Winter is the perfect time to focus on getting strong. Building a foundation of strength throughout the colder months is not only great for your overall health and longevity, but enables you to make quicker, more sustainable muscle and body composition gains when the weather warms up and you’re back at the beach.
The concept of strength training is very simple; lift heavy things and get stronger. But like any kind of training, variety can play a huge role in enhancing its effectiveness and ultimately, your results. Our bodies are experts in adaptation and will quickly calibrate to whatever we throw at them, meaning if we stick to the same old same old, our bodies will become more efficient and complacent, cheating us out of progress.
Luckily, subtle variations in strength training can drastically impact your results and with a host of tips, tricks and techniques available to implement, you can get strong(er) by working smarter.
In this article, we discuss our 4 favourite strength training techniques and how you can incorporate them into your workouts this winter.
Reps & Rest
Before we get into the specifics, there are two key aspects to strength training that need to be considered regardless of the exercise choice.
Reps – Strength development occurs at lower rep ranges than hypertrophy or endurance training. To truly train strength, sets should comprise no more than 6 reps with heavy load, quick movements or a combination of the two.
Rest – Working at high intensities with large loads taxes the bodies metabolic and nervous systems, meaning that longer periods of rest are required for us to be able to repeat the action. Rest periods of a minimum 3 minutes are optimal for true strength training, although this time can be used wisely by implementing accessory or mobility work as active rest.
1. Compound Lifts
Compound lifts are universally the most popular strength training technique. They have been around for a long time and used by everyone from bodybuilders to Olympic athletes to develop full body strength and build muscle.
Compound lifts are named as such because they utilize multiple muscle groups and joint articulations within a simple movement, creating a compound effect. Some of the most common compound lifts include squats, bench press & deadlifts.
The most obvious benefit of incorporating compound lifts into your strength training programme is that they allow you to lift the most load in a functional manner, which inturn recruits more muscle fibers and stimulates the central nervous system – both of which are essential to the development of strength.
Due to the intense nature of compound lifts, they should generally feature at the beginning of a workout, rather than at the end of your session. However, one thing that is not fixed is the type and variation of exercise you choose. Here are some of our favourite non-conventional compound lift variations:
- Trap Bar Deadlifts
- Overhead Press
- Box Squats
- Pendlay Rows
2. Unilateral Lifts
Unilateral lifts involve performing a movement with one (uni) limb or side of the body. Unlike isolation exercises which focus on a single joint and muscle group, unilateral exercises are more akin to (bi-lateral) compound movements in that they incorporate multiple joints and muscle groups, only focussed on one limb (or side) at a time.
Whilst the total loads we are able to lift using unilateral movements is less than compound movements, their functionality, influence on athleticism and crossover into everyday life is arguably far greater.
Rarely (outside of the gym) do we require bi-lateral (two arms, legs, limbs etc) strength. Most of the things we do, whether climbing the stairs, running for the bus or opening a door, are performed whilst using one leg to absorb/create force or one arm to push or pull something. In addition, unilateral movements place far greater focus on the muscles and structures that stabilize our joints, which can lead to improved longevity and reduced risk of injury.
Unilateral movements can be used both as primary and supplementary exercises within a strength training programme and offer great variation to keep things interesting and create multidimensional strength.
Some of the most impactful unilateral exercises include:
- Single Leg Split Squats
- Single Leg Deadlifts
- Single Arm Press
Single Arm Rows
3. Plyometrics (Plyos)
Plyometrics focus more on the development of power (or speed/strength) than absolute strength and are utilized heavily by athletes across a range of sports as well as your everyday gym goers who are looking to get faster and stronger.
Typically, Plyos are executed at relatively high speeds with little to no external load (i.e. bodyweight only) and are typically variations of jumps, hops or throws. Some common examples include box jumps & med ball slams.
Incorporating plyometrics your training is a great way to mix things up and provide your body with a new stimulus that can kickstart your strength gains, especially for those who have been lifting slow and heavy for a long time. In addition, they encourage both athleticism and coordination which have positive transfer to everyday life.
Performing plyometrics properly and safely requires significant input from your nervous system. Therefore, like compound movements, they should typically be performed early in a workout and with sufficient rest, especially for those who are new to the movements. Athletes often use plyometrics as a precursor to their “big lift” to prime the nervous system.
Some of our goto plyometric movements include:
- Box Jumps
- Med Ball Chest Pass
- Broad Jumps
- Cable Power Row
4. Contrast Training
Contrast training is a hybrid technique that combines heavy (compound & unilateral movements) and fast movements (plyometrics) to increase strength. It is used heavily across sports strength and conditioning and is widely regarded as the best bang for buck technique to get strong, quick.
The concept is simple and primarily uses pairs or trios of exercises in the following format:
- Lift Heavy – Perform an exercise with a heavy load.
- Rest for 30s
- Move Fast – Perform a similar exercise with a lesser load.
- Rest for 2-3mins
Pairing exercises that are biomechanically similar in their nature is key to contrast training being effective. The idea is to stimulate the muscle using a heavy load and capitalize on this primed state by performing a similar movement with less or no weight, quickly. This tricks the nervous system and causes the muscle to overcompensate, increasing the stimulus that will ultimately dictate the adaptation i.e. strength increase.
Whilst contrast training is for anyone and everyone, it is recommended that a base level of strength and proficiency in plyometric exercises is achieved prior to incorporating it into your workouts.
Some of our goto compound supersets include:
- Trap Bar Deadlift / Broad Jump
- Bench Press / Med ball Chest Pass
- Pull Up / Mad Ball Slam
- Single Leg Split Squat / Box Jump
Whether you’re looking to get strong for a sport, life or just because, there are plenty of options available. Implementing and combining these techniques periodically can be a great way to ensure you don’t get bored and keep pushing forwards.
To see if these techniques work for you, ensure you allow for 4-6 weeks fto begin seeing results and if you have any questions at anytime, please reach out to a member of the P.E. Department team.