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Believe or not, not every individual who lifts weights wants to build huge muscles. Many athletes such as gymnastics, MMA fighters and boxers do want improve their overall body strength but the additional bulk could be deemed as a barrier rather than helpful.
What’s important to comprehend is that strength is not solely the property of the muscle but the nervous system also has a huge role to play. Therefore total exhaustion and pumping your muscle to its total limits is not the best method of improving your strength.
Basically your strength is boosted by recruiting more muscle fibres whilst increasing the firing frequency of your motor neurons. If you apply these following training methods then you will improve your strength but not necessarily the size of your muscle!
Lift heavy weights
By lifting heavy weights of over 90% of your 1RM will significantly boost your strength by recruiting higher threshold motor units in your muscle.
The muscle fibres linked to these motor units have a greater potential to improve your strength gains. Nevertheless these muscle fibres do fatigue rapidly and compound exercises should be executed to further recruit more of these fast twitch type 2 muscle fibres.
Although you are lifting heavy, try to pump out the weights as fast as possible to further recruit more of these muscle fibres. Fundamentally lifting heavy can improve the size and strength of the fast twitch type 2 muscle fibres and these help to boost your force production, the muscle’s glycolytic capacity and this ultimately translates to strength gains.
Reduce the volume
The 5×5 sets to reps training protocol is very commonly used by athletes to increase strength. However you can drop the number of sets to three whilst focusing on an explosive bar speed to boost both strength and power.
In terms of the big lifts use the barbell clean and jerk and the snatch, as this are very explosive exercises that have been proven to improve your whole body strength.
Perform some plyometric exercises
Plyometric training uses your bodyweight to perform jumping and hopping motion exercises over hurdles or onto boxes etc.
This type of exercises will develop the stretch shortening cycle which is the body’s elastic stored energy that can be harness to create more powerful muscle contractions. This improvement in muscle-tendon stiffness is a contributing factor in being able to develop more strength because you are able to lift heavier weights.
Mix up your training
You can mix heavy strength training and plyometrics into the same work out session. The physiological process behind this training strategy is called ‘post activation potentiation’. For the record ‘potentiation‘ is the persistent strengthening of the synapses and improved signal transmission between neurons in the muscle tissue.
During the training session the heavy lifts are executed first and then after a rest interval of 3-5 minutes a similar plyometric exercises is performed.
A good example of this training method is performing a barbell squat, then after a 3-5 minute rest you perform 5-10 jump squats.
There is evidence to suggest that the improvement of the plyometric exercise is primarily linked to the increase in force and power that has been developed.
A key point to consider is that the rest intervals should not be too short between the heavy lifts and plyometrics, as this will only reduce the height of the jumps and hops. Therefore the maximal benefits of the mix session will not be apparent and in effect you will probably be wasting your time.
When trying to build muscle mass the rest intervals between sets should be between the 30-60 second range.
When training for strength you need to increase your rest intervals up to the 3-5 minute mark. This will give your muscle adequate time to replenish its ATP energy stores ready to pump out the next set of lifts with some real gusto.
Use this recovery time wisely to refocus, fully visualize and mentally rehearse the next set of lifts, as this mental technique is very effective when attempting to lift heavy!
Train your weak links
Realistically you are only as strong as your weakest chinks in your armour. The main muscle or prime movers are the driving force between the main lifts. However the weakest links are usually the smaller muscles e.g. the rotator cuff; can put a complete stop to your training if they become damage.
To avoid this dreaded scenario from occurring incorporate exercises that strengthen and/or stretch the minor muscle groups. This training method will help with muscle balance, reduce injury rates and more muscle fibres will be recruited to back the prime movers in the big lifts.