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The key to gaining strength is performing exercises with resistance. These can be bodyweight exercises—such as Push-Ups or Pull-Ups—or exercises performed with weights—such as Bicep Curls, Med Ball Tosses or the Bench Press. This type of training challenges your muscles, causing the fibers to produce more powerful contractions.
For an athlete, improving strength with resistance training takes tremendous effort in the weight room. But such effort can produce even greater results with proper weight training techniques and methods. Follow these three guidelines to take your strength training to the next level.
Follow a Plan
To be successful, follow a training plan and adhere diligently to its prescribed sets, reps and rest. For building strength, experts recommend this model:
- Load: 80 - 90 percent of one rep max
- Sets: 3 - 5
- Reps: 4 - 8
- Rest: 2 – 3 minutes
A common misconception is that spending more time in the weight room speeds progress. Excessively long workouts can actually impede progress, due to the release of cortisol, a hormone that inhibits muscle growth. Research suggests that as you reach your training threshold, cortisol increases and testosterone (the key hormone for muscle development) decreases. Your body is protecting its stored energy from overuse, and your training efforts are subverted by accelerating muscle breakdown. By strictly following a plan, and resisting the temptation to add exercises on a whim, you reduce the chance that your body will sabotage desired muscle development.
Frequency and Consistency
Without consistent use, a muscle gradually loses its size, power and ability to fire. In fact, muscles begin to lose these crucial attributes within 48 to 72 hours, depending on the level of inactivity. Thus, to make strength gains, you need to exercise on a regular basis. However, working the same muscles day after day reduces their ability to rebuild and recover. The optimal amount of exercise and rest, according to leading experts, is training three to four times per week, with 36 to 48 hours of rest before reworking a muscle group.
Training at the same time and day of the week helps ensure dependable performance from your body during training sessions, which is essential for progress. Create—and follow—a schedule. Stick to your program and don’t miss a workout.
Performing the same exercises week after week fails to continually challenge your body. Your muscles and nervous system gradually get used to the movements and workload, which limits both strength development and the brain’s ability to fully activate each muscle.
To avoid these pitfalls, athletes should vary their routines by performing alternate exercises that target the same muscle groups from different positions, with different loads and through different movements patterns. Placing muscles at various angles and activating them from different joints strengthens fibers that may have been idle during other exercises. Also, a major component of your strength—your brain-to-muscle connection—is enhanced, because your nervous system adapts to the different power requirements of the alternate exercises.
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