top of page

How to Supercharge Your Strength Workouts


Have you hit a training plateau, or are you just starting your fitness journey? What you do before, during, and after your strength training sessions can make or break your fitness goals. Check out the tips below on how to supercharge your workouts, make the most out of your gym experience, break through those plateaus, and achieve the fitter, stronger version of yourself you've been working towards!


PRE-WORKOUT FUEL

What and how much you eat before exercise depends on the type, duration, and intensity of the activity you are going to do. It is important to consume adequate amounts of carbohydrate before exercise because our body stores of carbohydrates, better known as glycogen stores, are limited and when they are depleted, fatigue sets in.
When we eat carbohydrates our body breaks them down into glucose which enters our bloodstream and travels to our muscles and liver to be used for immediate energy or stored as glycogen for later use. Glucose is the only fuel that can be used by our muscles during intense exercise and is an important fuel source during moderate intensity exercise, so consuming adequate carbohydrates prior to certain workouts is key!
Having optimal glycogen stores could enhance performance during a strength training session focusing on hypertrophy and/or strength endurance (1, 2).
For sessions >50 min, >10sets, and 50-75% 1RM intensity, then pre-exercise carbohydrate could either be in the form of a high carbohydrate meal 2-3 hours before the session or as a snack of 1g/kg around an hour beforehand (3).


WARM-UP

Warm-ups can often be neglected or skipped when you are short on time, but a proper warm-up before your strength training workout can be essential to hitting those next PRs!
No specific warm-up routine is most beneficial, but it has been shown that a warm-up is better for performance during a training session than no warm-up. A warm-up that focuses on increasing core temperature, muscle temperature and promotes the contractile activity of the specific muscles to be used during the workout could be beneficial for strength training workouts.
When you think of a warm-up, that’s it, warming your body up for physical activity. It has been shown that when muscle temperature increases, there is an increase in performance, offering enhancements in velocity, power output, work rate, contraction rate, and greater energy utilization in muscle fibers (4). Low-intensity (40-50% VO2 max) aerobic exercise in the form of walking, cycling, or jogging for 5-10 minutes can help to elevate body temperature without tiring you out before your workout.

During the warm-up, focusing on working (contracting) the same muscles to be used during the strength workout can be beneficial to post-activation potentiation, increasing performance during strength training sessions. Post-activation potentiation (PAP) is when muscular force is enhanced for an exercise because the exercise followed activation exercises that increased contractile activity (4). For example, if you are warming up for a squat, performing jump squats or lightweight squats will lead to increased contractile activity of the quads, hamstrings, and glutes during the heavy squat leading to an increase in the force of the contraction resulting in more power during your lift. These warm-up exercises should be low in intensity because they could cause fatigue or increase muscle damage if too high in intensity (4). PAP can be enhanced with high weight and low reps (3-5 reps) or low weight and high velocity (speed) reps (8-10 reps) (5).

A vital factor to consider in your warm-up effort is your transition phase. The transition phase refers to the period after finishing the warm-up to when you begin your strength training sets. If the period is too short (<5 minutes), it could impair your body’s ability to recover from the warm-up leading to decreased performance with your workout (4). If the period is too long (> 9 minutes), it could increase your time to exhaustion, also impairing performance (4). Keeping your transition period between 5-8 minutes could be helpful to still obtain the benefits of your warm-up.

Warm-Up Routine Recommendation:

1. General warm-up: low-intensity (RPE 2-3) aerobic exercise for 5-10 minutes.

2. Specific warm-up: For specific exercises choose either a) or b):

a. 8-10 reps (60% 1RM load) x 1 set

b. 3-5 reps (80-90% of 1RM load) x 1 set or 3-5 reps of an explosive movement x 1 set

3. Keep transition time between 5-8 minutes

HAVE A PLAN

If you go to the gym intending to get toned, build strength, or grow your glutes. But spend most of your time texting on your phone while sitting on the leg press; you will most likely not achieve the fitness goals you are looking for. You need to approach the gym with a plan. Suppose you are a beginner lifter wanting to break into the gym world or a gym veteran plateauing on your progress. Both want muscular improvement exceeding general health and fitness, so you need to focus on progression (5).
Progression in strength training can be viewed as working towards a specific fitness goal (6). Going to the gym and doing the same reps and sets for the same exercises will not get you closer to your goals. You must implement strategies that continue to challenge your body so that it adapts and gets stronger. There are 3 main progression principles: progressive overload, specificity, and periodization. When properly manipulated can promote muscular development and adaptation.

