Three Ways to Spice Up Your Strength Training
Regardless of your goals on the training floor, strength training plays a huge role. Want to get bigger? You need to lift heavy weights. Looking at getting leaner? Then you better be able to lift heavy enough to actually stimulate your metabolism. Whether you’re an athlete, a newbie to the gym, or a senior citizen, getting stronger is going to be the focal point of your training at some point.
While there are those that do like to lift some heavy poundages from time to time, things can become a bit monotonous. You probably know the drill of most strength training worouts: 3 sets of 5 or 4 sets of 6. For the first few weeks the weights go up, but eventually you hit a plateau. This is usually the time to sit back and analyze the situation. However, there’s going to be that one guy in the gym who won’t do that. Instead he’s just going to try and lift the sucker off the floor – again, and again, and again. He won’t get stronger but he will get sore, burnt out, and possibly even injured. We don’t want you to be that guy (or gal), so we’ve prepared a list of ways that you can sensibly spice up your routine.
Providing some variety though has to be sensible. Giving your workout diversity helps make your trips to the gym more enjoyable and makes things, dare I say, fun. But those good times have to come for a reason: working on being explosive when you already have an awesome vertical jump is a waste of your time. Doing slow eccentrics when you normally slam the bar off your chest in the bottom of the bench press shows you’re working on any weaknesses you may have. So let’s have some fun but make sure we’re still getting the J-O-B done when it comes to strength training.
One way you can alter your workouts is through non-linear periodization (NLP), which is also referred to as undulating periodization. In this case, you vary the reps and the sets you do weekly or even from workout to workout. One of the most popular ways to do this is to simply divide workouts by the load so you get a heavy, medium and light day. You’ll hit different muscle fibers while preventing your nervous system from frying out. One week would look like this:
Monday – 4 x 2
Wednesday – 3 x 6
Friday – 2 x 10 (recovery)
Taking non-linear periodization into the lab shows its effectiveness. Researchers compared a non-linear program where the workouts varied from day to day and compared it to a linear group (which performed months of light lifting that eventually turned into heavy training). After 12 weeks, the non-linear group had a 28% increase in the bench press, surpassing all other trainees in bench press strength (1). Consider that a tame example though: with NLP, you can focus on power, alter the speed of how fast or slow you lift, or even try and build a little bit of muscle. The possibilities are actually pretty endless…just make sure that some of the workouts are designed to what you’re not doing too well.
Bands and Chains
Since we’re speaking about the weak links in your iron game, bands and chains do a great job of removing your kryptonite. After all, you can slap more things on a barbell than just weight plates. The use of these implements is called accommodating resistance. Here’s an explanation: you know the guys who can lift really heavy weights when doing a quarter squat? Well, bands and chains fix that problem. When attached at the end of the bar, the actual weight you’re lifting is different, and you still have to push the rep out even though you’re getting closer to the top in your lift (think locking out a bench press or completing a squat). Those half rep heroes won’t be able to cheat on their weights anymore.
Using these devices can actually make you more powerful, as you’ll have more of a pop out of the bottom of a squat or bench press. Studies have actually measured the power output when subjects performed a bench press. A few researchers implemented bands and chains with Division 1-AA football players, where one group used bands, another used chains, and the last group simply did a normal bench press. All groups managed to increase their strength while the specialty groups had nonsignificant increases in peak power output (2).
As an added bonus, you can use chains and bands for other things, such as mobility training and even when you want to put on some muscle.
Contrast training is great for athletes because of the one-two punch that it gives you. When you do a contrast set, you combine a strength move with a power move. The strength movement allows you to lift a heavy load albeit at a slower pace; the explosive movement that follows it allows you to move yourself, or an implement, at a very fast velocity. Athletes need to be strong but they also have to be quick. If you’re not going to be trying out for the Combine anytime soon, it’s still a great way to tap into muscle fibers that you wouldn’t hit doing a bodypart split. Here’s a couple of examples of different pairings you can do:
A1. BB Incline Press x 6
A2. Clap Push Up x 10
B1. Front Squat x 4
B2. Box Jump x 8
Studies have compared traditional strength training to contrast training. The workouts for contrast training consisted of presses followed by medicine ball tosses and squats coupled with jump squats, among other things. Interestingly, both groups built a little bit of lean mass and decreased bodyfat, but the contrast group had the greatest increase in bench press strength as well (3). You should jump on the chance anytime you can get stronger and leaner on the same program. While you won’t look like a bodybuilder, you have a good chance of resembling an athlete training in this matter.
Still think you have to do three sets of five to get stronger? Stop doing the same thing over and over again and expecting results – that’s the definition of insanity. Strength training doesn’t have to be boring and tedious. In fact, providing some variety in your training can help other aspects of your training, like power and body composition. Try some different things and you’ll be amazed at the results you achieve!
1. Monteiro, A.G. et al. “Nonlinear Periodization Maximizes Strength Gains in Split Resistance Training Routines.” (2009) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 23;4, 1321-1326
2. Ghigiarelli, J.J., Nagle, E.F., et al. “The Effects of a 7 Week Heavy Elastic Band and Weight Chain Program on Upper Body Strength and Upper Body Power in a Sample of Division 1-AA Football Players.” (2009) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 23;3, 756-764
3. Magine, G.T., Ratamess, N.A., et al. “The Effects of Combined Ballistic and Heavy Resistance Training on Maximal Lower and Upper Body Strength in Recreationally Trained Men.” (2008) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 22;1. 132-139