Being strong can solve a lot of problems. A high level of maximal strength is the most influential quality in performance. Whether you are an elite athlete or someone who simply wants to look and feel amazing, training for maximal strength will make you better.
Naturally, you won’t train for maximal strength every time you work out. Instead, you’ll train to achieve your primary goal, with strength workouts phased in where they are most appropriate. The critical point is that you will enhance your performance with heavy-load strength training.
Building Maximal Strength Delivers the Following Payoffs:
- The more strength you have, the faster and more powerful you can become from subsequent training.
- Being strong and having a balanced body helps you avoid injury and move with ease.
- Greater muscular strength means you can apply more stimulus if your goal is to build muscle.
- Strength is a major bonus when you need to lift heavy objects or if you find yourself in a tricky physical situation.
- Baseline strength levels correlate with levels of hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone that are beneficial for body composition and health.
Do You Really Have to Lift Heavy to Get Strong?
Absolutely. Although it is possible to gain strength by using light loads, you’d have to train to the point of failure (the point at which you can’t lift the weight any more) for this to produce results. It’s simply not as effective as maximal strength training, especially if you’re not a complete novice.
In addition, lifting light loads to failure is not much fun, particularly compared to breaking new lifting records. Who cares if you can squat 75 pounds 75 times instead of only 70?
How The Body Gains Strength
The goal of maximal strength training is to increase muscle motor unit recruitment and neural drive. This means that when you lift something extremely heavy, your body will recruit more muscle fibers to perform the activity.
By continually challenging yourself with higher intensities, you teach your body to recruit more motor units, thereby activating more muscle fibers and allowing you to move more weight faster.
Getting Strong Is A Skilled Act
Training for maximal strength is not for the faint hearted. You have to juggle performance with body composition goals and recovery needs. Here are three essential points about gaining maximal strength:
Greater Base Strength Allows You to Get Better Performance Results from Training
In an illuminating study, researchers divided young men into two training groups based on their strength level: A Strong group that had a back squat 1RM that was 2 times bodyweight, and a Weak group that had a back squat 1RM that was 1.3 times bodyweight.
After 10 weeks of power training, the Strong group increased power, jump height, and 40-meter sprint speed significantly more than the Weak group. The stronger athletes experienced a much larger improvement in peak power ability and vertical jump, supporting the idea that for athletic development, it is best to attain a high level of strength prior to training for athletic performance.
The stronger athletes were better able to utilize the stretch shortening cycle and tolerate high forces than the weaker group. A higher strength threshold allows for a better functioning central nervous system, more efficient muscle-tendon activity, and stronger connective tissue.
Train for Strength to Build the Fast-Twitch Muscles That Matter
Everyone benefits from building the fast-twitch, powerful muscles with heavy-load training: All athletes perform better with greater strength, whether you're a distance runner, football player, gymnast, or track athlete.
This is especially important for endurance athletes who often shy away from training for maximal strength. Studies consistently show heavy training increases the high-stamina Type IIA fibers that can make the difference in the final kick for an endurance athlete, but without a hypertrophic effect that increases bodyweight.
Strength Is Maximized with Shorter Sessions If Frequency and Volume Increase
Elite Norwegian powerlifters are getting superior strength results from shorter, more frequent training sessions with a higher volume. The best lifters typically train squat, bench press and deadlift 5 to 6 times a week, with regular twice-a-day training.
Researchers suggest that higher volume produces the following benefits:
- Stronger connective tissue so athletes can handle heavier loads
- Better utilization of the stretch shortening cycle
- Enhanced function of the muscle-tendon unit
- Lower injury rate
How To Train For Maximal Strength?
1. Ensure structural balance
Use unilateral training to make sure the right and left sides of the body are balanced.
2. Train the assistance lifts for strength
A common mistake is training assistance lifts with light loads and high reps all the time. Instead, periodize your structural balance exercises for strength just as you do with your primary compound exercises.
3. Favor barbell training over machines
A machine here or there may provide benefits, but barbell compound lifts are a staple for maximal strength development for athletes and everyday folks alike.
4. Use thick-handle dumbbells
Thick-handle dumbbells increase handgrip and forearm strength to help prevent tendinitis and pain in the elbows.
5. Use recovery nutrition
Nutrition can enhance the clearance of stress hormones such as cortisol, while promoting tissue repair. This can build strength of connective tissues and tendons, allowing you to handle greater loads down the road.
6. Train smart
Being strong is about continuing to make things harder, not easier, when training.
7. Do eccentric-enhanced training
Training with super heavy eccentric loads or by modifying the tempo of the eccentric motion to increase satellite cells and Type IIA fiber strength.
8. Use drop sets
A style of drop sets that is especially effective is a high-intensity set followed immediately by the same exercise at a low-intensity with 50 percent of the 1RM.
9. Try Forced Reps
Perform forced reps with a load that is heavier than normal for the given number of repetitions rather than doing extra reps: For a program that includes 3 sets of 12 squats, identify the maximal load you can perform for 12 reps. Then increase that load and perform 12 reps, getting assistance when necessary.
10. Do Separate Strength & Cardio Workouts
Steady-state cardio impairs strength adaptations. Therefore, it’s recommended that you always separate your strength and conditioning workouts, doing them on separate days. Interval training doesn’t have as much of a negative effect on strength as steady-state cardio, making it your go-to form of conditioning.