Progressive Overload

Strength training is a form of stress placed on the body; your body adapts to this stress by getting stronger, faster, or fitter; thus, it is essential to include it in your strength training routine to see results. Progressive overload is the gradual increase of this stress over time (5). An example of progressive overload is if Joe goes to the gym and does a squat at 200lbs for the first week, then returns on the second week and squats 210lbs, he is increasing the amount of stress placed on his body = progressive overload. There are multiple ways you can implement progressive overload into your gym routine by manipulating certain training variables in your training program.

Here are some examples starting with beginner to more advanced methods:
o Improving form
o Increasing range of motion
o Increasing reps
o Increasing weight
o Increasing intensity
o Decreasing rest intervals

The progressive overload approach will be different for novice gym goers versus veteran gym athletes. For beginners, full range of motion without compensation (i.e., knees can go to 90 degrees for lunges without pain, or you can lift arms straight overhead without shrugging) and proper form must be achieved before incorporating weight into an exercise. If you can do 20 reps of an exercise for 3 sets, with proper form and full range of motion, you can start incorporating light weight. Manipulating variables can lead to better muscular development because it can help with decreasing training plateaus (5).


Specificity

Specificity means that the adaptations you gain from strength training are specific to the type of training you perform (muscles involved, range of motion, volume, and intensity of training). Your training routine should closely resemble the activity you want to improve, what muscle fibers are involved, what muscle groups are utilized, and what energy systems are worked. Therefore it is essential to set specific training goals so that your training regimen will lead to the training adaptations you would like to see.


Periodization

So this last one is SUPER important for preventing training plateaus, promoting progress, and preventing boredom with training. Periodization is the process of manipulating specific training variables over time to keep challenging the body (6). Don’t confuse this with progressive overload; periodization is the overall plan/structure, whereas progressive overload is a component of the plan; think of periodization as “periods” where you focus on manipulating one or more training variables. One period could be focused on increasing sets of squats, the next could be focused on increasing sets of deadlifts, etc. It is a systematic process where periods of time (blocks) in the plan focus on promoting different training adaptations that contribute to the overall training goal (6). The most seen strategies and easiest to alter and monitor are volume (sets, reps) or intensity (weight). However, as mentioned above, there are various other training variables you can work with.


Periodization Monthly Plan

One of the best periodization methods I have seen is from Bret Contreras, Ph.D. He recommends an annual block periodization approach, with a different lift focus every 4-weeks (blocks). This means 2 of the 10 main compound lifts (ex: squats, bench press) are the monthly focus for manipulating training variables to promote adaptations, while the rest of the lifts (hip thrust, deadlift, lunge, military press, dip, chin-up, barbell row, incline press) you focus on strength maintenance, not trying to increase strength in these other lifts (7,8).

Contreras recommends something like this:

o Month 1: General Strength (prioritizing 2 different lifts each day)

o Month 2: Squat and Chin-Up Focus

o Month 3: Hip Thurst and Bench Press Focus

o Month 4: Deadlift and Military Press Focus

o Month 5: Single-Leg and Dumbbell Focus (8)

Sets and Reps

When shifting focus to enhance strength for certain lifts for the month, a straightforward approach can be to increase the volume of these lifts by increasing the number of sets you are doing each week. Hypertrophy (muscle growth) has been shown to have a dose-response relationship to sets per week for a muscle group, meaning the higher the number of sets, the higher increase in hypertrophy gains (7). A systematic review and meta-analyses were done to examine current literature on the relationship between sets per week and increases in muscle mass and found that high volume (10-12 sets/week) were better in producing muscle growth compared to low volume(</= 4 sets/week) (7). However, an upper limit on the number of sets to perform per week for hypertrophy has yet to be established. Exercise caution because too much volume could impair recovery, impair adaptation and potentially lead to overtraining syndrome. So if you were focusing on strengthening your squat and chin-up, you would perform 10-12 sets/week of these lifts and then 4 sets/week for the other lifts (strength maintenance).
For novice individuals, learning form is of utmost importance, so incorporating weight is not of priority at first. The ACSM recommends for beginners and intermediates, a load of (70–85% of 1RM) for 8–12 repetitions per set should encompass workouts (6). For advanced training, a load of 70-100% of 1RM for 1-12 reps per set, with most sets staying in the 6-12 range (6).


