How to Increase Your Strength by 25% in 12 Weeks
For us recreational enthusiasts, there are few things that provide more inspiration than the audible feats of strength that take place in our own gyms every day. The clanging of non-collared plates on a big set of squats. The seismic thud of a stacked set of dumbbells hitting the floor. The primitive, rep-beating grunt of fellow strength-seeking men. It’s this cacophony of iron that pushes us to push ourselves. We want to move more weight - lots more - and we’re ready to put in the work.
If that sounds familiar, this strength training workout routine, designed and gym-tested by our fitness director and senior science editor, is for you. It’s a 12-week, big-weight, balls-to-the-wall strength boot camp, with each four-week phase providing a different focus to keep the gains coming.
At the end, if you’ve adhered to your training and observed proper rest and nutrition, you’ll have boosted your three-rep max on all of your major lifts by roughly 25%. Now that’s something to yell about.
25% Stronger Split
Follow this split all three months of the program. Weight training is limited to three days a week, but if you push yourself as hard as possible during those workouts, trust us: You’ll need every minute of those four days to rest. Complete muscular recovery from these intense sessions is essential to your ultimate success on this plan.
Testing Your 3RM
Finding out how much weight you can move for three reps is key to this program. Here’s how to get the best results.
To know how far 12 weeks of hardcore training have taken you, you’ll need to know where you began. In “Week 0” - a single workout to be performed one full week before taking on the rest of the program - devote an entire gym session to finding your three-rep max on five multijoint lifts. Your performance will provide you with a fair assessment of your strength so you can accurately measure your gains at the end of the program (Week 13).
After a 5-10-minute full-body warm-up, head into two lighter, high-rep sets of your first exercise - in this case, the bench press. After those two specific warm-up sets, choose a weight you think you can handle for three reps. If you can complete four or more reps, add more weight and try a second set. Perform two sets of specific warm-ups before each exercise.
Month 1: Unilateral Strength Training
The first step to increasing your overall strength is getting strong one side at a time. This approach might seem unproductive, since working more muscle (not less) tends to produce the most marked results in strength and mass. But read on: Unilateral training is actually an excellent way to quickly boost strength.
Research confirms that training one limb at a time forces the recruitment of more muscle fibers and produces more force, since a limb working alone requires more effort to move a weight from point A to point B than when it’s working in concert with another limb. Consider the barbell curl: A lifter who can curl a 100-pound barbell for 10 reps can likely perform dumbbell curls with 55 or 60 pounds in each hand because of the resultant increase in muscle fiber recruitment. In addition, unilateral training tends to maximize the number of growth-prone fast-twitch fibers that are called into play.
But regular unilateral work provides yet another advantage for building strength: core training. In the one-arm overhead dumbbell press, for example, the imbalance in weight distribution causes your core to work overtime in an effort to stabilize your torso. And the stronger your core grows over time, the more effective - as well as injury-free - you’re likely to be on bigger lifts such as squats, deadlifts and bench presses.
When training one side at a time, there’s a natural tendency to use some body english to get through a few reps. That’s okay; a few calculated cheat reps through these four weeks will pay off down the road. Just be sure not to overuse this method.
Need more convincing? Unilateral training can also help expose and correct muscular weaknesses, because when you have an arm or a leg going solo, it doesn’t have the benefit of its opposing limb helping to balance the bar or press more than its share on a machine.
Month 2: Low- and High-Rep Training
It’s more than an adage, it’s a fact: If you want to get stronger, you have to train heavy. Specifically, weight loads that produce muscle failure at or less than seven reps are ideal for producing strength. But that doesn’t mean high-rep sets have no place in your routine.
Research shows that when adding a high-rep set to a traditional low-rep strength scheme, test subjects gained 5% more strength than when they performed only the heavier, low-rep work. While the reason behind this is unclear, researchers speculate that higher reps provided the stimulus based on the higher growth hormone (GH) levels associated with high-rep weight training.
So this month, in keeping with strength-building custom, heavy sets of just five reps on basic, meat-and-potatoes lifts will serve as the backbone of your routine. But a lighter set of 30 reps at the end of each exercise (abs excepted) will provide the additional GH spike needed to boost strength and help you build denser mass. Rest 2-3 minutes between sets, and skip the definitive set of 30 for the final act on abs, for which you’ll perform four straight sets of 20 reps. Make sure you choose a heavy enough weight on that last high-rep set to make the final 5-6 reps challenging and so you elicit the best muscular and hormonal response.
Month 3: Finishing Strong
The third and final phase of the “25% Stronger” program helps you max out your strength levels by gradually decreasing the volume of your workouts while increasing the amount of weight you move. You’ll begin the last phase at the top end of the strength range (seven reps). Each week, you’ll perform fewer sets and reps - five of five, four of four and finally the last week in which you perform three sets of three - so your body is fresh for the final tests in Week 13.
In the 12th week of the program, performing three sets of three on all exercises will provide a barometer with which you can measure your improvement. Then, in the 13th week, you’ll test your three-rep max (3RM) on five major strength lifts. If you performed the 3RM test before you began the program (see “Testing Your 3RM”), you should be looking at roughly a 25% improvement on all five lifts.
Where you go from here is up to you. With 25% more strength, you’re no doubt carrying more muscle. Maybe it’s time to step into a cutting cycle after a week or two off. Or, if you feel like this methodology set you on the path to even greater gains, you can always start the program over, perhaps aiming to add even more strength and size to your new physique.
In any case, that exclusive area of the dumbbell rack is calling your name. Time to dust off those bad boys and get to work.
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December 22, 2017 at 09:10AM
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