.

And this ambitious young trainer, looking like he was still in high school, comes up to me and says, "Hey, buddy, wanna try this new strength exercise called 'burpees'?"

I joked, "Burpees? Sounds like something you do after a heavy meal at Olive Garden! Thank you for the advice anyway." 

He looked at me funny, as if not understanding my humor, and then just walked away without saying anything else.

Truth is, burpees are nice for metabolic conditioning but not really appropriate for building strength so I proceeded to finish my barbell box squats.

Cold War-era Soviet sport scientists knew a thing or two about creating strong and speedy athletes.

Russia and other Eastern Bloc countries kicked butt in the Olympics for nearly 30 years, thanks to these once-secret training methods.

Use the program tweaks below to break through plateaus only after you’ve practiced serious lifting for at least one year.

But before you start, pick up a set of heavy-duty resistance bands and weight-lifting chains.

You’ll also need access to a sturdy power rack with band pegs on the top and bottom.

Here are eight proven ways to overload your lifts so you get stronger.

1. Resistive Bands – Bottom Technique

πŸ’ͺ Exercise: Barbell Deadlift

Try It: Attach bands to an anchor point on the bottom of a power rack, around 2-to-4 feet below the barbell. Loop the bands around each end of the bar.

Adjust so there is still band tension at the bottom of the lift.

In this method, the tension is very high at the top, sometimes hundreds of pounds depending on the band size, quantity, anchor point, limb length of the athlete, and even freshness of the band.

This method is best used when training for speed.

2. Assistive Bands – Top Technique

πŸ’ͺ Exercise: Barbell Squat

Try It: Attach bands to an anchor point on the top of a power rack, directly above the barbell.

Loop the opposite ends of the bands around the bar sleeves. Adjust so the bar comes out of the bands at the top of the lift.

At the bottom of the lift, the bands are stretched and actually lighten the load. As you stand up the bands relax as you gradually accept the total bar weight.

This technique is a huge confidence builder because you can add more bar weight then you normally would.

I like this method more for novice lifters, since the bands act as training wheels.

It’s also a great technique for those looking to break through plateaus.

3. Chains - Stable Method

πŸ’ͺ Exercise: Barbell Squat, Barbell Bench Press

Try It: Connect a large chain to a smaller chain so that both ends of the larger chain fall to the floor. Loop the smaller chain around the bar sleeves.

Make sure that 2 to 4 links are on the floor at the highest locked-out position.

As you lower the bar, the chain weight unloads to the floor so the bar weight is lighter at the bottom.

When you push the bar away, the chain reloads which means you push harder and faster and you can lift over 100% of your max at the top.

This technique recruits more muscle to help to finish the lift. Since there’s higher nervous system activity, you’re doing more work.

More sets done at higher weights over time means bigger, stronger, and faster muscles.

4. Chains - Unstable Method

πŸ’ͺ Exercise: Barbell Bench Press

Try It: Place the chain on both bar sleeves so that all links are off the floor at the highest locked-out position.

Since you have little or no chain on the floor, the chains will dangle and sway during the lift, making you stabilize and focus.

You don't have one particular muscle group overpowering and dominating a lift, rather it’s a uniform effort that puts your muscles under greater tension.

Use this technique with a higher rep range, like 10-15 repetitions. This will also increase workload capacity.

Translation: More volume and better-quality sets equal more muscle and strength.

5. Boards or Blocks

πŸ’ͺ Exercise: Barbell Bench Press

Try It: Instead of traditional wooden boards steadied by a spotter, attach a bench-press block directly to the barbell.

This handy tool exposes your weakest links in the lift so you can work on overloading the muscles you aren't using effectively.

You are able to increase the amount of weight you lift because you are starting at a higher point, which offers better leverage.

Most over-40 men and women have a tough time pushing the bar "off the chest" because it’s the poorest leverage point and you can't get enough muscle to contribute to the lift.

But if you get help pushing the bar off your chest, to about one-third of the way up, you can normally finish the lift as the leverages improve.

Block presses save your shoulders too. We use blocks, and also the safety spotting arms inside of a power rack, with the goal of de-loading the shoulder.

It does of course elicit strength improvements as well.

6. Partials

πŸ’ͺ Exercise: Barbell Rack Pull

Try It: Place a loaded bar inside of the rack, resting on the safety pins. If you have a hard time locking out deadlifts, set the pins just above or just below the knees to work your glutes and hips.

Partials are used to overload the best leverage points of an exercise so you train your weak points.

In a rack pull you are able to increase the amount of weight you lift because you’re starting at a higher point. This forces you to engage muscle groups that give out early in a lift.

7. Pauses

πŸ’ͺ Exercises: Barbell Bench Press, Anderson Squat

Try It: Cut your typical weight in half and pause at the bottom of a lift.

This technique eliminates most of the stretch reflex, which is your body’s attempt to protect itself from injury by contracting a muscle after it is stretched too fast.

For example, you can elicit the stretch reflex by lowering the bar rapidly during a squat.

But when you pause between the ascent and descent, the lift becomes static or isometric in nature. Now you have to maintain form and use your muscles in new way.

Added bonus: You learn patience under a load, which is critical for building confidence.

8. Speed Wrist Straps

πŸ’ͺ Exercise: Barbell Shrug

Try It: Use Olympic-style speed wrist straps when you need added forearm and grip strength for heavy loads, especially with high-rep training. 

To overload your muscles you must lift more or do more reps, which is tough if you can’t hold onto the weight.

But the problem with cheap straps is that they cut into your wrists, fray on the bar, and eventually break. Not to mention the added time it takes to wrap and unwrap between sets.

Olympic-style speed wrist straps shift the pressure to the back of your hands near the wrists.

You can lift a ton more if you take the grip out, which is often the weakest link in the lifting chain. If you can handle heavy weights, you train the neuromuscular system harder. That means more muscle.

Added bonus: Thanks to the short length, you can quickly escape if you drop an overhead lift.

Summary: 

To break through plateaus and get stronger, it's important to work on weaknesses and vary your training methods. Use uncommon techniques like resistive bands, assistive bands, chains, boards, partial reps, pauses, and wrist straps to overload your muscles and improve strength. These methods help target specific points in the range of motion, improve stability, and increase muscle activation for better results.

To your success,

Coach Joe

 


 

Joseph Arangio helps 40+ men and women get leaner, stronger, and happier. He's delivered over 100,000 transformation programs to satisfied clients around the globe. If you want to lose weight from home, with the best online longevity personal trainer, or you want to visit the best age-management personal trainer in the Lehigh Valley, you can take a free 14-day trial.

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