Tag Archives: muscle strength

These Basic Exercises are Still the Best

8 Sep

Do you want to get stronger and more powerful?  Build more lean muscle mass?  Improve your muscular endurance?  Achieve a better level of overall fitness?

Regardless of your goal, strength training is the way to go, and some of the best exercises are the tried-and-true, old standards, like the SquatDeadliftRomanian DeadliftBench PressRowShoulder Press, and Pullup.

There are lots of exercise fads, gadgets, and gimmicks on the market, and a seemingly endless array of commercials and infomercials touting them as the “next best thing.”  And, while there is probably some merit to anything that gets people moving, you can’t do better than weight-bearing exercises that engage multiple joints and muscle groups using complex movements.

Squat

You can perform this exercise with dumbbells or a barbell, or using only your own body weight.  Single-leg squats are also an excellent, change-of-pace, variation.

Deadlift

Although this exercise is frequently performed with a barbell, we favor the trap bar.  It allows for safer execution, through better ergonomics, while not sacrificing any of the strength and muscle-building benefit.

Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

One of the best exercise for the muscles of your posterior chain — lower back, glutes, and hamstrings (We also really like the glute-ham raise).  Also try the single-leg RDL.

Bench Press

Perhaps the best upper-body strength and muscle-building exercise.  We also like the dumbbell bench press — done simultaneously, alternating, or iso (single-arm).

Row

The bent-over row, using dumbbells or a barbell, is a great “agonist-antagonist” (opposing muscle group) complement to the bench press.

Shoulder Press

The vertical version of the bench press, this exercise will also engage your core.  All the same variations apply.

Pullup

Wide grip, narrow grip, overhand, or underhand — this exercise will challenge you.  The lat pulldown exercise is a suitable variation if you’re not yet able to perform the pullup.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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6 Machines to Avoid at the Gym

21 Aug

Several months ago, I published a blog post titled, Switch from Machines to Free Weights, which espoused the benefits of free-weight exercises because of their ability to engage more muscle groups and improve core strength and stability.

Here’s a nice resource from Healthy Living6 Machines to Avoid at the Gym.  The article provides additional insight into this issue, offering alternatives to 6 commonly used machine exercises.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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3 Essential Steps to Build Muscle Strength and Size

18 Aug

Straight Bar Deadlift

The fastest way to build muscle strength and size is good old-fashioned strength training, done right. Over time, strength training challenges your muscles by breaking them down so they repair and recover bigger and stronger than before.

To be optimally effective, strength training must be combined with proper nutrition and rest. Although there are some strategies to accelerate the process, there are no shortcuts. You have to do the work and follow the plan.

Nutrition

Without proper nutrition, you will compromise any muscle strength and size gains you hope to achieve. Simply stated, your body needs the raw material that food provides for growth.

It’s essential to eat sufficient calories, as well as carbs and protein, 30 to 90 minutes before and after working out. For every pound you weigh, aim for 0.8 grams of lean protein per day; whole grain and high fiber carbs; and healthy fats, like those found in olive oil, nuts, and salmon.

Weight Lifting

You’ll need to work out three or four days per week to reach your goal. Here are some guidelines to get you on your way:

Favor compound movements over single-joint movements: compound exercises, like Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Presses and Inverted Rows, involve more than one joint and engage multiple muscle groups. Triceps Extensions and Biceps Curls are single-joint isolation exercises. Compound exercises require greater muscle activation, recruit larger muscle groups, and stimulate strength and size gains.

Lift heavy weights: if you want to build muscle fast, you need to push your body to use as many muscle fibers as possible during exercise. Lifting heavy weights allows you to challenge your muscles, which is the key to making strength and size gains.

For any given exercise, build strength and power by using a weight that you can lift no more than 4-6 repetitions per set; build muscle size by using a weight that you can lift 8-12 reps per set; and build muscle endurance by using a weight you can lift 15+ reps per set.  If you can perform more repetitions than that, the weight is too light and you will fail to make gains.

Try supersets: we emphasize supersets at Athletic Performance Training Center. By pairing push and pull exercises, you are able to work twice as many muscles in a time-efficient manner to help build overall muscle strength and size.

Rest

Several different rest factors must be considered in your training:

  • Get a good night’s sleep, seven to eight hours each night.
  • Do not rework a muscle group until it has the chance to recover for 48 hours.
  • Rest between sets to allow your muscles to recover so you get the most out of each set. As a general rule, the higher the intensity of your workout (the more weight you lift) the longer your rest interval should be.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Cardio is Good, but Strength Training is King

17 May

Here’s a great article from Men’s Health titled, ​15 Reasons Lifting Is Better Than Cardio.  Using a food analogy, the article compares strength training to the main course and cardio to a side dish.

  • Strength training is better for building and strengthening muscle, and also improves joint and connective tissue strength.
  • Strength training is better for boosting your metabolism, and the effect persists longer into the post-workout (rest) phase.
  • Strength training is better for improving mobility and range-of-motion.
  • Strength training is better for reducing the risk of injury.
  • Strength training will make you look better.
  • Strength training provides way more variety.
  • Strength training helps us reverse the effects of aging and increase longevity.

If you love your cardio, stick with it.  You don’t necessarily have to do strength training instead of cardio.

Identify your goals, develop an exercise/workout plan that’s consistent with those goals, and get in the weight room.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Vitamin D and Muscle Strength

17 Apr

Vitamin D is an essential, fat-soluble vitamin.  It is an important hormone with a wide range of functions.  Among the biological actions of vitamin D metabolites is regulation of protein synthesis.

