• Introduction
  • Strength training can focus on either muscular strength or muscular hypertrophy
  • Your body adapts to the way you train it
  • Train specifically for your sport
  • Strength training requires mental preparation
  • Importance of rest when training for strength
  • Physiological effects of strength training
  • Strength training improves muscular efficiency
  • Pay special attention to injury prevention
  • Suitability for developing athletes
  • Strength training in physical education
  • Final thoughts

Introduction

Alright, so you already know the basics of strength and athletic performance. Good stuff! Now it’s time to take that knowledge into practice and make you the best athlete out there. 

A winner’s road is never easy. Especially since today’s athletes are faster, stronger and technically better than ever before. However, nobody is born with these skills – they are all a result of years of dedication and preparation. 

If you are up for it, this page gives you everything you need to train both effectively and safely. And if you are ready to train without further reading we’ve made sample training routines of muscular (maximum) strength training and muscular hypertrophy training. 

Become a stronger athlete. We challenge you. 

Basics of strength training

Strength training utilizes very heavy weights of around 60-100% of your maximum depending on whether you want to be stronger or increase muscle mass. Not only does this sort of training push your muscles to their limits, but it also relies heavily on your neuromuscular system’s (muscles and their connecting nerves) ability to recruit muscles efficiently. Strength training can also be divided into five basic principles; overloading, progression, specified training, individualized training and rest. When balanced out correctly these form the basis for strength training and athletic development for a long and healthy career.

Overloading means you must train at a level of intensity that is high enough to cause small micro-tears inside the muscles and start the body’s adaptation mechanism. This means that your body begins to repair the damage caused by heavy resistance training. Since our bodies always overcompensate this repair process, the muscles become stronger as a result. This phenomenon is called supercompensation and it forms the foundation for both muscular strength and muscular hypertrophy training.

Progression in strength training describes the systematic approach to constantly overloading your muscles more and giving them gradually more difficult tasks. That is why you often hear trainers and athletes talking about the progressive overload principle of strength training. It means that you need to constantly add more weight, more sets or more repetitions to keep improving your overall performance. However, it is also smart to incorporate different training methods to offer the muscles a variety of different stimuli. 

Strength training must also be specified towards your own sport and individualized according to your personal goals. This means training the right muscles in a sports-specific way as well as periodizing your training routine to make sure you maintain progress both safely and effectively.  After all, your goal is to improve your own physical performance. 

Heavy resistance training demands plenty of rest. In fact, most athletes tend to forget that muscle building and skill learning happen while you sleep. This is especially important for strength training because your body is not ready to receive another maximal stimulus for 48h after an intense workout session. On the other hand, after 72h your strength levels will begin to decrease again. Therefore, it is important to plan your workouts accordingly and focus on lighter exercises or complete rest between more intense workouts. 

If you feel like your body is not ready for full-on strength training, start out with endurance training to prepare your body for heavier weights.

Strength training can focus on either muscular strength or muscular hypertrophy

Not all strength training is the same. While maximum strength and muscular hypertrophy training have a lot in common, like working with higher resistance, what sets them apart is the physiological mechanisms that they aim to improve. 

Muscular strength, or maximum strength, focuses on enhancing the neuromuscular connection between the muscles and their connecting nerves. In a nutshell, your aim is to send a signal through the nervous system and recruit as many muscle cells to perform a specific task. The heavier the resistance, the more muscle cells you’ll need to recruit. 

That is why muscular strength focuses more on adapting the nervous system to produce as big of a muscle contraction as possible. As a result, you’ll be stronger without the added muscle mass of muscular hypertrophy training. To achieve this, muscular strength training uses the heaviest weight possible with only a few repetitions.

"You need a good foundation of strength in order to improve it safely."

Muscular hypertrophy focuses on enhancing muscle mass and shaping the body through heavy weight training with more repetitions. The aim here is to produce small tears inside the muscle which the body will eventually repair. As your body tends to overcompensate the damage occurred in the muscles, it makes them stronger than before. This is called supercompensation and it is the key to gaining muscle mass. Thus, making it the preferred training method bodybuilders looking to becoming the next Mr. Olympia. 

But how does muscular hypertrophy enhance strength?

Well, strength training increases the amount of protein inside your muscle fibers. The more contractable muscle you have the more force you’ll be able to produce. Pretty simple!

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Muscular strength


Weight at 80-100% of your maximum1-3 repetitions5-6 setsRest for 2-4 between setsCompound exercisesProgressive overloadIncreases muscle recruitment and maximum strength

Muscular hypertrophy


Weight at 60-85% of your maximum6-12 repetitions3-6 setsRest for 1-3mins between setsCompound & isolated exercisesProgressive overloadIncreases hypertrophic strength and muscle mass

We’ve written more in-depth posts of both muscular strength and muscular hypertrophy training. Simply click the one you want to learn more about. You can even find some great training programs to try out. Hope you like ’em!