EAT ENOUGH PROTEIN

During resistance training, small amounts of muscle tissue damage occur (but don’t worry, this process is necessary for rebuilding and getting stronger). Consumption of protein after resistance training can assist with the repair and remodeling of the tissue (9). Stimulation of muscle protein growth increases post-exercise; however, growth will only occur if adequate protein is consumed (10). So, consuming protein post-exercise is essential for strength athletes because it can repair damaged tissue and increase muscle mass.
It is essential to consume 20-40g of protein within 2 hours following a resistance training session to maximize muscle protein synthesis rates and limit muscle protein breakdown (9). Protein is constantly turned over in our body, which means it is continuously broken down (muscle protein breakdown) and built back up (muscle protein synthesis). Increases in muscle mass or lean body mass occur when muscle protein synthesis is higher than muscle protein breakdown. This can occur by getting enough protein after your workout.

Additionally, if you want to improve your body composition by decreasing fat and increasing muscle, getting enough daily protein in your diet is essential because it can maintain lean body mass or even increase it during calorie deprivation (11). The current recommendation for daily protein intake is 1.2 to 2.0g/kg, with increased needs for strength training, endurance workouts, intense workouts, or decreased calorie intake (11).
Our body tries to stay in protein balance with the constant breakdown and synthesis, so if it is not getting enough protein (through our diet), it will break down the muscle fibers in our bodies to maintain balance. This can impact body re-composition attempts by decreasing muscle growth, and decreasing fat mass losses, putting your progress at a standstill. Consuming a daily amount of protein on the higher end of the recommended range of 1.5g/kg – 1.7g/kg can help to prevent protein breakdown in the body.





References:

1. Knuiman P, Hopman MT, Mensink M. Glycogen availability and skeletal muscle adaptations with endurance and resistance exercise. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2015;12:59. doi:10.1186/s12986-015-0055-9

2. Lambert CP, Flynn MG, Boone JB, Michaud TJ, Rodriguez-Zayas J. Effects of carbohydrate feeding on multiple-bout resistance exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 1991; 5(4): 192-197. doi: 10.1519/00124278-19911100000004

3. McGowan, C.J., Pyne, D.B., Thompson, K.G. et al. Warm-Up Strategies for Sport and Exercise: Mechanisms and Applications. Sports Med. 2015; 45:1523–1546. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-015-0376-x

4. Designing time-efficient training programs for strength and hypertrophy. Sports Medicine. 2021; 51:2079–2095. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-021-01490-1

5. Grgic, J., Schoenfeld, B.J., Davies, T.B. et al. Effect of Resistance Training Frequency on Gains in Muscular Strength: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2018; 48, 1207–1220. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-018-0872-x

6. American College of Sports Medicine. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 Mar;41(3):687-708. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181915670.

7. Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Sports Sciences. 2017; 35:11, 1073-1082. DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2016.1210197

8. Contreras B, Cordoza G. Glute Lab: The Art and Science of Strength and Physique Training. Victory Belt Publishing: 2019

9. Damas, F., Libardi, C.A. & Ugrinowitsch, C. The development of skeletal muscle hypertrophy through resistance training: the role of muscle damage and muscle protein synthesis. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2018; 118, 485–500. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-017-3792-9

10. Hughes DC, Ellefsen S, Baar K. Adaptations to Endurance and Strength Training. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2018; 8(6): a029769. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a029769

11. Arent, Shawn M, Cintineo, Harry P, McFadden, Bridget A, Chandler, Alexa J, & Arent, Michelle A. Nutrient Timing: A Garage Door of Opportunity? Nutrients. 2020; 12(7), 1948–19. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12071948

12. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research. 2016; 77(1): 54. doi: 10.3148/cjdpr-2015-047


10 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

The Power of Positivity When You Talk About Your Food

There are so many of us out there that are searching for true, authentic and lasting success when it comes to our food. Our body. Our Health. And there are so many people out there that we see on soci

bottom of page