Before you start working on your strength a good starting point is to define what it is you are trying to achieve, short and long term. This will help to design your programme and ensure you succeed.
But let’s start with an understanding of the natural strength movements our bodies perform on a regular basis, without us even thinking about it.
There are 7 main strength movements that the body performs naturally.
These are the horizontal push and pull, the vertical push and pull, the squat, lifting from the ground and the carry. We do these almost daily from carrying the shopping to lifting our children, Understanding these helps because if you can focus on improving these natural moves your body will be more powerful in almost any task.
Building on the 7 movements listed above the basic strength moves in any workout are 6 main exercises. These are the squat, bench press, military press, deadlift, barbell rows and power cleans. It is essential that you start with these and perfect your form but there are also additional exercises that can help to build strength. These include pull ups, chin ups, dips, planks, weighted sit ups and side bends.
The first thing to remember is that with any strength programme you won’t be rapidly transformed overnight. You need to work it and work hard. The key to success is to stick to your programme, missing workouts will not help you achieve your goals. You also need to get the foundations right first, perform all basic moves well.
What you eat is also really important. Eat a good diet that is not based on processed foods but contains a good selection of carbs and vitamins and minerals. On the subject of diet the rules are to frequently eat protein, have most of your carbs at breakfast and lots of healthy fats-milk, cheese and nuts. And as we said at the beginning make a plan based on short term and long term goals so that you are not aimlessly working out but rather you are working towards something. This will help you benchmark success and feel inspired to carry on.
The four big lifts are the barbell squat, deadlift, overhead press and bench press. The squat and deadlifts are often regarded as the ‘king’ of strength building moves as they work nearly every muscle in the back of the body including the glutes, hips, and hamstrings. The overhead press and bench press are pushing exercises that work the shoulders, chest, back and arms.
Getting your form right is essential, particularly when you start upping your weights as this can affect form and led to injury. Here we will try to point out a few really common mistakes. Starting with the barbell squat there are a number of things to bear in mind. A good way to learn the right squatting form is to start with the goblet squat. This is where you take a dumbbell or kettlebell and hold it in front of you close to your chest. Placing your feet roughly shoulder width apart, keeping your eyes looking straight ahead squat down until your elbows are inside of your knees. As you squat down try to put your weight in your heels which will help keep your back as straight as possible. As you progress to the barbell these basics will stand you in good stead.
For the deadlift do remember to get your feet in the right position. Try to have them about halfway under the bar and set at natural width. Sinking your hips is also really important. Sink your hips until your shins touch the barbell, if you start a deadlift with your hips too high you could damage your lower back. Keep your eyes looking ahead and focus on not rounding your back.
The bench press requires you to plant your feet firmly on the floor, and really squeeze the bar pretending you are trying to bend the ends of the bar towards your feet. This helps get your elbows in the best position. In fact your elbows should be 45 degrees from your body. Keep a tight back and keep your eyes on the ceiling.
For the military press or push press make sure your feet are shoulder width apart and that you feel balanced and most of all stable. Make sure your forearms are perpendicular to the ground, as you press lean back slightly but keep your chest up. Try to also keep your eyes forward when pressing. Lift your eyes up and your head will follow, which is not good form.
There is no definitive answer to this. You will see people in the gym using them and others who don’t. You need to make your own call on it but do understand the main pros and cons so you make an informed call. The main pros are that a belt can help support your spine, it can help you lift heavier weights and can help you feel more confident. The two main arguments against belts is that they can change how you lift and if worn too tightly can adversely affect your blood pressure.
The central nervous system (CNS) is hugely important when you are strength training. This is because whilst you are focusing on your muscles it is actually the CNS that plays a vital role in activating muscle fibres. To ensure that your CNS plays this role it is vital that you warm up properly before strength training.
1RM is the maximum amount of force you can generate in one maximal contraction. This is often used to determine your maximum strength. You will often see it performed in weight lifting competitions. But how often should you be testing your 1RM?
The advice is to not focus too much on your 1RM as it is really physically demanding but instead to focus more on good form, pushing yourself on sets and adding weight where possible. If you really do want to test your 1RM then only do this every 3-6 months and allow your body to properly recover by talking some training days off afterwards.
There are a number of popular workouts that you can adopt. This can be a good idea if you are a novice. Starting with an established programme can give you ideas and In time you can adapt a programme to what suits you more.
Some that you might like to look at include Starting Strength which is good for novice lifters. This programme has workout A and workout B alternated on three non-consecutive days per week.
Westside Barbell is a training programme that is an advanced system renowned for developing very strong lifters.
Other programmes worth looking at include Wendlers 531, John Christy’s AB split and Smolov Squat Building.