Log In
Challenge-banner Challenge-banner-mobile

How to Get Stronger

A collection of some of my best tips, tricks, and techniques that can help boost your strength and have you putting up bigger numbers in no time.

guide for building strength

Everybody wants to be stronger.

So we train hard and heavy hoping that we can gradually boost our strength over months and months of dedicated and consistent training. And while no serious lifter is looking for a shortcut, there are a few tricks I have up my sleeves that can actually help you to in your next workout. Here are ten tricks you can use today!

10 Ways to Be Stronger Right Now

#1) Use a Staggered Grip on Deadlifts

The deadlift is the ultimate measure of full-body strength. Using the deadlift can help to increase muscle strength and size all over. But the simplest thing you can do to increase your strength on the deadlift has to deal with your grip. One study I performed at the Weider Research Group compared the staggered grip to a regular overhand grip on the deadlift. We had eight trained male lifters test their 6-rep max on the deadlift using either a standard grip (both left and right hands using an overhand grip) or a staggered grip (one hand using an overhand grip and one hand using an underhand grip). One week later they performed as many reps as possible to failure with their previously determined 6 RM on the deadlift exercise but using the opposite grip from the previous week.

We reported at the 2007 annual meeting of the National Strength and Conditioning Association that the men were able to complete an average of 2 more reps with the same weight when using the staggered grip as compared to the standard grip. Percentage wise that came out to be a 52% increase in the number of reps completed using the staggered grip. The reason for the increase appears to be due to a biomechanical advantage of the staggered grip. The staggered grip prevents the bar from slipping out of the hands through the physics of reverse torsion. In other words, the overhand grip is twisting the bar is one direction while the underhand grip is twisting the bar in the opposite direction.

This keeps the bar tighter in the hands, and when you are tugging hundreds of pounds off the floor this can make a huge difference, as seen in this study. So when it comes to deadlifting, be sure you use a staggered grip. As the research shows, it can help you get about 2 more reps per set. To use a staggered grip on the deadlift take a shoulder-width grip on the bar. One hand should use a standard overhand grip (such as used during barbell rows) and the opposite hand should use an underhand grip (such as used during barbell curls). To maintain balance in strength and muscle development, I suggest you alternate your staggered grip, by sometimes using an overhand grip with your left hand and sometimes using the overhand grip wit h your right hand. One way to do this is to switch grips on every set of deadlifts. Another way is to switch grips every deadlift workout.

#2) Take a Lesson from Powerlifters on Squats

The squat is the king of all leg exercises. And it's the ultimate measure of your lower-body strength. Knowing how to squat is important for the best results and safety over the long haul. Since powerlifters focus on just three exercise, with one of them being the squat, you can learn a thing or two from studying squat techniques from skilled powerlifters and boost your squat strength. Researchers from Louisiana Tech University (Ruston, Louisiana) analyzed squat techniques in skilled competitive powerlifters and compared them to competitors with less experience, as well as novices. They reported in a 2009 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning research that the skilled competitive powerlifters with the most experience used techniques that separated them from the two groups of lifters with less experience that allowed them to use significantly more weight and prevent injuries.

The more experienced powerlifters descended more slowly into the squat, but accelerated out of the bottom position of the squat much faster than the other two groups. They also prevented their knees from moving as far forward towards their toes as the other two groups, which places less stress on the knees. All of this translates into a heavier, but safer, squat.

So work on slowing down your descent into the bottom of the squat. This will provide you more control, which not only helps to prevent injury but helps you keep a better bar path on the way up, and that translates into greater weight. The second thing you need to focus on is the speed with which you start the ascent of the squat from the bottom position. The faster you can come up out of the squat the more weight you can squat.

#3) Mind Your Neck Position on Bench Press

There's a lot to focus on when you bench press—keeping your core tight, keeping your elbows in enough to not stress the shoulder joint, squeezing the shoulder blades together, and keeping your feet firmly pressing down on the floor. I could go on, but you get the point. All these techniques help you generate more strength and power while minimizing injury. Yet most of the things you focus on during the bench press involve everything from your shoulders down to your feet. But what about your head? Do you know if your head comes up off of the bench when you lower the bar? It happens more than you would imagine. That's because many guys follow the bar with their eyes as they lower it to their chest, causing their heads to raise off the bench.

This is known as neck flexion. The bad news is that even slight neck flexion could decrease your strength on the bench press. One study found an almost 10% drop in muscle power on the bench press when men flexed their neck during bench presses, versus when they kept their head flat on the bench. The researchers suggested that pushing on the bench to keep the head flat could stimulate what is known as the tonic neck reflex (TNR), which increases muscle power when pushing. So to improve on your bench presses, make sure to keep your head flat on the bench during the whole set by pushing your head down into the bench.

