If you already have a good level of strength, the age-old tips of “lift heavy” and “eat big” are limited. Why? Because when you’re already very strong and nearing your maximal genetic potential, it’s much harder to make consistent gains—in fact, when you’re deadlifting almost three times your bodyweight, for example, adding another 5-10 lbs. can be an enormous accomplishment.
Here are 10 tips for advanced lifters to boost your strength and increase your numbers. Again, this article is not for the beginner or even intermediate lifter—you’re better off focusing on lifting heavy, making gains from workout to workout, and eating right.
The smallest plates you’ll find in most commercial gyms are 2.5 lbs. Thus, with barbell exercises, the smallest increase you can make is 5 lbs. With dumbbells, most only go up in 5 lbs. increments (after 30 or so pounds), which
That’s no big deal if you’re only using 30-lb. dumbbells, but if you’re holding 100-lb. dumbbells for your chest press, five extra pounds on each hand is an enormous jump that’ll overwhelm you. Invest in small weight plates that range from 0.5 lbs. to 1.25 lbs. and small magnetic weights that lock onto dumbbells.
The best lifters analyze their technique through video or asking experts. Once you’re squatting two times your bodyweight, there’s a limit to how much strength you can build and how quickly. Instead, optimize your technique—double-check that you’re driving through the right parts of your body, everything is aligned correctly, and you’re correctly positioned.
Videotape yourself from all angles and attend lifting clinics to learn from the best. A simple tweak by the hands of a professional can help you instantly lift more weight and prevent injuries.
Often, strength is mental. If you’re the strongest person at your gym, there will be a limit to how far and how fast you can progress. But if you’re the weakest person at your gym (even if you’re squatting well over 300 lbs.), you WILL get stronger because your training partners will bring you up to their abilities and unlock your full potential.
If you’re looking to reach the next level, consider switching gyms and training with elite athletes; if that’s not possible, travel to a top facility for a few days and surround yourself with the right people and right mindset—you’ll return home better than ever before.
If you have trouble exploding from the bottom of a squat, practice pin squats or pause squats. If you struggle to lockout your bench press, use floor presses or board presses. Or if you need more hip strength without pounding your lower back on deadlifts, use barbell hip thrusts.
It’s easy to think you need to “keep benching” to improve your bench, but prioritizing some accessory exercises will help you correct your limitations and add variety to your programming.
Novices should stick to heavy barbell exercises and push weight. But when you’re advanced, you need to use other approaches to target specific muscle fibers (Type I, II, or IIb), fire all your motor units, and drill your mechanics.
Power exercises like Olympic lifts and their variations are perfect for advanced lifters—they’ll increase your explosiveness, which has a phenomenal carryover to your main lifts. Also, use tools like chains and bands to improve your force production on the concentric phase of exercises like bench presses and back squats.
Volume drives intensity and intensity drives volume. (“Intensity” in this sense means heavy, near-maximal weight.) But pushing heavy weights for a few reps only builds one type of change with your muscle fibers. Instead, dedicate a phase of your program to ramp up the volume for more hypertrophy and new adaptations to your muscles to support more strength gains.
Afterward, spend a few days or a full week to deload and then return to your previous low-volume, high-intensity program; you’ll notice a difference in your numbers.
Improving your ability to recover from brutal training sessions will allow you to express more strength and power when you do workout. Yet most people, regardless of their strength, don’t recover well because their bodies and minds are always stressed and over-activated. Instead, focus on your rest as much as you do on your work.
Get at least seven hours of good, uninterrupted sleep per night. Foam roll and do light mobility everyday to keep your body fresh and nimble. Do light aerobic exercise a few times a week to help flush your muscles, keep your heart healthy, and relax your nervous system.
Take a full, deep breath and exhale. Chances are your shoulders and traps scrunched towards your ears as you inhaled and dropped as you exhaled—that means you’re breathing wrong.
Focus on breathing by expanding your diaphragm and ribcage. This increases the amount of oxygen you get with each breath, which will improve your endurance and oxygen balance. More importantly, diaphragmatic breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”) so that you can fully recover between maximal-effort training sessions.
Eating healthy won’t make you stronger, but it WILL allow you to reach your full muscle-building and muscle-repairing potential. Good nutrition will give your body the fuel it needs to grow and the energy it needs crush your workouts (which further emphasizes the importance of recovery to advanced trainees).
Eat plenty of protein that comes from healthy sources of lean meats or quality protein powders. Consume a lot of colorful veggies, choose good fats, and whole grains, and drink plenty of water. This seems simple, but so many guys fail to nail their diet and thus sacrifice a lot of their progress.
When you make a change in your program, preparations, or even exercise technique, you might lose some strength in the short-term as you adapt and practice. Sometimes, you may even need to stop doing your main lifts altogether. But if the temporary drop in numbers lead to more progress and less injuries in the future, are you willing to take a step backward?
Think long-term. Weight training is a journey filled with ups-and-downs; the best are willing to weather the storm.
BY ANTHONY J. YEUNG, CSCS