So, you’ve decided it’s time to get strong. Maybe you’ve made a strength training plan and you’ve started to see some results. Good for you! But how do you make sure you’re getting the most out of your strength-training workouts?
If you’re looking to get consistently stronger (rather than simply getting worn out), you’ll want to follow these simple tips.
1. Get Enough Sleep
One of the most important things you can do to get stronger doesn’t happen during your workouts. When you’re asleep, “you give your body the chance to repair, recharge and regrow,” says Dr. Felicia Stoler. Not getting enough sleep can cause decreased energy, lowered levels of important hormones, like growth hormone and testosterone (which play an important role in building muscle), a hampered immune system, and increased risk of injury. For best results, try to get between seven and eight hours of sleep every night. To improve the quality of your sleep, try some of the following tips:
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
- Don’t exercise too near to bedtime.
- Limit the use of electronic devices with artificial lights late at night.
- Don’t drink caffeine late in the day.
2. Don’t Neglect The Basics
When you’re trying to get strong, it can be easy to get caught up in all sorts of fads and unusual exercise methods. While these certainly have their uses, don’t neglect the basic, foundational movements that build strength.
Make sure you have room in your strength training plan for “the big four”: squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses and bench presses. These foundational exercises will help you improve stability and build muscle, and should be an important part of any strength training workout.
3. Stay Balanced
While you may be focusing on getting bigger in certain areas (such as the chest or biceps), remember that with strength training, it’s essential to keep your body in balance. If you exercise certain muscles to the exclusion of others, you can end up with poor posture, joint pain and an increased likelihood of injury. So, if you do strength training exercises for one group of muscles, try to even yourself out by including motions that work the opposing muscles. Always balance out upper body, lower body and core strength training evenly for best results.
4. Use Free Weights
When you walk into a gym, the first thing you see are rows and rows of shiny, chrome exercise machines. While these machines have their place with strength training, it’s important to remember that that free weights have a lot to offer. Unlike training on a machine, using free weights require you to control and stabilize the weight throughout your strength training exercises. This can often give you a better workout that will, in time, help you to become stronger.
Additionally, there’s some research that suggests that free weight exercises can help increase your levels of muscle-building hormones. A study published in the April 2014 Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research studied squats and leg presses and found that “free weight exercises seem to induce greater hormonal responses to resistance exercise than machine weight.” So use fancy equipment and exercise machines at your discretion, but remember: When it comes to building strength, keep it simple.
5. Eat Right
Your body can only build muscle with the right fuel, and even if you follow all of these other strength training tips, poor nutrition will guarantee poor results. You need protein to build muscle, so when you build your strength training plan, don’t forget to incorporate a meal plan with it. Not sure how exactly much protein you need to fuel your workouts? Check out this handy guide for more detailed tips.
6. Choose Variety
Doing the same thing over and over again not only leads to boredom, but it often results in fitness plateaus as well. Vary up your strength training workouts with different exercises and variations, or with different poses or hand grips on familiar exercises. Using different approaches in your workouts can help you maintain balance, increase your strength, and prevent you from reaching that dreaded plateau.
7. Focus On Form
Whatever strength training exercises you decide to incorporate into your workouts, make sure you’re performing them correctly. Poor form not only leads to injury, but it means you’re not efficiently working the muscles you are trying to target.
Take the time to really learn the exercises properly rather than to rush in and just hope for the best. If you’re just starting out (and even if you’re not!), meeting with a personal trainer can be a huge help. A qualified trainer can help you to learn which exercises will be most helpful for you, and to know exactly how much weight you can handle before you begin to sacrifice form.