#4) Focused on Your Lifts

When lifting for strength, how you focus during each rep can have a big impact. Researchers from the UK had trained lifters do 10 reps of one-arm biceps curls on three separate occasions. During one trial, they performed the curls as they normally would. In another trial, they did the curls while focusing on the contraction of the biceps. In a third trial, they did curls while focusing on moving the weight. They reported that when the subjects focused on moving the weight while doing curls, their muscle strength was increased by about 10%. So when you want to have more strength, simply focus on moving the weight to stay stronger.

#5) Listen to Music While You Lift

Music. It cranks us up. It soothes us down. It can even make some of us cry. Music has such an ability to modify our moods that it should come as no surprise that music could alter affect our training. To see if this is true, I performed a study at the Weider Research Group to determine the effects of music on strength. We had a group of trained bodybuilders complete a shoulders workout on two separate occasions. Both workouts consisted of 3 sets of dumbbell overhead presses, 3 sets of Smith machine upright rows, and 3 sets of dumbbell lateral raises, all done using their 10 RM and taking each set to failure.

During one session they did the workout while listening to their choice of music on headphones, while during the other workout they listened to no music. We reported at the 2008 annual meeting of the National Strength and Conditioning Association that the subjects were able to complete significantly more reps throughout the workout (an average of 1 more rep on every set) when they listened to music as compared to when they did not listen to any music. The take-home message from this study is obvious: Listen to your preferred music when you train. Being able to complete one more rep with the same weight can make all the difference between growing and not growing.

The results of the study make sense when you consider the motivational factors that music can provide. Before your next workout get out your iPod and make a workout playlist that includes the songs that ramp you up and drive you to lift like a maniac. You'll be guaranteed more strength and endurance,. Another benefit of listening to an iPod is that you will have greater focus during your workouts as you'll be less distracted by others who want to make idle chit chat when instead you should be working up to your next set.

#6) Use LIfting Straps

One study I performed at the Weider Research Group had a group of trained bodybuilders perform two back workouts. In one workout they did 3 sets of pull-ups to failure, 3 sets of dumbbell rows using their 10 RM to failure, 3 sets of wide-grip pulldowns using their 10 RM to failure, and 3 sets of seated cable rows using their 10 RM to failure while wearing wrist straps. In the other workout they performed the same exercises in the same order with the same weight without using wrist straps (just their bare hands). We discovered that for all sets of all exercises the use of wrist straps offered a significant advantage compared to bare hands.

Using wrist straps on pull-ups allowed the subjects to complete an average of one extra rep on all three sets. On the dumbbell rows the use of wrist straps allowed the subjects to complete an average of two extra reps on all three sets. On pulldowns the use of wrist straps allowed the subjects to complete an average of two extra reps on all three sets. On seated rows the use of wrist straps allowed the subjects to complete an average of one extra rep on the first two sets and two extra reps on the last set. So although most training experts will tell you to only use wrist straps on the final sets when your grip strength is lessened due to fatigue, the study shows that straps allow for more reps to be completed on the very first set and every single set performed up to the very last set.

Furthermore, the subjects noted that the use of wrist straps allowed them to better concentrate on their back muscles and less on their arms during each set. When doing pulling exercises such as most back exercises, I recommend that you consider using wrist straps on all sets to enhance gains in both muscle strength and size. Some experts will warn you that using wrist straps may limit your grip and forearm development. However, if you are concerned about building grip strength and forearm size, doing so in your back workout is the wrong time. During your back workout you should be focusing on developing your back, and it appears that using wrist straps will enhance that endeavor. To develop your forearms, you should include a workout that focuses on forearm and grip exercises. Don't try to kill two birds with one stone by going strapless during back workouts. It may only result in limiting your development in both the back and forearms.

#7) Lift With a Training Partner

When it comes time to test your strength with a one-rep max on the bench press, squat, or deadlift, timing can be everything. I'm not talking about the time of day in relation to your biological clock. I'm talking about the time of day in relation to the amount of traffic your gym gets. That's because how busy your gym is can significantly impact how strong you are, according to research out of Arizona State University. They tested experienced lifters' one rep max on the bench press under two separate conditions.

In one test they had the lifters bench press as much as they could for one rep with no one present, except a spotter. In the second test they had the lifters bench press as much as they could for one rep while 15 people silently looked on. The scientists were amazed to discover that the average increase in bench press strength when onlookers were present was about 30 pounds! You read that right: 30 pounds! They reasoned that even without cheering, the mere presence of other people appears to increase a person's drive and therefore their performance. The take home message here is to make sure that when you are testing yourself in the gym it's not at a dead hour when its only you and a few soccer moms in the gym. Pick a time when the gym is not only busy, but pick a time when most of your gym buddies are present too. The encouragement they can offer may help you push up 30 or more extra pounds than you expected to get. Of course if you want to increase your strength even more, you may try Carnegie Hall.

