Essential Moves For Strength Training
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.
But 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:
So obviously you should incorporate some strength based training into your workouts, but what are the best exercises?
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
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.
Legs: 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.
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.
|Knees shifting forward
|Failing to maintain neutral spine through either excessive flexion or extension
|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
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.
|Elbows flaring out
||Rolling shoulders forward at the top
||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
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.
|Rounding shoulders at the top
||Cheating by using momentum and arching back
|Gripping too wide
||Shoulders round forward at bottom
||Elbows flaring out
Triceps: 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.
||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
Chest: 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.
|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
Shoulders: 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.
||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 strengt
h 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.
|Bench Press 5x3
|Military Press 3x5
|Tricep Dips 4x6
||Barbell Rows 4x5
|Close Grip upright rows 3x6
||Chin ups 3x6
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
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.