When it comes to hitting the gym and working out, we’re all different and we all have different goals and targets in mind. Some people go to the gym to lose body fat, and so they base most of their exercises around cardio and circuit training perhaps. Others want to build muscle, so they will spend most of their gym time pumping iron by lifting weights. Whatever your goals and targets may be, one thing’s for sure, and that is that you need to train with these goals and targets in mind. Strength training for example, has been popular for decades now, but it seems that it’s only recently that people have really begun embracing strength training exercises, rather than conventional bodybuilding exercises instead. Part of the reason why strength training has become so popular lately, is because powerlifting and strongman competitions are now so insanely popular. With contests such as the World’s Strongest Man generating hype and gaining popularity all over the world, more and more people are trying to emulate these larger than life strongmen you see on the TV, and are showing a keen interest in strength training for functional purposes, rather than just simple aesthetics. If you’re looking to get into powerlifting or strongman, here are six proven exercises and strategies guaranteed to provide noticeable strength gains and improvements.
Begin by using barbells first
Thanks to crossfit, military bootcamps, and various other exercise strategies, more and more gyms are now being kitted out with complicated looking pieces of equipment such as bosu balls, multi-handled bars, and intimidating looking kettlebells etc. If you’re trying to improve and increase your strength levels, forget all of that, and stick with the humble barbell to begin with. Think of the barbell as the king, dumbbells as queen, and everything else in the gym as loyal servants – they have their place and they serve a purpose, but they’re not essential and not as important. Barbells are ideal because they allow you to load up heavy weight, and they involve the forearms and other muscle groups in the body, allowing you to generate more power and stimulate multiple muscle groups at once.
Increase your rest in-between sets
When trying to increase your strength, you will obviously be working very hard, which we’ll look at in more detail shortly, because of this, you will need to ensure that you’re getting plenty of rest in-between each working set. Aim to rest between 3 – 5 minutes between working sets, as this has been found to be the most effective method of allowing the phosphagen system adequate time to recover, without making your workouts drag on for too long. The phosphagen system is the main energy pathway which is used in strength training.
Heavy weight and low reps
You’re trying to increase your strength levels here, so naturally in order to get stronger, you will need to lift heavy weights and really test yourself. When training heavy, always, always make sure you use safety equipment I.E a squat rack, powercage etc, and that you have a spotter working with you to help keep you safe. Once you’re happy that you’re safe, you can then begin training heavy and increasing your poundage with each working set. Start with a weight that you can just about complete 6 reps unassisted, then increase slightly and aim for 5 reps, then 4, then 3, until you then go for a 1 rep max.
Eat, eat, and eat!
If you’re trying to get stronger, you will need to ensure that you’re consuming a lot of calories, especially because this form of training is so physically demanding and intense. Make sure you consume healthy, nutritionally balanced foods, and don’t use it as an excuse to binge on junk. The occasional cheat meal now and then certainly won’t hurt, but 90% of the time, make sure the calories you consume are good and clean, with a healthy mix of good fats, carbs, and high protein. Unless you’re blessed with especially great genetics, becoming a powerlifter whilst maintaining 10% body fat and six pack abs is not really feasible, so make sure you take that into consideration. You can control and maintain your weight by all means, but you don’t tend to see too many ripped powerlifters or strongmen.
Focus on “the big four”
The big four are: the barbell bench press, barbell squats, deadlifts, and shoulder presses. These four exercises have been proven time and time again to be the most effective strength building exercises by far, especially when compared with other similar exercises and movements. These four exercises are very important exercises and you should place an emphasis on them whilst training, but don’t focus on them entirely, as you will also need to keep your pushing and pulling muscles in balance with one another, so if you do a pushing movement such as the bench press, try to superset or follow it up with a pulling exercise such as a chin up to keep it in balance.
Keep a training log
When trying to make improvements, a training log is by far the most beneficial and important piece of equipment you can possibly use in the gym. A training log will let you see just how much progress you’re making, which exercises are your strongest, and which are your weakest. It will not only serve as a great motivational tool, but if you aren’t making any progress and you’re not sure why, you can take a look back at your training log and see if you’ve been doing anything different. If, one week, you suddenly find yourself hitting a plateau and feeling weaker than usual, look at your log and see what you did different. If you tried a new exercise that week you will see it in black and white, and that could very well be the cause of your troubles. Never settle however, and constantly strive to improve every workout, whether it’s more weight or more reps.