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Essential Moves For Strength Training

August 22, 2015

Strength Training and Strength Exercises to Build Muscles

For most people, the goal of working out is not to be as strong as possible. Usually, it’s simply to look good in bed.

Strength Training and Strength Exercises With Ronnie ColemanBut even if being strong is not your top priority, having a foundation of strength and power is vital. It will increase your workload capacity and help you take your physique to the next level.

Strength training revolves around heavy compound exercises performed in the 1-6 repetition range. This kind of exercise elicits a variety of training responses that will benefit everyone regardless of their specific goals. Some of these benefits include:

  • Strengthening of tendons and ligaments which will result in fewer injuries
  • Formation of more muscle nuclei which dictate the amount of muscle you can gain
  • More of a dense muscular look due to increased myofibril hypertrophy
  • Increased motor unit synchronization and stronger neural connections (this makes you more efficient at every exercise you do)
  • Increased bone density
  • Increase in fast twitch muscle leading to more explosiveness and power
  • Increased testosterone and growth hormone production

So obviously you should incorporate some strength based training into your workouts, but what are the best exercises?

Best Strength Exercises By Body Part

The best strength exercises are multi-joint movements that recruit a large amount of muscle fibers. Here are some of the most effective movements and building strength.

Strength Training and Strength Exercises for Legs: Squats and DeadliftsLegs: Squats and Deadlifts

These are two essential exercises for anyone looking to build strength. Squatting heavy requires your glutes, hips, quads, and hamstrings to work together while forcing your core muscles to function in unison by creating a braced neutral core to protect the spine.

Deadlifts will activate the same muscles with more of an emphasis on the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, erector muscles in the back). In addition to building muscular strength, these two movements are the best at strengthening your central nervous system.

As essential as these movements are, more people probably injure themselves doing these two lifts than any other exercise. As a result, many people try to “work around” deadlifts and squats by using exercises such as leg press and back extensions. Unfortunately  these are very poor substitutes and do not elicit the same training response. Avoid these common mistakes and you can safely implement these into your routine.

Common mistakes

Squats Deadlifts
Knees shifting forward Rounding back
Failing to maintain neutral spine through either excessive flexion or extension Overextending back
Knees turning inward Bar too far in front leading to not loading the hips and glutes properly
Excessive forward lean Going too slow on the way down, deadlifts should be a controlled drop from the top
Failing to maintain neutral shoulder girdle due to broken grip on barbell Failing to keep shoulders back at the top of the lift

Strength Training and Strength Exercises: Anatomy Upper & Lower Back Muscles

Back: Barbell Rows and Pull Ups

The main muscles of the back are the spinal erectors, the rhomboids, posterior delts, traps, and lats. It’s important to use a variety of exercises to target all these. While deadlifts will heavily recruit the lower lats and spinal erectors, rows and pullups are necessary to balance out your physique. Barbell rows will focus more on the posterior delts and traps, while pull ups recruit more lats. Both exercises also place an emphasis on the rhomboids.

 

Common mistakes

Barbell Rows Pull Ups
Elbows flaring out Rolling shoulders forward at the top
Using momentum Kipping and using jerky movements to reach the top
Tilting your head up (looking at yourself in mirror) Not completing the full range of motion at the bottom
Rounding back

Strength Training and Strength Exercises: Biceps Chin-ups and Barbell Curls

Biceps: Chin-ups and Barbell Curls

The biceps consist of two different muscles which consist of the long head and the short head. The long head makes up the peak while the short head is the thick part on the inside of the bicep.

Exercises that focus on one head exclusively, such as preacher curls and drag curls, have a role in your workout program but not when it comes to increasing strength. Instead, focus on these two movements which recruit both heads.

 

Common Mistakes

Chin ups Barbell curls
Rounding shoulders at the top Cheating by using momentum and arching back
Gripping too wide Shoulders round forward at bottom
Elbows flaring out

Strength Training and Strength Exercises: Triceps MusclesTriceps: Dips (Tricep Emphasis) and Close Grip Bench Press

The triceps are made up of three different heads. Different kinds of extensions can target each head individually, but for building strength we need to recruit all of them at once. Increasing your tricep strength can help you add weight on a multitude of exercises such as the bench press and military press if triceps are your “weak link”. These two movements are excellent at adding mass and thickness as well. When doing dips with an emphasis on triceps, you will be in a more upright position and use a smaller range of motion with elbows tight.

