When we think of strength building, the mind tends to wander to bodybuilders and people who want to get buff. But good physical strength is something that can benefit all of us!
How to increase strength is often an area that is misunderstood. Many people confuse building muscle mass and strengthening muscle as the same thing. When, in fact, they are different. Strength building involves a slightly different workout approach.
This article teaches about the importance of strength, the difference between muscle mass and muscle strength, and how to get stronger with these top strategies.
Let's dive in!
Why Is Strength Important?
Good physical strength is not just something that should be important to gym bunnies - all ability levels and ages can benefit from improving their strength.
Increasing your strength improves bone density and maintains muscle mass, which can help prevent the development of age-related conditions, such as osteoporosis and sarcopenia (muscle wastage) 1. It can also help reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease by improving blood sugar control, insulin resistance, and lowering blood pressure.
Strong muscles support the skeleton and improve posture and balance, enabling us to move properly when carrying out our daily activities and so reduces the risk of injury or falls.
At rest, muscle burns more calories than fat. So by focusing on strength training and building toned lean muscle mass, you can help the body shed fat faster!
Strength training not only improves many aspects of our physical health, but scientists have also found it can significantly improve mental health and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression while boosting cognitive function 2.
This is because exercise supports the release of mood-boosting neurotransmitters and hormones in the brain, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
Essentially, being physically strong allows us to live life at our best!
Muscle Strength vs. Muscle Mass
Many people assume that larger muscles, or greater physical size, equals strength. While sometimes this does provide an advantage, it is not always true.
Strength training aims to do just that - increase muscle strength. Whereas muscle building aims to modify muscle cells to increase size. Research has found that when compared to bodybuilders’ muscles, power athletes’ muscles have much better muscle fiber quality and are stronger 3.
Depending on your desired goals and outcomes, whether that's more strength or muscle mass, different training approaches should be adopted. Strength training generally involves fewer training days and more extended rest periods but higher intensity.
Read the best strategies for increasing strength below.
Strategies To Increase Strength
You guessed it! Lifting weights is a great way to increase strength. It exerts stress on the muscles, causing them to adapt and get stronger.
Weight training can be performed with free weights, such as barbells and dumbbells, or by using weight machines. To increase strength, lift heavier weights with fewer reps and sets.
If you’re new to strength training, always start at a lower weight and work your way up to avoid damaging your muscles. Your weights should be heavy enough to tire your muscles at the end of your repetitions. When you can easily do your reps, it’s time to increase the weight!
Research suggests that a single set of 12-15 repetitions with the correct weight is the most efficient way of building muscle strength and can be as effective as three sets of the same exercise with lighter weights.
The key is to push your muscles until they are fatigued. Roughly 2-3 training sessions lasting 20-30 minutes a week should be enough for you to notice significant improvements in your strength.
After a tough workout, it is best to leave one rest day to give your muscles time to recover before hitting the gym again.
Compound exercises target multiple joints and work multiple large muscle groups simultaneously. These include squats, deadlifts, lunges, and the plank. They are great for changing body composition and can significantly help improve overall strength 4.
For example, squats workout the glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, and abs. You can combine compound exercises with weights to increase strength faster.
In contrast to compound exercises, isolation exercises work a limited number of muscles and involve only one joint, such as bicep curls, chest flys, and tricep extensions.
Isolation exercises allow you to target specific muscles that you want to improve on and also help you improve your form. They also help stabilize joints to prevent injuries. Research suggests isolation exercises are equally good as compound exercises for improving muscle strength 5.
Learn The Perfect Technique
Proper technique is key to maximizing results and reducing the risk of injury. Poor technique won't properly engage the intended muscle groups, so you won’t get good results if you don’t get your form right.
As a general rule, you should always try to perform any given exercise through a full range of motion while maintaining constant tension. Heavier weights generally make you focus more on your form, otherwise, you won’t get anywhere! Throwing around light weights without proper form can lead to injury.
Working with a personal trainer or fitness coach can help you learn the correct form and technique. Even the most experienced athletes sometimes need a refresh!
