The most widely used way to get stronger is to lift weights. Whether you use dumbbells, barbells or other exercise equipment, your weightlifting program should be designed with a planned progression of resistance, which forces the body to get stronger in order to adapt.
In the weight room, focus on functional, multi-joint movements that engage multiple muscle groups, like Lunges, Deadlifts and Push Presses. Choose free weights over machines, since they allow for a fuller range of motion and activate smaller, stabilizing muscles for balance and control. Leave the Bicep Curls and Leg Extensions for your friends who don’t play sports. Such isolation exercises create bulky, slow muscles and decrease range of motion. Complex movements performed with free weights build the most and best muscle. Period.
Begin your weightlifting program with controlled exercises using light weight and high reps. Then, progress to more advanced, explosive exercises, like Olympic lifts—e.g., Hang Cleans, Power Cleans and Snatches—to improve your power, jumping ability, speed and overall athleticism.
Athletes training to get stronger should perform Olympic lifts, which improve explosive strength, power and jumping ability. The Clean, Jerk and Snatch all consist of an athlete explosively accelerating a weighted bar upward by extending their hips, knees and ankles simultaneously through an action known as triple extension. Think about how often athletes have to explosively run, jump and change directions. Those are high-force power-movements, and the best way to become powerful is by simulating these movements with added resistance. Olympic lifts do that, as well as make the core more stable and improve balance.
These multi-joint movements where the athlete works for full triple extension of the ankles, knees and hips transfers force from the lower-body through the hips to the upper-body. The more force you can generate, the higher you can jump, faster you can run and more explosive you can be during games.
Athletes that train fast movements will more often recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers, resulting in a more powerful athlete. Begin with controlled lifts first and then progress to Olympic lifts once you have mastered the proper technique.
Clean and Jerk to Lunge
Single-Arm Dumbbell Snatch
How to Perform Olympic Lifts Pt. 1: The Hang Clean
How to Perform Olympic Lifts Pt. 2: The Power Clean
How to Perform Olympic Lifts Pt. 3: Clean More Weight
Athletes should perform regular strength workouts that challenge their whole body through complex, multi-joint exercises that force the muscles of the upper body, lower body and core to contract against resistance, like barbells, dumbbells or the athlete’s bodyweight.
Strength workouts are typically designed in a progression that results in significant gains in muscle size, strength and power. The three progression phases—hypertrophy [increasing muscle size], strength and power [speed of strength]—include specific sets, reps, weight loads and rest time to challenge muscles in different ways to reach the desired result.
In general, it’s best to perform full-body explosive lifts—such as Olympic Lifts—at the beginning of a workout because that’s when you’re freshest. Afterwards, athletes should focus on a variety of functional, multi-joint exercises, like Squats, Plyo Push-Ups, and Romanian Deadlifts. Isolation exercises—such as Forearm Curls or Leg Extensions—can be performed at the end of a strength workout, but should not be the focus of a strength training program.
Strength workouts should be performed three to four times each week, with about 48 hours of recovery between workouts that target the same muscle group. Athletes often alternate upper and lower body, or pushing and pulling workouts to optimize strength gains and recovery benefits. Perform multiple exercises for each muscle group to continuously challenge the body and limit workouts to no more than 90 minutes.