Common mistakes

Tricep dips Close grip bench press
Flaring out elbows Flaring out elbows
Rounding shoulders at the bottom Failing to maintain neutral shoulder girdle at the bottom
“Shrugging” at the start with your shoulders elevated Breaking tension at the wrist through overextension

Strength Training and Strength Exercises For Chest  Muscles Using DipsChest: Barbell Bench Press and Dips (chest emphasis)

Bench press is the go-to when looking to increase strength in the upper body. Unfortunately it’s another classic strength exercise that leads to many injuries, usually a shoulder issue like a torn rotator cuff. Because of their inability to maintain shoulder stability people often resort to substituting pressing machines which elicit nowhere near the strength response as a barbell when you’re forced to stabilize yourself.

Dips are also a vital movement for pec size and strength, in fact, Arnold claimed these as his favorite chest exercise. In order to place more emphasis on the chest over the triceps, try to lean forward into the dip a little bit. Allow for a slight flare in the elbows and a deeper range of motion than a tricep dip.

Common Mistakes

Bench Press Chest Dips
Failing to maintain a neutral shoulder girdle (shoulders don’t stay tacked down) Too deep a range of motion that places stress on sternum
Elbows flaring out Shoulders rolling forward and becoming overactive
Bouncing weight off of chest Overextension of the spine
Lifting up feet or setting them up improperly

Strength Training and Strength Exercises For ShouldersShoulders: Military Press and Close Grip Upright Rows

The deltoids are comprised of 3 heads: lateral, anterior, and posterior. Exercises like lateral raises are great for sculpting fine details but must be supplementary to these strength and mass builders. The military press will recruit mostly the anterior and lateral head while using the posterior head to stabilize the movement. In order to recruit the posterior delt as a prime mover a pulling exercise is required, and upright rows are the best choice. They will recruit all three heads but with more of an emphasis on the posterior delt.

 

Common Mistakes

Military Press Close grip upright rows
Elbows flare out excessively Gripping too wide (takes emphasis off of delts)
Over extension of the spine Initiating the movement with a shrug
Shoulders roll forward at the bottom Starting the movement with shoulders rolled forward
Not using a full range of motion

Creating Your Strength Program

No matter what kind of workout split you are doing, you should typically start your workout with an emphasis on strength using the exercises that are the most taxing on your CNS system. Before you move to higher reps of more isolation exercises or machines, make sure to perform 3-5 sets of the strength focused exercises listed above. Keep the reps under 6 and take 2-5 minute rests in between sets when doing heavy compound movements. Also starting with strength exercises will fire up your neural connections and help you recruit your muscles more efficiently as you move on to isolation exercises at higher reps.

Alternatively, you could implement one or two “power” days a week where your whole focus is on compound movements and increasing strength. This is best performed as a full body workout or an upper/lower split. Here’s an example of an upper and lower power day. The other days could have more of a hypertrophy focus using more volume and isolation work.

Upper Lower
Bench Press 5×3 Deadlifts 3×3
Military Press 3×5 Squats 5×5
Tricep Dips 4×6 Barbell Rows 4×5
Close Grip upright rows 3×6 Chin ups 3×6

Getting the Most Out of Your Strength Training

Its hard work throwing around heavy weights and building up strength! Follow these tips to make sure you’re maximizing your efforts.

  • Each exercise should be done at near failure – perhaps even reaching failure on the last set
  • Get in the right “head space.” A large part of strength training is in your head. You have to be able to get the adrenaline pumping and get yourself amped up to reach new levels of power. So take Sheer Strength Pre Workout to get your blood flowing and your mind right for an intense, heavy workout.
  • Get adequate recovery. This kind of training is very taxing on the CNS, and if you’re not recovering or sleeping properly, cortisol levels could rise and make it difficult to gain muscle or lose fat. Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep and make sure to take off at least 1-2 days following an intensive strength focused workout.
  • Supplement with quality creatine during your routines. Strength training is short and intense and does not necessarily require much glycogen or glucose in your system. The primary energy system used is ATP-CP. This means you use stored creatine in the muscle to make ATP, which provides you that short explosive energy for durations 10 seconds and less. Supplementing with creatine makes this energy system more effective and can help you pump out that one last rep for more strength and muscle growth
  • Don’t sacrifice form however. Its not about how much you can lift, its about how much you can lift with proper form. Don’t let your ego lead to an injury

Wrap Up

Strength training is essential for everyone and not only makes you better in the gym, but it will transfer to real life situations where that functional strength comes in handy. If you’re cutting, strength training will help you retain your muscle. If you’re trying to gain muscle, you’ll be able to lift heavier in the hypertrophy range (8-12 reps) once you have a foundation of strength. This leads to more total hypertrophy. Plus it’s pretty cool to be able to lift so much weight that everyone stops what they are doing in the gym to watch you. If you follow the tips outlined in this article, you’ll achieve a more dense muscular look that will surely turn heads.

Jonathan Warren is a national level physique competitor and personal trainer with multiple certifications including NASM, NCCPT, and IKFF. His specializations include mobility training and corrective exercise as well as contest preparation.

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