Let’s discuss the truth about how strength is gained ing training and bust some myths out there. I would say the majority of people think you need to lift heavy or do a ton of reps in order to get stronger. Which COULD work, but it’s not the only way.
When it comes to building strength there are two primary methods:
- Muscle Hypertrophy
- Neuromuscular Coordination
Muscle hypertrophy is what you might be more familiar with. By increasing the size of the muscle cell you can then lift more weight. Although keep in mind people with the biggest muscles are not always the strongest. In the sport of bodybuilding, hypertrophy is used as the primary target for reaching their aesthetic goal. However a powerlifter or weightlifter of similar sizes could easily outlift your common bodybuilder.
Neuromuscular coordination is what you may not be as familiar with. This is about how effective the body is at recruiting muscle fibers to contract when lifting weights or getting your body to recruit (use) more muscle fibers when training.
Think back to when you first started working out and you may have seen strength increases of anywhere from 20-50 lbs or more on a single lift in less than a month. This is all due to neuromuscular coordination. One month is not enough time to see true adaptation in strength or muscular development, but it’s just that your body was able to have better coordination in recruiting muscle fibers because you had never lifted weights before.
Let’s talk about another example. Know of anyone in your life who seems to have freak strength, but isn’t a massive muscular bound individual? Let’s take a sprinter or wide receiver for example. Relatively speaking they may appear leaner and smaller, but when it comes to the weight room they have great feats of strength.
What do they have in common? SPEED. You see speed (fast or explosive athletes) and strength are correlated. Individuals who are explosive generally speaking have a higher density of fast-twitch muscle fibers. As opposed to your marathon runner or endurance athlete who has a higher propensity to slow twitch muscle fibers.
We are all born with fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers, however some of us are better adapted to use one or the other or have a greater percentage of one over the other. Lifting heavy weights, sprinting and jumping all require fast twitch muscle fibers. These fibers are very powerful, but fatigue quickly. On the opposite end of the spectrum we use slow twitch muscle fibers for daily activities like walking or endurance activities. They don’t generate as much power, but can last for a long time.
So why do I bring up these muscle fiber types? Well regardless of what you are born with you can optimize these fibers through training. If you want to get stronger then do more explosive exercises and stick to rep ranges between 1-5 reps. If you want to increase your endurance go long and slow! Your body will adapt to be more efficient with these fibers.
Now let’s come full circle here and talk about strength gains! If you want to get stronger it comes down to much more than just lifting heavy all the time. While this can help increase muscle hypertrophy and recruit more muscle fibers it is NOT The only way.
In order to recruit more muscle fibers we can also utilize fast and explosive movements. Dynamic plyometric exercises like box jumps, medicine ball throws and lightweight weightlifting exercises can be crucial to recruiting more fibers. Not to mention this prevents you from overloading your body with heavy loads all the time.
So the next time you are in the gym lifting weights keep in mind two things. Lift heavy and fast! You don’t need a maximal load to get stronger, but you need to move that load as quickly as possible! When programming is at a lower percentage in workouts keep in mind you can still get stronger by focusing on speed.