When physical development is at stake, you just cannot ignore strength as a fundamental physical property to develop. Especially if you are in the game of weight training, developing proper strength is essential towards optimizing progress in the long term. In this short article, we’ll give you insight on how to structure your workout plan for the goal of developing strength.
Understand Rep Ranges
One of the most important things to do before creating your workout plan, is to understand rep ranges. That is, understanding what the body does and how it is stimulated under different loads. In weight training, we generally have two types of rep ranges:
Powerlifting rep range (1-6 reps)
Bodybuilding rep range (6-15+ reps)
The powerlifting rep range is where you exert the most amount of force by activating the fastest muscle fibers. This is the rep range where you create stimulus for the development of maximum strength, as well as explosiveness. If you’re looking to gain strength as much as possible, THIS is the rep range you have to work at.
The bodybuilding rep range on the other hand, is still a zone of high-exertion, but it is not nearly as close to your maximum strength capabilities. This rep range creates a stimulus for the development of strength endurance, while maximum strength gains are a secondary adaptation. Chasing looks? This is the rep range to be at for the most part.
NOTE: It is always a good choice to combine both rep ranges, but have the balance in favor of the one that reflects your goal most (i.e if you want more strength than looks, do mostly 1-6 reps)
Choose The Right Exercises
When it comes to strength development, exercise choice is a crucial element of the process. This is because, well, some exercises are simply not suitable for high exertion, heavy loads and one rep maxes. Just think for a second, how stupid would it look to attempt a one-rep max on the vertical lat pulldown machine?
For the most part, you should resort to free-weight, compound exercises, whether you’re strength training in the 1-6 rep range, or bodybuilding in the 6-15 rep range. Those exercises are namely:
Bench presses (flat/incline/decline with dumbbells or barbells)
All of these movements engage multiple muscle groups all at once, which ultimately allows you to lift really heavy weights, thus creating the best stimulus for strength and muscular development.
Using the appropriate strength exercises, within the goal-appropriate rep range is crucial, but how much should you actually do? Training volume is basically the total amount of weight lifted in a given set, exercise or a workout and is measured using this formula: Weight * Sets * Reps = Volume (i.e 100 kg for 2 sets of 10 reps = 2000 kg volume).
Now, since we all have a different level of training and ability to adapt to new stimuli, there is no such thing as a concrete, optimal training volume. Instead, you should follow these general rules of thumb:
As a beginner, start off with ~5 challenging working sets, per muscle group, per week
After some time, go up to 15-20+ sets
By starting with a low number of total sets, you will get to know more about your threshold, recovery and adaptation capabilities. Through time, you will increase the total number of sets, as well as the weights used, leading to stimulus for more progress, over time. This is applicable for both rep ranges (1-6 reps & 6-15+ reps).
What About Rest Times?
If you’ve lifted heavy weights at some point of your life, you know how demanding it is to do that. By nature, high intensity (heavy weight) is strenuous for the central nervous system and the muscles. For this reason, taking proper rest between sets is crucial, if the goal is to maximize performance from set to set.
Generally, if you’re training in the 1-6 rep range, rest times may vary from 4 to 15 minutes, depending on the level of exertion - The higher the exertion, the longer the rest. Oppositely, if you’re in the bodybuilding rep range of 6-15 reps, about 3 minutes of rest in between sets will be sufficient.
As to rest in-between workouts, you should allow each muscle group to rest for 3 - 4 days before hitting it again with heavy weights.
Strength development is at the core of your overall physical development, as it places a solid foundation that improves your potential in the long run. If your goal is to develop maximum strength, utilize compound movements in the 1-5 rep range, with plenty of rest between sets.
On the other hand, if you want to gain some strength but more strength endurance and muscle mass, the 6-15 rep range is the ballpark. Ultimately, your best bet would be to combine both rep ranges and favor the one that resonates more with your goal. This will allow you to create a more functional, better overall physique.