Muscle strength – the ability of a muscle to produce tension to overcome an external load. A precursor to muscle strength is muscle growth, or size. The bigger your muscles are, the more proteins you have within the muscle fiber which will allow for a greater contraction and force production. This is why it is essential to develop muscle size before thinking about muscle strength training.
Needless to say, strength training is absolutely fantastic as it helps engage many muscle fibers that the muscle may have not used before. Because strength training requires you to lift heavier weights, more muscle fibers need to be involved to withstand the load, which will not only increase the size of your muscles but also its strength.
Of course, like any other type of training goal, you have to know how to manipulate certain variables to achieve muscle strength. That said, here are the ‘acute variables’ needed to develop muscle strength:
Intensity: 85 – 100% of 1 Repetition Maximum (1RM)
Rest: 3-5 minutes
Type: 5 x 5
For muscle strength, you may notice that the volume is quite high, meaning you’ll perform a greater number of sets while using a heavier load and a decent amount of repetitions. Indeed, that’s what’s needed to achieve strength, you need to progressively load the muscle!
Speaking of loading, the weights you lift need to be quite heavy, perhaps even near or equivalent to your 1RM. To touch base on the 1RM once again, think of the bench press for a second. Any weight you use which allows you to only complete 1 repetition of the exercise is considered your 1RM. So, pick a weight that will allow you to lift 85-100% of your 1RM. If you feel like you’re breezing through the exercise, or perhaps can do more than 5 repetitions, than you need to lift heavier weights! Make sure each repetition is a struggle, and upon reaching 5 repetitions or less, you’ve hit muscle failure (whereby you can’t perform one more repetition).
Because the load and intensity of strength training is quite high, you need to rest anywhere between 3-5 minutes in between sets and exercises in order for the muscle to fully recover. That way, you can perform to your best of abilities during each set and not fatigue rather quickly – which of course will hinder your ability to lift heavy weights during each set.
In terms of the tempo, think of the bench press once again. The downward movement of the bar to your chest is considered the eccentric movement of the exercise. This movement should be done in a moderate tempo (anywhere between 2-4 seconds). The upward movement of the bar from the chest is the concentric movement, which should be performed at a fast past (1-2 seconds). This way, you’re adding more tension to your muscle and developing a greater amount of strength within the fibers.
Finally, for me personally, the best type of exercise to work on muscle strength is a 5 x 5 training. This type of training entails doing 5 sets of 5 repetitions per exercise. Aim to perform anywhere between 2-6 exercises per session. Remember, start slow and gradually progress!
There you have it, all the variables you need to develop muscle strength. To be honest, the overall feeling of having the strength to lift heavy weights and objects is second to none. I really urge you to incorporate strength training at some point in your exercise journey. I’ve done it many times in the past, and believe me, the benefits are vast. Be strong!