#8) Relax Pre-Workout

How do you get psyched up before a big lift—do you head butt your training partner, smack yourself in the face, or listen to loud and heavy music, like Metallica? If you said yes, to any one of these strategies, you may be barking up the wrong tree when it comes to your workout prep. Instead, you might want to opt for some soothing relaxation in a dark room while listening to soft, calming music. Sounds counterintuitive, but in reality it may actually help to boost how much weight you can lift. That's right, according to research from Bridgewater College (Bridgewater, VA), high arousal psyching techniques may do little to boost strength. The researchers did discover that relaxation techniques are actually better for pumping you up.

The Bridgewater scientists compared the effects of relaxation techniques versus arousal techniques on bench press strength in elite junior and senior college football players. The athletes completed as many reps as possible on the bench press with 225 pounds after performing either a progressive relaxation technique, an arousal technique, or no preparation technique. For the progressive relaxation technique, the athletes lied quietly in a dark room and listened to subdued music while alternating contraction and relaxation of muscle groups. During the arousal technique, they watched a videotape of aggressive football play.

The scientists discovered that when the athletes did the bench-press following the progressive relaxation technique, they were able to lift the weight for about 2 more reps as compared to bench pressing after the arousal technique, or when they did nothing before the bench press. To get the same boost as the Virginia athletes, give progressive relaxation a try. Before it's gym time, lie in a quiet, dimly lit room with soothing music playing. Starting with your calves and working up toward your head, flex each major muscle and hold it for about 10 seconds. First flex your calves and hold it for 10 seconds. Then relax for 10 seconds and move up to your quads. Hold the contraction again for 10 seconds and then relax for 10 seconds. Continue in this method by going to the hamstrings, glutes, abs, forearms, biceps, triceps, shoulders, pecs, lats, traps, neck, jaw muscles, and forehead muscles. Then lie still for about two or three minutes concentrating solely on your slow and controlled breathing. Now you're ready to hit the iron.

#9) Rest More Between Sets

I usually recommend switching up your rest periods just like you switch up weight, rep ranges, and exercises. But when it comes to strength, a longer rest period is definitely the way to go. Scientists from Arizona State University East (Mesa), wanted to determine the best amount of rest between sets when using very light or moderate weight. They recruited 16 trained bodybuilders to perform six different bench press workouts. Each workout consisted of 5 sets of the flat barbell bench press with either 80% of their 1 rep max (a weight they could complete 8-10 reps with) or 50% of their 1 rep max (a weight they could complete 25-30 reps with) and either 1, 2, or 3 minutes of rest between sets.

When the bodybuilders used the 80% RM weight with one minute of rest, they completed 9 reps on set 1, only 3 reps on set 2 and 2 reps on sets 3, 4 and 5. When they used the 80% RM and rested 2 minutes between sets they completed 9 reps on set 1, 5 reps on set 2, and 3 reps on the remaining sets. When they used the 80% RM but rested 3 minutes between sets they completed 9 reps on set 1, 6 reps on set 2, 5 reps on set 3 and 4 reps on sets 4 and 5. The scientists concluded that 3 minutes of rest between sets when using a weight that's equal to 80% RM is better at maintaining reps on successive sets than 1 or 2 minutes of rest. When the bodybuilders used their 50% RM they completed 30 reps on set 1, only 10 reps on set 2, 7 reps on set 3 and 6 reps on sets 4 and 5.

When they used their 50% RM and rested 2 minutes between sets they completed 30 reps on set 1, 15 reps on set 2, 11 reps on set 3, 10 reps on set 4 and 9 reps on set 5. When they used their 50% RM but rested 3 minutes between sets, they completed 30 reps on set 1, 18 reps on set 2, 14 reps on set 3, 13 reps on set 4, and 12 reps on set 5. The scientists also concluded that 3 minutes of rest between sets when using a weight that's equal to 50% RM is better at maintaining reps on successive sets than 1 or 2 minutes of rest. The also reported that while they expected that using the heavier weight (80% RM) would require 3 minutes of rest between sets to better maintain the rep range on successive sets, they were surprised to find that using the light weight (50% RM) also required at least 3 minutes of rest between sets.