Warm Up Properly
With any exercise, it's important to warm up properly before starting any training session. Cold muscles are at greater risk of injury!
Starting with a short cardiovascular exercise for ten minutes, such as running on a treadmill or cycling, is a good start. But training with a light weight before you properly begin your session is even better when it comes to warming up the muscles and preventing injury.
Lifting the same weight every time you hit the gym will maintain the muscle mass and strength you have already built but won’t necessarily improve upon it 6. To progress, it’s important to increase resistance.
The best strategy is to continue doing the same number of reps and sets, but add weight each time you train to encourage your muscles to adapt. This way, you should start to see results.
Allowing your body time to rest and recover is just as important as exercising regularly! It can help improve your physical performance and fitness. No need to feel guilty for taking a day off, as doing so provides several benefits.
After a workout, muscle fibers are broken down and become damaged. They need rest to repair and rebuild themselves while strengthening in the process. Rest also allows the body to restore its valuable muscle glycogen reserves, which provide energy to fuel movement.
According to one study, the optimal rest time between resistance training workouts is 48-72 hours 7. Too little rest can lead to a common condition amongst athletes known as overtraining syndrome.
This can lead to decreases in athletic performance and negatively affect mental health. It can take a long time to recover properly, so it’s worth bearing this in mind.
A good balance of the macronutrients, carbohydrates, fat, and protein, combined with a good training routine, is essential for improving your strength.
For strength training athletes, it is recommended to consume 1.2g - 2g of protein per kilogram of body weight daily 8. Protein supports muscle repair and regeneration and is crucial for building muscle mass and strength.
When strength training, you should also aim to consume 5 to 12g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day, depending on how many hours of training you do a week 9. It is recommended to intake a moderate amount of healthy fats, like olive oil or fish.
Taking a pre-workout supplement like Pre Lab Pro can significantly improve athletic performance and help you reach your goals quicker.
By providing your body with extra energy and boosting blood flow, pre-workouts help reduce fatigue and improve endurance so that you can push yourself harder. They also support better and faster recovery so that you can maximize the effects of a workout.
Increasing strength is something everyone can benefit from. It helps reduce the risk of diseases and injury, improves posture and balance, and benefits your mental health.
However, strength is not to be confused with muscle mass, as the two are slightly different. Large muscle mass doesn’t necessarily mean strength! If you aim to gain strength rather than muscle mass, the type of exercises you perform and the structure of your workout will be different.
Following the strategies outlined in this article can significantly help you boost your overall strength and health. Give them a go and see how the results make you feel!
- Hong, A. Ram, and Sang Wan Kim. "Effects of resistance exercise on bone health." Endocrinology and Metabolism 33.4 (2018): 435-444.
- O'Connor, Patrick J., Matthew P. Herring, and Amanda Caravalho. "Mental health benefits of strength training in adults." American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine 4.5 (2010): 377-396.
- Meijer, J. P., et al. "Single muscle fibre contractile properties differ between bodybuilders, power athletes and control subjects." Experimental physiology 100.11 (2015): 1331-1341.
- Kak, Hwang-Bo, et al. "A study of effect of the compound physical activity therapy on muscular strength in obese women." Journal of physical therapy science 25.8 (2013): 1039-1041.
- Gentil, Paulo, Saulo Soares, and Martim Bottaro. "Single vs. multi-joint resistance exercises: effects on muscle strength and hypertrophy." Asian journal of sports medicine 6.2 (2015).
- Kavanaugh, Ashley. "The Role of Progressive Overload in Sports Conditioning." Conditioning Foundamentals. NSCA’s Performance Training Journal 6.1 (2007).
- Monteiro, Estêvão R., et al. "Effects of different between test rest intervals in reproducibility of the 10-repetition maximum load test: a pilot study with recreationally resistance trained men." International journal of exercise science 12.4 (2019): 932.
- Carbone, John W., and Stefan M. Pasiakos. "Dietary protein and muscle mass: translating science to application and health benefit." Nutrients 11.5 (2019): 1136.
- Kerksick, Chad M., et al. "International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: nutrient timing." Journal of the international society of sports nutrition 14.1 (2017): 1-21.