Written by Tim Rigby
Looking for simple ways to get your strength to soar quickly? Is power your primary focus? In this section of Inside Fitness, we’ll cut right to the chase and let you in on some secrets to raising your numbers on the big compound lifts (bench press, squat and deadlift).
Even if you train mainly for aesthetics, you’ve no doubt noticed that with an increase in muscular hypertrophy, you’ve also been able to lift heavier and heavier. After a while, it becomes something of an addiction – and in the same way you crave having the best body in the gym, your competitive fires instinctively compel you to drive yourself toward being the strongest badass on the block.
So here are some secrets and principles that’ll help you send your lift numbers into orbit!
5. USE YOUR WHOLE BODY
Those who come from a bodybuilding background have a tendency to associate each heavy lift with specific muscle groups only. For instance, it’s often thought that the bench press is a chest exercise, along with shoulders and triceps assisting. However, competitive powerlifters – and those who just so happen to be awesome at benching – know the secret to lifting the highest numbers includes the use of your entire body.
Continuing with the bench press example, to go heavy you must include the use of your lats, glutes, quads and calves since they all get major usage too. Squeezing your lats and glutes together prior to the eccentric portion of the movement (the descent) creates the foundation of a “bridge” which sets you up into a prime power position. This is key to a big lift, because without such a foundation, you’re leaving a lot of power in your body instead of applying it to the bar.
4. POWER FROM THE GROUND UP
In a related way to using your whole body, you also want to constantly bear in mind the principle of power from the ground up. This means that you want to think of the floor as your friend, as the basis from which you supply you force and in the case of the deadlift, as a strength tool that puts an end to the gravitational forces you must overcome to initiate the lift.
Imagine attempting to complete a squat, deadlift or bench press if you had to begin the lift suspended in mid-air, without any resistance. You wouldn’t be able to lift a fraction of what you can with the ground in play. During the press portion of the squat and deadlift, lifters are often taught to imagine they’re pressing their feet into the ground. In the bench press, it’s the initial drive of the heels into the ground which sets up the entire kinetic chain of muscle activation that culminates in thrusting that heavy bar upward.
3. IT’S EASY TO OVERTRAIN – DON’T DO IT!
While our first two secrets to super strength involve technique and execution, long-term power increases are absolutely predicated by the intensity and volume of your training. We’ve already mentioned that the thrill of getting stronger, as quantified by lifting heavier masses, can be addictive; you just want the gains to keep coming more and more!
However, the secret to consistent long-term gains is to know how to dial it back. When you’ve hit a peak one-rep maximum lift in any of the powerlifts, you should not perform another such attempt for at least one month. In the meantime, work on heavy sets where you lift three to five reps each set. This approach will sustain your progress and assist with recovery.
2. RECOVERY IS CRUCIAL
Speaking of recovery, let this key training element never be underappreciated if your desire is to make substantial gains. Remember that a long-term approach to strength gain can be plotted on a chart in the form of a curve, where the biggest gains come at the beginning and then taper off. There’s no disappointment if your most-recent improvement takes your deadlift up only slightly from 400 pounds to 425 pounds (an increase of 6 percent) – that’s still some great going!
Powerlifters have a specific method of recovery which is distinct from bodybuilders. In order to accelerate fast-twitch muscle recovery after heavy training, powerlifters will not jump into the hot tub or sauna for the first 48 hours post-workout, while their bodies are enflamed and muscle tissues are broken down. Rather, they tend to flock to ice baths or cold showers to reduce muscle swelling and counter inflammation; only after two days will recovery be augmented by heat-based treatment.
1. MAKE POWER A LIFESTYLE
You may be surprised that the number-one key to strength and power is not strictly technique or program design – it’s truly your lifestyle in general. Here’s a fact that may amaze you… every drink of alcohol you consume will deteriorate your strength 400% faster than it deteriorates your muscle. In other words, if your goal is simply to build muscle, irrespective of your one-rep maximum ability, then a drink will negatively impact you to only one-quarter of the extent as it does to a power athlete.
Making strength a habit requires discipline, but it becomes easier in time. Not only abstaining from alcohol, but also sleeping more, are two critical keys to boosting testosterone and therefore increasing strength. While bodybuilders often cut carbs to lean out, strength athletes rely hugely on complex carbs like pasta and brown rice to fuel their workouts (in addition to plenty of protein, of course). In short, the healthier you live, the more direct path you’ll take to send your strength soaring!