The scientists concluded that if the goal of the training program is to build maximal strength, then rest periods of at least 3 minutes should be used between sets. This is due to the fact that with longer rest periods you can complete more total reps, or volume, which is correlated with greater strength gains. Yet, while the general rule should be to rest about 3 minutes between sets for sets that allow you get 8 or more reps, it should not be the only rest period you use. Just like the exercises you use or the amount of weight you lift, rest periods also need to be cycled. Using shorter rest periods will train your muscles to adapt to recovering quicker between sets, and eventually you'll be able to complete more reps on successive sets. This type of adaptation can also lead to greater gains in strength and mass over time.

#10) Perform Dynamic Stretches Before Your Workouts

It used to be that the standard advice for bodybuilders was to first warm-up and stretch before every workout. Today that advice is as antiquated as eating raw eggs for muscle growth—it's not smart or effective. In fact, stretching before you workout can actually hurt your performance during the workout—that is, if you're doing static stretching. Static stretches are where you stretch and hold it for several seconds (like the classic "bend over and touch your toes" stretch). Hopefully, you're not still doing this before your workouts because research actually shows that when athletes do static stretching before workouts they have less power than when they do no stretching. And if you thought that stretching was supposed to help prevent injuries, you're wrong.

Research also shows that stretching offers no real benefit to injury prevention. The good news is that research from the United States Military Academy (West Point, NY) shows that there is a type of stretching that can increase power. The Army researchers had 30 cadet strength athletes do a medicine ball throw test, which is a good test of muscle power, on three different occasions. In one test the athletes first did 10 minutes of static stretching before performing the medicine ball test. In a second test the athletes did 10 minutes of dynamic stretching before the test. Dynamic stretching involves ballistic stretching and warm-ups such as high knee running in place, bodyweight squats, fast push-ups. In a third test subjects simply rested for 10 minutes before performing the test.

The scientists reported in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that when the athletes first performed the dynamic stretching routine, they had a 3% increase in throwing distance (therefore power) than when they rested quietly, and a 5% increase as compared to when they first did static stretching. Another study, from Japan, found that subjects had almost 10% greater leg muscle power when subjects performed dynamic stretching before doing leg extensions as compared to when they did not stretch before doing leg extensions. Before you workout, make sure you don't bother with those reach and hold stretches. Those are best done after the workout as a cool down. But don't just jump right into the workout either. Try some dynamic stretching to boost your strength.

Stretch for More Strength

With the fast-paced lives we lead, many of you barely have time to hit the iron, let alone also find the time to stretch after the workout is over.

But you really should try your best to include some stretching in your routine to maintain flexibility and mobility. This is increasingly important as you age. Maintaining a full range of motion of all your joints will help to prevent you from being that old man or lady who can barely tie their own shoes. Just remember to keep to dynamic stretches (where you keep the stretches quick and ballistic) at the start of the workout, and keep static stretches (where you hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds) for towards the end of your workout.

In addition to enhancing flexibility, stretching may even help you build stronger muscles, according to a new study from Louisiana State University. 

The LSU researchers had one group of subjects stretch their right calf muscle four times for 30 seconds per stretch with 30 seconds of rest between stretches. They did this stretch routine three days a week for 10 weeks. They did no other exercise. A second group did no stretching or other exercise over the 10 weeks and served as a control group.

They reported in a 2012 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that the group stretching their calves for 10 weeks without any weight training increased their calf strength on the right leg by 30%. They even increased their calf strength in the left leg (the non-stretched leg) by over 10%.

Jim's Take-Home Point

From this study you can see just one reason why stretching may be important, especially for those who have trouble developing their calves. Increasing calf strength allows you to use more weight on calf raises, which places more overload on the calf muscles. And that can help to increase muscle growth of the calves. So be sure to do some calf stretching at the end of your calf workouts, as well as a couple of other times each week. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds. And it's not unreasonable to assume that these results may carry over to other muscle groups. In other words, you should also be stretching your other muscle groups as well for better flexibility and possibly better muscle strength and even growth.

The study did show that stretching the calf muscle even increased muscle strength in the contralateral leg (the opposite, non-stretched leg).

While this is interesting, there is no real benefit to those who train both sides of the body. These types of findings are of interest for those who sustain an injury on one side. By training and stretching the opposite side, you may be able to maintain greater strength and muscle mass in the injured arm or leg as it heals.

Reference

Nelson, A. G., et al. A 10-week stretching program increases strength in the contralateral muscle. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 26(3): 832-836, 2012.

Get Strong, Become Powerful

The best powerlifters in the business know an important secret: To get stronger, you have to train for strength and power. To gain power, you have to train for explosiveness and speed, but knowing how and when is the key to unlocking your gains.

