25 Ways to Get Stronger Now
Putting on muscle isn't just about piling on more and more weight. Use these tips to workout smarter—not harder—for big results you can really see.
Stay committed to the gym and constantly fine-tune your workouts, and you're sure to be significantly stronger in a few weeks. But damn it, sometimes that's just not soon enough — like when you're meeting your buddies at the gym in an hour, and you want to make sure you smoke them on the bench press. Behold, our best tips to get immediately stronger.
1.) "Work up" to your heaviest weight instead of using a pyramid. Do several warm-up sets with low reps that prepare you to lift your heaviest on your last few sets. That way, you'll have energy for those sets — the most crucial ones for strength gains. Say you're planning to squat with 300 pounds for five reps. You could do 135 pounds for six reps, 185 for five, 225 for three, 275 for two, and then 300 for five. By the time you get to the 300 set, you'll be thoroughly warmed up but not fatigued.
2.) Visualize every rep before you do the set. Imagine how it will feel, where your eyes will be focused, and how you'll breathe. Doing so will make you more "familiar" with how the set will be done, and it will seem easier.
3.) Rest three to five minutes between sets. To lift your hardest, your body needs to regenerate as much ATP — the fuel source for muscle contractions — as possible. Take the time to feel fully recovered before you attempt any personal record on a lift.
4.) Work on your weak points. If you can't lock out your elbows on the bench press, try setting the safety rails in a power rack at about your sticking point on the lift. Put roughly 100 pounds more than your one-rep maximum weight on the bar and then try to press it — naturally, you won't be able to move the bar but try hard anyway for six to 10 seconds. Do four to six reps, resting a few seconds in between, and then lighten the load to the weight you usually have trouble locking out. Your central nervous system should now be sufficiently fired up for you to lift it.
5.) Train with someone stronger than you. Even if you have to invite the biggest animal in the gym to spot you, having someone around who inspires (or intimidates) you will always make you up your intensity.
6.) Load the bar with small plates. It makes the bar look lighter. Your brain won't register it as heavy. That mental advantage can help you lift heavier or do more reps.
7.) Go barefoot or wear Converse Chuck Taylors. The less material there is between your feet and the floor when you lift, the more muscle your body can activate. It's also better for leverage on moves like the deadlift (you'll shorten the distance the bar has to travel). If you train at home or in a hardcore gym, lose the shoes. (If your gym requires footwear, thin-soled sneakers like Chucks are ideal.)
8.) Warm up your rotator cuff before any pressing exercise. Take a two to four-pound medicine ball and push it into a wall with one hand, keeping your arm straight. Roll the ball around on the wall (push hard so it doesn't slip), tracing the alphabet. Do two sets on each arm, and then do your pressing. Firing up the rotator cuff increases the stability in your shoulders.
9.) Do box jumps in your warm-up for leg days. Do three sets of three reps, resting 60 seconds between each set. Explosive exercises wake up the central nervous system to recruit maximum muscle.
10.) Try a few glute bridges before deadlifting. Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent and feet close to your butt. Dig your heels into the floor and bridge up with your hips, focusing on the contraction in your glutes. Do two sets of eight to 10 reps. Preactivating the glutes — the prime movers in a proper deadlift — allows them to fire at their fullest.
11.) Squeeze your glutes on every lift. Tightness through your hips leads to increased stability everywhere and will let you put up more weight immediately on any exercise. In other words, you can, in fact, pull a new record "out of your ass."
12.) Hold on to an ice pack for one to two minutes before lifting. It's like a cold shower for your nervous system, awakening your senses.