Hi there fellow fitness enthusiasts! I'm Suz Baxter, with PhD from the School of Physiotherapy Otago, here to share some wisdom on why strength is more than just bulging muscles and how you, as personal trainers, can use this knowledge to elevate your clients' fitness journey.
Let's get one thing straight. Everyone, regardless of age, can become stronger with consistent effort. You've probably seen it before, clients who are all about the talk but falter when it comes to action. They dream of possessing a top-tier Porsche but are unwilling to do what's necessary to achieve it. The same holds true for strength. To be truly strong requires a plan and a commitment to see it through. This is where you come in. Your role is to guide your clients to make their dreams a reality by helping them work systematically towards their fitness goals.
In the fitness world, we often hear about quick fixes for strength and body sculpting. Let's dispel this myth together. It's your job to remind your clients that achieving strength takes effort and time, and that genetics isn't a scapegoat for lack of progress.
Here's a truth that needs more emphasis: strength is a skill.
It's the ability to generate more tension in muscles, serving as the foundation for speed, endurance, and even flexibility. As trainers, you can teach your clients the techniques to develop this skill. To this end, I'll be sharing a few effective methods with you that I've utilized with great success in my practice. But remember, they only work if you consistently apply them in training.
Before we delve in, I'd like to pay homage to Pavel Tsatsouline, whose writings on strength training secrets have been a great source of inspiration for me.
Let's jump right in:
Irradiation: This concept might sound complex, but trust me, even a five-year-old can understand it. Here's an experiment: try a 5-6 repetition bicep curl set, maintaining good form and keeping the elbow close to the body. After a brief rest, repeat the process but this time add three steps: squeeze the dumbbell or barbell tightly; clench your glutes as if cracking a nut; and tense your abs as if preparing for a Mike Tyson punch. Doing this, you'll find that the weight seems lighter, and you're able to perform additional reps. This occurs because generating tension at various points in the body enhances overall body stability and this force radiates to surrounding muscles, boosting their strength.
Bracing: This technique is about generating tension before counteracting resistance. Try five normal push-ups, relaxing on the floor between reps. Now, do another five, but create tension in your entire body before pushing off the floor. If done correctly, you'll realize your strength potential is greater than you thought.
Power Breathing: Did you know that most people don't breathe efficiently? That's right, many people breathe using their upper body instead of the more efficient diaphragm. This method involves holding your breath during different lifting phases, increasing intra-abdominal and intra-thoracic pressure, thus enhancing muscle excitability and stability. As with all these techniques, this isn't for everyone. Those with hypertension or heart disease should consult with a doctor first, but it doesn't mean strength training is off the table.
Successive Induction: This principle states that contracting one muscle (e.g., the triceps) will make its antagonist (the biceps, in this case) stronger than normal. This not only boosts acute performance but also leads to enduring strength improvements.
So there you have it, four tried-and-true techniques to help your clients become stronger, faster. But remember, there's also the following:
No, this is not about some esoteric stuff or a Jedi mind trick. The mind-muscle connection is a very real phenomenon, and it can play a huge role in your strength training. It basically refers to focusing on the muscle you are working on during a given exercise, consciously trying to contract it as hard as possible.
Why does this work? Our brains are the central command stations for our bodies. When you focus on the muscle you’re training, you send a stronger signal from your brain to your muscle, which may increase the activation and recruitment of muscle fibers. This increased muscle fiber recruitment can lead to greater strength gains.
Here's how you can try it: during your next bicep curl set, rather than just going through the motions, truly concentrate on your biceps. Feel them contracting as you lift the weight, and imagine them doing the work. If done correctly, you should be able to do more reps or use a slightly heavier weight.
Eccentric training is another very effective technique to boost your strength levels. It involves focusing on the lowering phase (eccentric phase) of an exercise. For example, when doing a bicep curl, the eccentric phase is when you're lowering the weight back down after curling it up.
The reason this works is that our muscles can handle more load during the eccentric phase of an exercise. By stressing this phase, you can induce greater muscle damage, which is a key driver of strength gains and muscle growth.
To implement this, slow down the lowering phase of your exercises. For example, when doing a bench press, take about 3-5 seconds to lower the bar to your chest. Remember, the key here is control. You want to be lowering the weight, not letting it drop.
Periodization refers to varying your training program at regular intervals to prevent stagnation and continuously challenge your body. These variations could be in volume (how many reps and sets you do), intensity (how heavy you lift), or the specific exercises you do.
Research has shown that periodized training is more effective for gaining strength than non-periodized training. It prevents plateaus, keeps your workouts varied and interesting, and allows for adequate recovery.
To apply this principle, vary your workout routine every 4-6 weeks. You might switch from a phase of high volume, low intensity training (more reps, lighter weights) to a phase of low volume, high intensity training (fewer reps, heavier weights), or you could switch up the specific exercises you're doing.
Remember, the goal is a consistent, gradual improvement, not sudden, dramatic gains. Keep your expectations realistic, follow your plan consistently, and the strength gains will come.
In conclusion, it's important to remember that strength is not just about the size of your muscles. It's about technique, consistency, and mindful engagement with your body and your training. Remember, strength is a skill that can be developed, and like any skill, it requires patience, practice, and dedication. Use these techniques, be consistent, and most importantly, enjoy the journey to becoming stronger.
Schoenfeld, B.J., & Contreras, B. (2016). Attentional Focus for Maximizing Muscle Development: The Mind-Muscle Connection. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 38(1), 27-29.
Higbie, E.J., Cureton, K.J., Warren, G.L. 3rd, & Prior, B.M. (1996). Effects of concentric and eccentric training on muscle strength, cross-sectional area, and neural activation. Journal of Applied Physiology, 81(5), 2173-2181