By training for speed, you teach your nervous system to fire faster so that you can contract your muscle faster and move the weight faster. No matter how strong you are you'll have a sticking point: A portion of the movement where you're weakest due to the biomechanics of your muscles. Training for both strength and speed maximizes your strength and trains you to fly past it.

One way to do this is to train for strength, using heavy weight and low reps, and power, using light to no weight and doing explosive reps on the same day, with a technique called complex training. This involves following a plyometric-type movement, which can help you build strength without weights, with a heavy strength exercise, which allows for greater weight to be used during that movement. You can also do the reverse: Doing the heavy move first and following it with an explosive move. This way, the strength move has primed the nervous system and power will be enhanced.

KISS (Keep It Simple Solution)

To keep your complex training as simple and effective as possible, follow these uncomplicated guidelines:

Use Multi-Joint Exercises

Examples of multi-joint movements include:

  • Squat
  • Legpress
  • Deadlift
  • Bench press
  • Military press

Watch my bench press demonstration to see an example of a classic multi-joint exercise:

Group Similar Strength and Plyometric Moves

Good complex pairs include:

  • Squat/box jump
  • Leg press/squat jump
  • Deadlift/vertical jump
  • Bench press/power push-up
  • Bench press/medicine-ball push
  • Bench press/press push (using a Smith machine, press hard and let the bar go at the top, then catch it and lower to the start), military press/ /overhead press push (Smith machine).

To perform these pair

  • Do 2–5 sets of each pair and perform both a strength pair, in which the strength exercise is second, and a power pair in which the plyo move is second.
  • Do 2–5 reps on strength exercises and 5–10 reps for plyometric exercises.
  • Rest 1–2 minutes between exercises when the strength exercise is second, 0–30 seconds between exercises when the plyometric exercise is second, and be sure to allow 2–4 minutes between sets.
  • Give muscle groups at least 48–96 hours of rest between workouts.
Jump and Recruit

To recruit new muscle-fiber growth in your tree trunks, give the following complex leg-training workout a try.

Power Pair
Squat 75%–80% 5RM 3/5 30 seconds
Box Jump † bodyweight 3/5 2 minutes
Strength Pair
Squat Jump ‡  40% 1RM* 3/5 1–2 minutes
Leg Press 100% 5RM 3/5 2 minutes
Superset
Leg Extension 100% 10RM 2/10 none
Leg Curl 100% 10RM 2/10 2 minutes

* RM = repetition maximum, the most weight you can use to perform the prescribed number of reps.

† Step from the edge of a secure box or platform (~18 inches) and flex your knees upon landing, then immediately explode upward, jumping as high as possible.

‡ Stand with a slightly wider than shoulder-width stance, supporting the bar on the lower part of your upper traps. Descend to where your thighs are about parallel to the floor. Immediately reverse direction, attempting to get as high as you can.

Bust Through Your Sticking Point

The bench press is one of the most beneficial and of course, one of the most popular, exercises performed in the gym, at least from the standpoint of upper-body strength and size. Because of its many benefits and popularity, many lifters are all too familiar with the "sticking point" that exists just above the chest while trying to push the bar back up for another rep.

This sticking point is due to the pec muscles becoming weaker as you descend downward. In the bench press, like with many exercises, as you lower the barbell down on the eccentric (negative) portion of the rep, the pectoralis major becomes stretched. When a muscle is stretched, it's in a weaker state. In the case of the bench press, the last six inches or so of the eccentric motion (the lowering phase) and the first six inches of the concentric motion (pressing the bar back) are when your pecs are at their weakest—the dreaded bench press sticking point.

Fortunately, there are many different methods you can use to push through this barrier. One in particular, a personal favorite of mine, was highlighted in a study published by Norwegian researchers years back. It involves isometric reps of bench press at your sticking point and it can go a long way toward improving your numbers on the bench. Here's how to do it:

Place the safety bars in a power rack about 1-3 inches from where your chest would be while lying on a bench. Place the adjustable rack hooks BELOW the safety bars, place an empty barbell on the hooks and slide a flat bench into the power rack underneath the bar. Lie back on the bench, unrack the bar and press it up against the safety bars just above your lower pecs as hard as possible for 7-10 seconds. Perform three sets of this (where each 7-10-second hold counts as one set) BEFORE your regularly scheduled chest workout.

I love this technique because it's totally isolated that stubborn sticking point in the bench press. And there's literally no limit to the resistance, as you're pressing the barbell against the safety bars with as much force as possible with no need to add any plates on the bar. Just make sure the safety pins are secure in the holes so they don't slip out as you press against them. Give this isometric technique a try to bust through your sticking point and whatever benching plateau you're currently stuck on.