Your body adapts to the way you train it

Strength training follows a pretty easy formula – if you want to lift heavier weights, you need to lift heavy weights. Sounds simple, right? Well, the fact is that the way you train affects the way your body works. Strength, endurance, power… it all depends on the way you form your workout routines. 

To improve your strength and muscle mass you have to overload the muscle. In practice, this means that you have to increase the intensity or volume of your training. But what does volume even mean in this instance? 

Well, in strength training volume roughly means;

Weight

Repetitions

Sets

As a general rule of thumb, the bigger your training volume is the bigger your muscles will be. And, in order to increase the volume, you must increase the amount of weight, repetitions or sets – maybe even all of them depending on the effect you are after!

That is why pure strength training focuses on maximizing muscle contraction and motor unit recruitment through heavy resistance training. The more you have to lift, the more your muscles have to work. In practice, this means working at (or very close to) the maximum amount of weight you can possibly lift. Thus, increasing volume through heavier weights. This will eventually increase your overall strength and help you become a better athlete. And isn’t that your goal anyway?

Train specifically for your sport

It is important to remember that every movement you do has to focus on the muscles needed in your sport as well. Another thing to consider is also the alignment of your limbs during exercises. This is due to the fact that gym training doesn’t usually use the same angles and positions that you face in your sport. For example, basketball requires lots of vertical jumps but in a real-life setting, you normally wouldn’t have enough time for deep squats. That’s why you might prefer focusing on half squats instead of the deepest possible one.

No matter what kind of training you do or what fitness component you want to work on, remember to incorporate your whole body into your training routine. Your body works as a whole and it should be trained as one. That’s why we urge every athlete to plan and periodize their workouts to serve their specific needs. Exercises like bench press, deadlifts, cleans, clean and jerks, snatches and weighted pullups are a great way to improve the strength of the whole body. Of course, you can also isolate a specific muscle to have the desired effect on it, which is also the preferred method if you want to train for muscular hypertrophy. In the end, the quality of your training is the one that really shows the best results. 

However, especially in strength training, you must remember to warm up properly and have the right technique. Otherwise, you are putting yourself at risk of a debilitating injury. If you feel like you are not 100% sure about trying your one-repetition maximum or going up in weight, just focus on building a stronger foundation with less weight and more repetitions. Performing a variety of full-body exercises before heavy lifting can also keep your strength level in balance. This also prevents injuries in the long run. 

Strength training follows a pretty easy formula - if you want to lift heavier weights, you need to lift heavy weights.

Strength training requires mental preparation

It is often said that the last few repetitions are the most important in strength training. And if you are wondering why, it’s because that’s where you also experience the most micro-tears in the muscle. As your body repairs this damage your muscles get bigger and stronger – and isn’t that what strength training is all about!?

To gain the full benefit of strength training you must be fully prepared both mentally and physically. You have to be fully committed to fight through those final repetitions in order to maintain progress in your performance. The key to success is the quality of your exercise. So, rest enough between sets and be ready to give the next set your 100% concentration. 

Since you need to be both physically and mentally prepared, we don’t suggest strength training the first thing in the morning. Let your body be fully rested and ready for the challenge! 

”The last few repetitions are the most important in strength training”

Importance of rest when training for strength

Since strength training requires such an enormous amount of energy for a single movement, it can’t be produced aerobically, or with oxygen. Therefore, strength training mostly uses Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and Creatine phosphate (CP) inside the muscles as the main source of energy. These are a part of anaerobic energy production, which occurs without oxygen. They also produce lactate, which is the main cause of poor muscle recruitment and fatigue during performance. 

However, strength training uses only a few repetitions in each set which means that you won’t ”feel the burn” like in longer sets. Instead, you are tiring the muscles in about three repetitions or less. For this reason, strength training needs relatively long rest periods of 2-4 minutes. This is pretty much the amount of time your muscles need to replenish their energy storages fully. Taking a few minutes in between sets will also help you concentrate and get your mind back into the game before the next set. This, on the other hand, helps you put more effort into the next step for better results. 

"It may even take up to 72 hours to be fully rested and ready for the next big training session."

You have to also think about long-term recovery as well when training for strength. The more damage your muscles have suffered during strength training the more it takes to recover from it. Therefore, your muscles need more time to repair themselves after a huge workout. 

And while your energy storages may be full you can’t say the same about your nervous system. It may even take up to 72 hours to be fully rested and ready for the next big training session, not to mention the mental recovery which can take weeks. So, make sure that you give yourself enough time to be both physically and mentally prepared before the next big workout.

Note that strength training, especially muscular hypertrophy training, can be very straining for your muscles. Therefore you need to eat plenty of protein to maintain an anabolic state (growth & building up) for your muscles. 

Strength training allows you to signal more muscle fibers to produce a stronger contraction with better efficiency. Additionally, having more muscle mass for this contraction increases the amount of produced force significantly.

Physiological effects of strength training

Training for strength focuses on enhancing the neuromuscular connection between both fast and slow muscle fibers as well as increasing muscular hypertrophy (muscle size). In plain English, this means that you will be able to signal more motor units (muscle and its connecting nerves) to produce a stronger contraction with better efficiency. Additionally, having more muscle mass for this contraction increases the amount of produced force significantly. However, the physiological effects don’t end here. Strength training also has a positive effect on improved anaerobic energy production, lowered risk of injury and reduced delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, after a workout. 

