Strength: we all want it, but we don’t all achieve it. At least not as quickly as we’d like. If only it were as simple as adding weight workout after workout or even week after week. As with anything worth having in life, it doesn’t come easy—which is why you need to be covering all your bases, in and out of the gym.
Remember, the first step is committing to the goal, no ifs, ands, or buts about it—and don’t overcomplicate the process. Team Bodybuilding.com weighs in on how to keep those weights on the bar trending upward, whatever your strength aspirations may be.
Kennedy Gates: NPC competitor, Bodybuilding.com Spokesmodel Search Finalist
Compound movements are the biggest weapon for building strength, so make sure you’re doing squats, bench presses, deadlifts—even the barbell shoulder press is a must-have. Which brings me to the next important point: the type of weight you use. I use barbells often in my workouts because I can use more weight, which of course helps increase strength and size.
You also have to be consistent with performing these exercises and make sure that every week you are working with more weight than your previous training session. Start out with sets of 4 and at least 10-12 reps on each exercise.
Food also plays a huge factor in your strength gains. If you don’t eat enough, you can’t grow, and if you can’t grow, don’t expect your strength to go anywhere. Make sure you are tracking and eating the proper nutrients your body needs. And take your supplements!
Abigail Thomas: Personal Trainer
Gaining strength has never been easy for me. I’ve always had a petite frame, so maintaining strength is something I have to work hard at every day. Regardless, you must be patient—getting stronger doesn’t happen overnight. When people ask me how long it may take them to reach their strength goals, I tell them that will depend on their determination and their consistency.
Strength also comes with proper nutrition. You cannot get stronger without the right nutrients. How do you fuel your body? Are you getting enough protein? Eating enough carbs to support your energy needs and recovery?
A supplement or two doesn’t hurt either, typically a good pre-workout for that extra push and BCAAs all day to help fatigued muscles. I love Bodybuilding.com Signature Pre Workout and BCAAs in tropical pineapple!
Lastly, know your “why” behind building strength as your goal. This helps you stay motivated and on track. I make time for the gym because that is my time for me and only me. My girls look up to me, and I want them to know that women can be strong, too!
Ray Stickler: Personal trainer, Bodybuilding.com Spokesmodel Search Finalist
While most people correlate strength with size, that is not always the case. Just because someone is huge does not necessarily mean he or she is strong, and vice versa. Ever seen Stefi Cohen or Richard Hawthorne, aka “The Ant,” lift? They may be small, but they pack a punch. On the other side, I’ve seen guys twice my size at gyms get schooled by guys half their size. If you want size, train for it, but realize it doesn’t necessarily equate to strength.
Find yourself a training routine geared specifically for gaining strength or hire a trainer or coach who can help you with that goal—then stick with it! Consistency is key in everything you do. Personally, I’d recommend a 5×5 routine. You perform 5 sets of said exercise with 5 reps per set.
As far as exercise selection goes, of course you want to focus on your core power exercises: bench press, squat, deadlift, and overhead press—but that doesn’t mean you can’t switch it up with variations. Here are some examples you can try:
- Bench: bench press, incline bench press
- Squat: squat, front squat, hack squat
- Deadlift: conventional deadlift, sumo deadlift
- Overhead press: seated press, standing press, heavy dumbbell press
When training for strength, obviously you’re lifting heavier, so you will likely need to rest a bit more between sets to replenish energy stores. I usually rest around 5 minutes between sets, but you will find what works for you. Recovery is also a must here—be sure you are getting adequate rest, and that includes sleep. Training every other day can be effective in allowing the body to recoup before another heavy session, but above all, listen to what your body needs.
As far as nutrition goes, just eat enough to fuel your workouts and everyday activity. There isn’t always a need to be in a caloric surplus to gain strength, unless your goal is to gain size as well. The hard part is lifting the heavy-ass weight and being consistent. But that gets more fun as you get stronger—trust me!
Vanetza Cine: US Army Captain, NPC Figure Competitor
Like most people, I used to add weight gradually on each set of an exercise. However, my coach changed my workout routine to start with my heaviest reps first and lower my weight, adding more repetitions with each set. By the time you reach your fifth or sixth set, your muscles are fatigued, and therefore you are unable to perform to your full capacity. I was mind-blown to see how strong I really am when I could easily do 6-8 reps with much heavier weight on my first set. More work with more weight equals strength gains!
Another tip I have is to avoid doing isolation exercises, which target one muscle group, before compound movements, which target multiple muscle groups. Compound movements require more effort and elicit greater muscle-building and strength-building potential.
For me, the most important factor when it comes to gaining strength is to fuel the body properly. I use one scoop of vanilla-flavored Bodybuilding.com Signature Whey Protein and add that to 3/4 cup of oatmeal as my pre-workout meal. Working out while you’re hungry is counterproductive as you will likely not have enough energy to beast it out during your training.
It is equally important to fuel your body properly after your workouts. My post-workout meal consists of one whole egg, four egg whites, and 200 grams of white rice. Mixing protein with carbs enables your body to absorb the protein easily and to promote muscle growth and recovery.
Lastly, you want to make sure that you have the right supplements. My must-have supplements include whey protein, BCAAs, creatine, and glutamine. Creatine and glutamine both aid in muscle gain and performance. I recommend mixing them with some BCAAs and drinking it as an intra-workout.
Want to build your foundation of strength and muscle the right way? Try Uplifted: Build Muscle and Strength with Meg Squats, only on Bodybuilding.com All Access. With record-setting powerlifter Meg Squats as your guide, you’ll train for strength, add muscle where you need it, and practice the right way to eat for performance!