Rest-Pause for Power

When training with explosive exercises like power cleans and jump squats, you may want to use a technique that is more often used for building muscle—rest-pause.

However, while you typically would do rest-pause by reaching muscle failure, then racking the weight and resting 10-20 seconds, then continuing with the set, using rest-pause for power would occur between every single set. This is based on a recent study by Appalachian State University researchers in Boone, North Carolina.

The Appalachian State researchers had 10 male weightlifters perform 3 sets of power cleans for 6 reps per set using 80% of their one-rep max resting 3 minutes between sets. In one trial they completed all 6 reps in succession without any rest-pause between reps. In a second trial they did a 20-second rest-pause between each rep. And in a third trial they did a 40-second rest-pause between every rep.

They reported at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the National Strength & Conditioning Association that when they used rest-pause between reps they were better able to maintain power from rep number one to rep number six.

When they did not use rest-pause between reps, power decreased by 15% from rep number one to rep number six. When they did the 20-second rest-pause between sets power decreased by only 6% from rep number one to rep number 6. And when they used the 40-second rest-pause between reps power decreased by just 4% from rep number one to rep number 6.

Jim's Take-Home Point

When training for power, definitely use the rest-pause technique, regardless of the exercise. To do this perform a rep, then rack the weight and rest-pause for 20-40 seconds. Then perform another rep, rack the weight and rest-pause for 20-40 seconds. It's that simple, but that much more effective for building power than doing reps one after the other without rest-pause.

Reference

Hardee, J. P., et al. Effect of inter-repetition rest periods on power production in the power clean. Annual Meeting of the National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2011.

Isometric Contractions for More Strength

Isometrics basically involve applying maximum force to an immovable object. For example, stand in the middle of a doorway and press your arms into the door frame as if you were doing a lateral raise. Press against the door frame as hard as you can. Unless you are the Hulk, the doorway is not moving and neither are your arms or your shoulder joints. But your deltoid muscles were still contracting as hard as possible. That is an isometric contraction. When you do an isometric contraction you actually apply more force than any other time.

When you do lateral raises, even if you went so heavy as your one-rep max, you were able to lift the weight. So your muscles only applied enough force to lift that weight. When you try to move an immovable object, your muscles apply even greater force (as long as you are pushing with your all-out effort) than when you lift a weight that's equal to your one-rep max. That's one reason why isometrics can help you to get stronger. However, the problem here is that isometrics only increase strength in that one joint angle. You can overcome this with a power rack on exercises such as the bench press or squat. Just change the height of the bar on the rack and you can do isometrics through the whole range of motion.

However, the study I am going to discuss used isometrics to increase muscle strength in an entirely different way. Researcher from the University of Wisconsin—Parkside (Kenosha, WI) used isometrics on an antagonist muscle to make the agonist muscle stronger. Say what?!

A Quick Lesson in Kinesiology

Many muscles are referred to as agonist or antagonist muscles. When you do a barbell curl the biceps is the agonist muscle as it is the one performing the movement, which in this case is flexion of the elbow. The triceps, on the other hand, are considered the antagonist muscle, as they perform the exact opposite movement of the biceps. They extend the elbow joint, such as during triceps pressdowns. This is the same for the hamstrings and the quadriceps. When you extend at the knees, such as during leg extensions, the quadriceps are the agonist and the hamstrings are the antagonist. The antagonist muscle actually makes the agonist muscle weaker.

For example, when you do leg extensions to work the quadriceps, the hamstrings (antagonist) are lengthened as the quadriceps contract (shorten) to extend the knees. The hamstrings resist this lengthening a bit and so the quadriceps not only have to work against the weight on the leg extension machine, but they also have to work against the hamstrings (which act like a rubber band that the quads must stretch).

If you fatigue the antagonist muscle before you work the agonist muscle, the resistance to the lengthening of the antagonist can be reduced because the antagonist muscle is too fatigued to put up much of a fight. And that is what the University of Wisconsin researchers investigated. They fatigued the antagonist muscles with isometric contractions.

The researchers had subjects perform the vertical jump on a force plate to measure force production on two different occasions. In one trial they had the subjects first do a six-second isometric leg curl to fatigue the hamstrings and then immediately perform the vertical jump. In another trial they just did the vertical jump without the leg curl first. In this case, the quadriceps are the primary agonist muscle and the hamstrings are the antagonist.

They reported at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the National Strength & Conditioning Association that doing the isometric leg curl first increased their quadriceps force production by almost 15%.

Jim's Take-Home Point

Although this study used a power exercise, the vertical jump or jump squat, it is showing that when you first fatigue the antagonist muscle (hamstrings), it increases the force of the agonist muscle (quadriceps).