Have you ever had a problem getting out of bed the next day after a good workout? Your body aches as you can barely lift a finger let alone going out to train some more. Yeah, we’ve all been there. 

The reason for this is that working out with really heavy resistance shocks the balance, or homeostasis, of the body causing small tears inside the muscle. This is not only normal during a workout but also a vital factor in strength training. You see, your body overcompensates this damage and makes the muscle even stronger than it was before. This is known as supercompensation and it makes your muscle fibers grow in size which results in a stronger contraction during physical performance. However, the actual amount of muscle fibers doesn’t increase.

Consistent strength training ensures that you keep getting stronger and free of injuries in the long run. What’s even better, strength training reduces the amount of soreness which lets you train harder, longer and more often.

Strength training improves muscular efficiency

Training for strength can also have a positive effect on your ability to tolerate lactate and resist fatigue. The mechanism behind this is that the stronger your muscles are, the less effort you need to produce a submaximal (below your maximum) movement.

”Strength training leads to better performance with less effort”

Additionally, training for strength can increase the amount of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), Creatine Phosphate (CP), free Creatine and Glycogen inside the muscles. These are the energy resources used in anaerobic energy production. Of course, as you train your strength and use these energy storages your body adapts to using them more efficiently. 

Pay special attention to injury prevention

Strength training has a strong link to injury prevention. The stronger your muscles are the more support they can give to your bones, joints and ligaments. With added strength, you’ll also experience reduced ground reaction forces you face in your sport. Therefore, keeping your joints aligned and in good posture throughout your performance. 

However, you should make sure that the strength and elasticity between agonist and antagonist muscles are balanced. If these factors are off, your risk of injury is significantly heightened. As you may already know, strength training can oftentimes create a stiffer muscle. To prevent this you need to utilize the whole range of the motion to keep your muscle from becoming stiff. The more elasticity your muscle has, the less likely you are to tearing the muscle if it stretches. So, make sure you incorporate stretching into your training routine to make sure you have a long and healthy career. However, never stretch immediately after heavy strength training to avoid injuries

Last but not least, you have to be fully warmed up when doing strength training. This not only activates the muscles for performance but also reduces friction inside them. Getting your sweat on before heavy lifting will make sure that you perform at the optimal level and not get injured in the process.

Strength training also has a positive effect on improved anaerobic energy production, lowered risk of injury and reduced delayed onset muscle soreness.

Suitability for developing athletes

Versatile exercise is extremely valuable for a growing athlete. It provides the basis for strength which paves the way for more sports-specific training methods. And, as you grow taller and heavier you have to take care that your body is strong enough to sustain itself against the wear-and-tear of rigorous training. You can’t just pick up heavy weights and expect great results without the risk of injuries. That is why every athlete must try to maintain a good level of strength at all times, especially in the core. So, do some endurance training and lighter strength exercises to build a solid foundation before moving on to more challenging tasks.

It is important to note that strength training can be very straining for your muscles, ligaments and joints which is why you should always seek professional guidance before you start training. This will help you periodize your training program as well as make sure your technique is in order. In the long run, you’ll experience fewer injuries and overuse injuries due to a well-balanced exercise routine. And as always, remember to warm up properly and give your body enough time rest to offset the damage that strength training has on your body.

We know resting can often sound counterintuitive to an athlete. But trust us – it works!

Strength training in physical education

Strength training is often regarded as unsafe for adolescents. However, there’s no real science to back up this claim. So no, it will not stunt your growth or cause injuries on your joints and muscles – if done properly. In fact, resistance training is perfectly safe and can improve both your strength and coordination.

However, we do not recommend going overboard with the amount of weight used. You must notice possible risk factors when working out and focus on the right technique. The teacher or coach should also know the basics of nutrition guidance and help the pupils create a balanced training program.

To further enhance safety during lessons, make sure that pupils’ core strength is good enough to maintain posture throughout the exercise. Often times it may even be smart to assist a growing athlete as they do their strength training. In practice, this sort of training only works with physically developed or highly athletic kids.

So, trying out your one-repetition maximums straight away is a big no-no. Just pick weights that you can lift around 12 times and make sure your joint alignments are in order. That way you can still gain the benefit of strength training without the fear of injuries.

Final thoughts

Strength is one of the most sought-after fitness components that an athlete can have. Not only does it improve your physical performance and anaerobic metabolism, but it also strengthens your bones, joints and ligaments. This means that you are able to withstand the forces against you during intense sports resulting in a significantly decreased risk of injury. So, there’s absolutely no reason to skip strength training sessions even if you are an endurance athlete.

With smart training, proper nutrition and rest you can make sure that you keep developing as an athlete. Balance these three factors and be ready to rise to the top of your field.

Did you learn anything about strength training? Let us know in the comments below!

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