7 Key Pointers for Long-Term Strength Improvements
With Guest Blogger, Chris Schnare
Fitness comes in many shapes, styles and forms. However, one physical component that is desired in most fitness goals is strength. As an Exercise Physiologist, I have the opportunity to work with a diverse group of individuals which allows me to implement, observe and modify training protocols constantly, enabling me to find the most efficient methods to create and maintain long-term strength improvements.
If you are seeking long-term strength gains this is the blog post for you. Continue reading and learn about my 7 key pointers for long-term strength improvements.
These pointers apply to all ages and levels and can make a world of difference VERY quickly when consistently implemented. Be sure to keep these pointers top of mind when entering every training session.
1. Optimal Stance
Find the optimal stance, grips and leverage points for your body. This may change slightly day to day depending on joint stiffness, mobility or injuries. The take away here is to focus on what works best for your body, rather than imitating what you have seen someone else do.
Find the appropriate positions that work for your hips and shoulder structure, since you cannot change these. Select the proper bar or lift style to give you the best leverage based on torso, thigh and shin length. Likewise, do not get married to a lift that simply does not suit you.
For example, someone with a deep hip socket may not be able to perform a narrow stance squat and hit the appropriate depth, however that individual should be able to perform a squat down to parallel with a slightly wider stance. Catering each exercise to your body will ensure that you are able to maintain long-term strength improvements. When in doubt, find a qualified coach to help you find your ideal positions.
Auto-regulation is imperative for the advanced strength athlete or lifter. You MUST listen to your body and on any given day make necessary adjustments and changes. Have a plan in place, but always be ready to adjust it rather than just push through pain or discomfort. Successful training days can happen, even if it is not a top-end day where you set personal records. This is ok and all part of long-term training for consistent improvements. To learn more about auto-regulation in training, click here.
3. Hip Hinge
Ensure you are using a proper hip hinge when moving around and loading plates, not just when performing exercises. Back pain expert, Dr. McGill refers to this as spine sparing strategies or spine hygiene. Protect your spine by moving intentionally, throughout your entire workout, even your rests. This can help to prevent back injuries which will halt your progress and hinder long-term strength improvements.
Remember that stiffness, bracing and tension are key to maximal neural drive and stability. In other words, make sure to think about each and every movement and tense, contract and brace your body and muscles appropriately.
One technique to help enhance overall full body stiffness is active breathing. Rather than simply breathing in and out naturally, try to stiffen and tune your tension and breathing in a “hissing “or “leaking” air fashion. This ensures stiffness and stability is constant.
5. Leave reps in the tank
Your passive tissue structures do not want to be taken to failure. This means stop any sets as soon as you cannot maintain pristine technique and form. Grinding reps is good for your mental training, and important for recruiting high threshold motor units for hypertrophy and strength gains, but keep in mind that bad form will eventually catch up to you and can cause serious injuries.
If you were aiming for a top set of 5, and on rep 4 the weight gets surprisingly heavy and slow, just stop the set, back the weight off 10% and perform a max rep set. This added volume will be helpful and allows you to stay within your daily abilities (given everything else is in check).
6. Work on Weak Points
Pay attention to weak links in the body’s kinetic chain (your body works as a system). Weak lats or obliques will quickly lead to a weakened squat or deadlift, as well as an unstable shoulder in a bench press or overhead movement. Identify your weak links and work to improve them. This will lead to improved overall strength which is key for long-term strength improvements.
Also keep in mind that it is important to perform your supplemental and accessory work. If in a rush, complete at least 1 set of all movements for the day with focused intensity and effort.
7. Progressive Overload
Trust the program you are one and make small incremental changes and improvements. This is called progressive overload and is an essential process for continued tissue and neurological adaptions to take place. Make a plan, set some goals and then follow the rules above to keep making improvements.
“The one thing you can always control, is effort”
These pointers lay the foundation for what high performance coaches do and teach every day. Educating yourself on best practices ensures you are always moving forward in your quest for improved fitness. Keep learning and pay attention along the way.