10 Ways to Instantly Increase Your Strength

10 Ways to Instantly Increase Your Strength

We live in an era of instant gratification. Drive-through car washes and restaurants, online shopping, music and movie downloads – if you have the cash you can get it fast, and often with free shipping! This “hate to wait” attitude has spread to the fitness community, as evidenced by the popularity of television programs such as The Biggest Loser and the use of crash diets. How about strength training – is it possible to do things that will enable you lift more weight in your very next workout? Short answer: “Yes!”

When you begin a weight training program, just about anything you do in the gym will make you stronger. Squat every day, squat every other day, even squat once a week – you’re going to make progress. The problem is that when you’ve been hitting the gym for a while, you often reach a point of diminishing returns where your progress slows, stops, or even regresses. This leads to frustration and a lack of enthusiasm for training. In these cases, there are some “tricks” you can try that may create immediate strength gains and thus jump-start your attitude. Here are 10 of them:

1. Use Caffeine. Not only can caffeine increase mental alertness and training drive, but may also enable you to lift more weight. In a study published in 2012 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers found that ingesting a pre-workout caffeine drink before a workout enabled participants to complete significantly more reps to failure in all exercises compared to a placebo group. The study used college-age men with weight training experience, and the drink contained 179 mg of caffeine. The exercises performed were the squat, deadlift, bench press and prone row.

2. Warm-up with Low Reps. Often lifters create excessive fatigue by performing too many reps leading up to their work sets. Let’s say your goal is to squat 300 pounds for 3 sets of 5 reps. One progression that causes a high level of fatigue is to warm-up with a lot of sets using 5 reps, such as shown in the following example: 135 x 5, 185 x 5, 230 x 5, 265 x 5, 285 x 5, then 300 x 3 sets x 5 reps; resulting in a total of 25 warm-up reps. Instead, this progression could be used: 135 x 5, 185 x 4, 215 x 3, 240 x 1, 265 x 1, 280 x 1, 300 x 1, then 300 x 3 sets x 5 reps; resulting in a total of 16 warm-up sets. When using this method, consider that previous exercises can also reduce the number of warm-up reps needed; for example, if your workout started with military presses, you probably don’t need as many warm-up reps for the bench press if it is performed later in the workout.

3. Use Contrast Training. Contrast training works on the concept of “post-tetanic potentiation (PTP), which states that a more powerful muscle contraction can be performed if it is preceded by a strong muscular contraction. We often see baseball players swinging weighted bats before stepping up to the plate so that they can hit the ball harder. Examples of contrast training methods that can be used in the gym are to perform a few sets of medium-weight squats before doing an explosive lift such as a power clean or snatch, doing a few heavy partial bench presses before performing regular bench presses, or using lifting chains for a few sets before trying maximal weights.

4. Try Wave Loading. Wave loading also works upon the concept of post-tetanic potentiation. With wave loading you work up to a max weight, reduce the weight considerably, then work back up to a new max. Often by giving the nervous system a brief rest, it can to contract the muscles harder on the second, third, and even fourth wave of an exercise. Here is an example of wave loading for someone who can bench press 200 pounds for 1 rep:

Wave 1: 135, 3, 155, 3, 175 x 2, 185 x 1, 195 x 1, 200/miss

Wave 2: 175 x 2, 185 x 1, 195 x 1, 200 x 1, 205/miss

Wave 3: 185 x 1, 195 x 1, 200 x 1, 205 x 1

Consider, however, that wave loading is an advanced training method. For those with little weight training experience, only one wave should be performed.

5. Use Micro Loading. Often the reason we cannot make a personal record is that we increase our poundages too much. If your best barbell curl is 100 pounds, it may take several workouts to reach 105 pounds in that exercise – but you may be capable of 101 pounds right now. By using small fractional plates, which start at .5 pounds and .25 kilos, you can often come away with a personal record for the day; not much, but a victory is a victory!

6. Stay Warm. Warm muscles are strong muscles! The Chinese women have dominated international weightlifting competitions for women for the past three decades. Weightlifting sports scientist Bud Charniga has observed Chinese female lifters often wrapped themselves in blankets during their warm-ups to get even warmer! In his book on women’s weightlifting, A De-Masculinization of Strength, Charniga explains that for neurological reasons, women weightlifters respond better to staying especially warm during training and competitions, and also require more warm-up sets to reach peak performance.

7. Wear Compressive Clothing. Compressive clothing includes form-fitting garments such as shirts, shorts, and socks. Compressive socks have been produced by the hosiery industry to help with venous disorders such as thrombosis and edema, but many athletes have found that such compressive gear may help performance, especially with explosive activities such as sprinting and vertical jump. It will be interesting to see what future research shows us about the effects of compressive clothing and strength training. Of course, powerlifters have used especially tight lifting suits, along with knee and elbow wraps, to help them lift heavier weights.

8. Avoid Static Stretching Before Training. Static stretching reduces neural drive, particularly in the type II (fast twitch) motor units. The result is that you will not be able to lift as much weight. If you watch the training of elite powerlifters and weightlifters, you’ll find that most of them seldom do they do any warm-up other than the exercises they are performing during that training session. That said, a general warm-up, such as with dynamic stretching, can be performed without adversely affecting lifting performance.

9. Use Kinesio Tape. Kinesio tape is a flexible tape applied to the skin that helps stabilize muscles and joints. Improved stability can often translate into improved lifting mechanics, which in turn may help you lift more weight.

10. Wear Weightlifting Shoes. To lift maximal weights in the squat or any other exercise performed from a standing position, you need a have a solid base of support. Weightlifting shoes with their rigid design helps align the bones of the ankle and foot so that it’s easier to keep the knees in proper alignment and thus apply force with the legs and stabilize the body.

9. Get a Soft Tissue Treatment. It’s obviously difficult to lift heavy weights when injured, but on a smaller scale having adhesions in the muscles can affect an individual’s ability to apply force. For example, those who bench press frequently with heavy weights may develop adhesions in the subscapularis, a muscle that internally rotates the humerus (upper arm bone), that can affect performance in this exercise and increase the risk of injury. Seeking out the help of a soft-tissue therapist, such as those trained in Active Release Technique™, may help resolve these issues – often with a single visit – and help you move more weight.

It’s great to be strong, but sometimes we can use a little help in pushing ourselves to achieve new personal records. Give some of these methods a try and see just how strong you can become right now!


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