To use this technique in the gym, perform a superset by first doing a 5- or 6-second isometric contraction of the antagonist muscles of the muscle group you are training and then immediately perform the exercise that targets the agonist muscle.

The best position to hold the isometric contraction is about the halfway point of the range of motion of that exercise. For the bench press try isometric rows, for curls try isometric triceps pressdowns, for shoulder presses try isometric pulldowns, and for leg extensions try isometric leg curls and the opposite applies as well.

Reference

Ebben, W. P., et al. Antagonist knockout training increases force and the rate of force development. Annual Meeting of the National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2011.

Training With Chains

Training with chains is all the rage these days. Almost every kind of athlete from pro football players to strongman competitors is using chains in their workout programs. And it's not just because they look cool! Adding chains to free weights, such as a barbell, has been shown in numerous studies to increase muscle strength and power better than typical free weights alone.

Yes, it is no longer just a theory that chains work, it is proven in numerous research studies! Doesn't that fact right there make you wonder what you have been missing out on? The secret to why chains work has to do with the type of resistance they provide. 

Linear Variable Resistance

Linear variable resistance means that the weight, or resistance, increases throughout the range of motion. With chains this happens due to the fact that as you lift the chains from the floor, link-by-link, the weight that they provide increases. Although smart athletes are using chains in their training, there is one group of athletes who are failing to realize the benefits of chains—bodybuilders and those with the main goal of increasing muscle size.

Lifting Chains Can Boost Strength, Power, and Muscle Size

But guess what: In addition to boosting muscle strength and power, chains can also help you increase muscle size—especially when used on single-joint exercises like the barbell curl.

With the barbell curl for example, having linear variable resistance from the chains helps to place more focus on the biceps. That's because when you do curls, the biceps aren't fully involved until the halfway point when the elbows are bent at about 90 degrees. Because the weight from the chains gets heavier the higher you curl the bar, you get more resistance when the biceps kick in. This can make a major difference in stimulating biceps muscle growth. And when you try it, you will feel what I am talking about!

The only real problem with chains is the fact that they are tough to lug to the gym every day. The typical set weighs about 50 pounds. So if you train at a commercial gym, recommend to your gym manager that they purchase a set. Or ask if you can keep your set there and share them with the other members. If you train at home, then it's a no-brainer. Get a set!

Of course, not all of you will be able to get access to a set of chains. So what do you do? No worries, as a great alternative to chains is to use strength bands. Resistance bands—like my JYM Strength Bands—also provide the same type of linear variable resistance that chains do, but they're much easier to transport.

Great Gains with Powerlifting Gear

There's no secret that the gear powerlifters wear during competition, such as a bench shirt or squat suit can increase the amount of weight they can lift due to the force absorbed by the material of the suit.

But new research suggests that training with this gear on, at least for the squat, can lead to significantly greater gains in muscle strength over time. Researchers from Louisiana State University had competitive powerlifters train for 10 weeks either wearing their full lifting gear or without gear.

They reported in a recent issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that the group wearing a squat suit and knee wraps while training on squat days increased their squat strength by 30 pounds more than the group not wearing any gear during training.

The researchers concluded that this was likely due to the fact that the compression suit and knee wraps caused blood flow occlusion to the legs, similar to occlusion training. In occlusion training blood flow is deliberately cut off to the muscles using a tourniquet-like device. This creates a "hyper-anaerobic" environment in the muscles, and has been shown to increase growth hormone and IGF-I levels, as well as convert more slow-twitch muscle fibers into the bigger and stronger fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Jim's Take-Home Point

Unless you are a competitive powerlifter, I am not suggesting that you buy yourself a squat suit and wear it to the gym on leg day. However, you may want to consider getting a pair of knee wraps and wearing those. You may also consider buying a pair of compression shorts like cyclists wear: but wear them under your normal gym shorts! This can mimic the same effect that the powerlifters experienced wearing a squat suit and knee wraps.

Reference

Godawa, T. M., et al. Influence of compressive gear on powerlifting performance: role of blood flow restriction training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 26(5): 1274-1280, 2012.

Get Strong Diet

If getting stronger is your goal, I have a number of strength-building programs such as my 5-3-2 Strength program. But optimizing strength gains isn't only about lifting heavy weights; you'll also need to follow a smart nutrition plan. After all, even the best training program won't deliver the results you expect unless you're just as diligent with your diet as you are with your training.

To get stronger you need to allow your muscles to recover ad grow bigger and stronger. That requires protein—lots of protein.

The Fundamentals

As in any of my diets, in this strength-building diet protein is paramount. Be sure you're getting in a minimum of 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. Good protein sources include poultry, beef, seafood, eggs, and dairy products, and of course protein powders like Pro JYM.

