10 Ways to Build Strength Without the Size
Want to get stronger without having to bulk up and pack on the pounds? Follow these 10 easy programming tips.
Believe it or not, not every athlete wants to build massive muscles. Think about wrestlers, MMA fighters, gymnists or athletes who use their own body weight as their primary resistance, they need the strength, but the additional bulk can be a hindering than helpful.
What’s important to consider is that strength is not solely a property of muscle, but rather a property of the motor system (brain and neurons). So going for the pump, total muscle exhaustion and complete muscle annihilation is not the name of the game here. You should focus on training methods that target adaptation of the nervous system that increase your relative body strength and explosive power. Your body increases its strength by a) recruiting more muscle fibers in a particular muscle group and b) increasing the firing frequency of your motor neurons (neurons and muscle fibers). You can’t consciously control these two mechanisms, but focusing on the tips below will do the trick.
Strength is a skill and movement and velocity specific. Months and years of lifting like this will improve your coordination, movement efficiency, your strength and overall athletic potential. Remember, train slow, perform slow.
Apply these methods below to jack up your strength, but not your size.
1/ Lift Heavy
Lifting heavy (> 90% 1RM) will improve strength by recruiting what are called high threshold motor units. The muscle fibers associated with these motor units have the most potential for increasing strength however, they fatigue quickly. Maximal lifting is best applied to multi-joint exercises (e.g. squats, deads, presses & pulls). Even though the weight is heavy, your intent should be to move the weight as fast as possible. This will ensure you’re recruiting as many fast twitch muscle fibers as possible.
2/ Lift Explosively
Made popular by West Side Barbell, speed lifts (e.g. box squats, speed deads & speed bench) are an excellent lifting style to teach acceleration and power development. Loads around 60% 1RM should be used and moved as fast as possible. Accommodating resistance (e.g. bands and chains) can be applied to further challenge your ability to accelerate the load. Obvious explosive exercises that should come to mind are the Olympic lifts (e.g. clean & jerk and the snatch) however, medicine ball throws and kettlebell swings also fit into this category as well.