One of the protein sources I want to emphasize here is the egg. And yes, I'm talking about whole eggs, yolks and whites. Research has shown that subjects eating three whole eggs per day gain twice as much strength as those not eating eggs. So do yourself a favor and eat at least three whole eggs every day. For more information on these benefits, read my take on eggs.

After protein you'll need to focus on fat, as opposed to avoiding it. You'll need to get in a minimum of 0.5 grams of fat per pound daily, and probably closer to 0.75 grams per pound. Yes, I'm diverging from my Muscle Building Nutrition Rules here—but for good reason. But just as I recommend there, you'll even want to be eating saturated fat. Sure, everyone tells you it's the root of all evil and causes heart disease. But it's really not like that. Research shows that athletes consuming more saturated fat and monounsaturated fat have higher testosterone levels than those getting in limited amounts of these fats. So enjoy some fatty beef, such as 85% lean ground beef, as well as full fat dairy sources, particularly when you're training for strength.

And be sure to get in plenty of olive oil and nuts to keep your testosterone levels maxed out. You'll also need adequate levels of omega-3 fats as well. These fats aid muscle and joint recovery. And since both the muscles and joints take a beating when you train heavy for strength, you'll want to be optimizing their recovery so you can keep going strong. Try to work salmon into your diet regularly, as well as walnuts. You'll also want to take a good fish oil product, which is why I created Omega JYM.

Of course, carbs are also important. But when training with heavy weight for low reps, you actually won't be burning up that much glycogen. Here, the most important energy source during workouts will be creatine phosphate. Be sure to supplement with creatine, preferably via Pre JYM (before training) and Post JYM (after training). This way, you can keep carbs in the moderate range so that you can get in all the protein and fat you need to blow up your strength without adding a spare tire around your midsection. Keep carbs to about 1.0-1.25 grams per pound of body weight on rest days and 1.75 grams per pound on workout days.

One carb food we recommend you include in your diet is the apple. Research confirms that the apple polyphenols they contain boost muscle strength. That's why I feel that a large apple makes the perfect pre-workout carb source. Another recommendation is wheat germ. Wheat germ is a good source of octacaosanol, which is a plant phytochemical that can boost muscle strength. Throw some wheat germ in any protein shake you make throughout the day for snacks.

And don't forget about post-workout carbs, which you'll want to be fast-digesting. I have a post-workout fast carbs product (Post JYM Dextrose), but gummy bears, pixy sticks, many other candies and white breads will work too. Adding such fast carbs to your post-workout nutrition will spike insulin to crank up muscle recovery and growth.

The following is a sort of "Day in the life" example, but feel free to switch the ingredients in these meals out for your preferred foods. The diet is designed with the 200-pound guy in mind. However, it will work well for anyone in the range of 150-220 pounds. If you're well below or above this range, adjust the diet based on the relative amounts given. For the 200-pounder, this will provide about 18 calories per pound on rest days and about 21 calories per pound on workout days.

Get Strong Diet Sample Meal Plan

Breakfast 1

  • 2 scoops Pro JYM
  • 1 medium cantaloupe

Breakfast 2

  • 6 whole eggs
  • 1 cup Oatmeal cooked
  • 1 tbsp honey (mix honey in oats)

Late morning snack

  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1 cup sliced pineapple
  • (mix pineapple in cottage cheese)

Lunch

  • 8 oz ground beef (85% lean)
  • 1 whole-wheat hamburger bun
  • 2 cups chopped broccoli
  • 4 capsules Omega JYM fish oil

Midday snack

  • 2 scoops Pro JYM
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 1 Tbsp Peanut butter
  • (mix all ingredients in blender)

Dinner

  • 9 oz salmon
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 2 cups mixed green alad
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil and vinegar salad dressing
  • 1 dose Vita JYM multivitamin

Before Bed Supplements (Take 1 hour before nighttime snack)

  • 1 dose ZMA JYM (females take 2/3 dose)

Nighttime snack

  • 1 oz. English walnuts
  • 2 scoops Pro JYM

Totals (approx.): 3,615 calories, 335 g protein, 245 g carbs, 145 g fat

On workout days add the following pre-workout and post-workout shakes:

Pre-Workout

Post-Workout

This brings the daily nutrient totals up to around: 4,300 calories, 395 g protein, 350 g carbs, 145 g fat

 





Jim-head-2019

JimStoppani.com Membership

“I’ve laid the groundwork for you by doing the research in the lab to find out what really works, designing the programs and systems, creating the content, and developing the technology. My knowledge is your power – now it’s up to you to run with it and get the results.”


Get 30 Days For $1