In addition to getting vitamin D from food sources, the body also synthesizes it from sunlight exposure.

I live in northeast Ohio, where year-round sunlight is not as ample as some other parts of the country.  Vitamin D supplementation is often recommended for people living in the northern and midwestern states, especially during the non-summer months.

Now, there is evidence to support vitamin D3 supplementation in athletes (and active individuals) to improve muscle strength.

In the article, Effects of Vitamin D Supplementation on Muscle Strength in Athletes: A Systematic Review (Chiang, et.al.), published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, “vitamin D3 was shown to have a positive impact on muscle strength.”

“In 2 studies, strength outcome measures were significantly improved after supplementation.  In the studies administering vitamin D3, there were trends for improved muscle strength.  Specifically, improvements in strength ranged from 1.37 to 18.75%.”

“Trials lasted from 4 weeks to 6 months and dosages ranged from 600 to 5,000 International Units (IU) per day.  Vitamin D2 was found to be ineffective at impacting muscle strength in both studies wherein it was administered.”

Please also refer to related article: Increase Your Vitamin D Intake

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Improve Muscle Endurance with Battling Ropes

27 Mar

Want to try a new exercise, develop full-body strength and conditioning, and boost your muscle endurance?  Try the battling ropes.

The goal of this exercise is to generate velocity and, ultimately, power throughout the entire duration of the exercise.  Battling ropes workouts can improve lactic acid tolerance, which allows you to work harder and longer, over time.

To perform the battling ropes exercise, maintain an athletic stance, grab the end of a rope in each hand, and swing your arms, vertically and simultaneously (you can also alternate — as pictured — or swing laterally). Swing hard and swing fast.  Start with 3 sets of 10 seconds each, with 30 second rest intervals between sets, and work up to 30 second sets with 60 second rest intervals.

Check out this article and video from STACK Media.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Add Isometric Exercises to Your Training Regimen

27 Feb

squat-a-ex_0[1]Want to accelerate your strength and power gains — and add some variation — in the weight room?   Incorporate isometric exercises into your training regimen.

The term “isometric” actually comes from two Greek words meaning “equal measure.”  There are a number of ways to define the word isometric but, basically, an isometric exercise is one in which there is muscle contraction without movement (muscle length does not change during contraction).

Here are some examples of isometric exercises:

  • Holding a pushup in the “down” position for some pre-determined period of time (or, as long as possible)
  • Holding a squat in the “down” position
  • Holding a chinup/pullup in the “up” position

Isometric exercises may also involve a pause (shorter hold) between the eccentric and concentric (up and down, or push and pull) phases of the exercise.  You can increase the intensity level of isometric exercises by adding time to the “hold,” or adding weight to the exercise.

How can athletes benefit from isometric exercises?

Every athlete wants to be able to generate a lot of explosive force.  Isometric exercises, when added to a training regimen, have been shown to help athletes produce more power.

Isometric exercises can help athletes improve their ability to absorb impact and resist force.

Isometric exercises are useful in helping athletes build muscle and joint stability.

Because of the “mental toughness” required to hold an isometric exercise for as long as possible, athletes can learn to improve mental focus and overcome fatigue.

Beginners may benefit from isometric exercises when they are unable to perform an exercise (like a pushup or chinup) with technical correctness through a full range-of-motion.  The strength built, over time, by doing the isometric version of the exercise can improve their ability to perform the traditional exercise.

When performing isometric exercises, athletes should strive for perfect form and posture.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Power Up Your Workout

18 Jul

plyometric_483x350_1[1]Plyometric pushups (aka, military pushups) and squat jumps are great additions to any workout because of the way they target your fast-twitch muscle fibers, leading to gains in muscle strength and size.

To perform a plyometric pushup, push yourself away from the ground with enough force so that you raise your hands off the floor between repetitions.  Try substituting this exercise for regular pushups or, for more of a challenge, perform a set of plyometric pushups immediately after a set of regular pushups.  If you’re not quite ready for ground-based plyometric pushups, try doing them with your hands on a bench (and feet on the floor) to reduce your load.

To perform a squat jump, stand with your feet slightly apart and knees aligned over your toes. Bend from the hips to lower your rear until you are in a full squat, keeping your back straight. Keep your knees aligned; don’t let them fall open. Push down with your heels and explode up into the air. Don’t let your knees hyperextend; keep them slightly bent. Go right back into a full squat when you land and repeat.  Similarly to plyometric pushups, you can substitute this exercise for regular squats or increase the intensity by doing squat jumps immediately after regular squats.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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Don’t Warm-Up with a Stretch

4 May

static-stretching1[1]Most of us grew up being told that we should warm up for physical activity (exercise, sport practice or game) with a stretch.  Pre-activity stretching has been (and still is) a preferred strategy to help athletes get “loose,” strong, and avoid injury.

But the field of exercise science has generated a large body of research providing evidence that disputes that idea.  Instead, researchers have discovered that static stretching can reduce strength and power output, especially in the short-term, resulting in decreasing jumpers’ heights and sprinters’ speeds, without substantially reducing people’s chances of hurting themselves.  And two new studies add to a growing scientific consensus that pre-exercise stretching is generally unnecessary and likely counterproductive.

The impact of this information, especially for competitive athletes, is compelling.  Static stretching reduces strength in the stretched muscles, and the impact increases with the amount of time the stretch is held.  Stretched muscles are, in general, substantially less strong.

Stretched muscles are also less powerful, as measured by the muscle’s ability to produce force during contractions.  Muscle power generally decreases after stretching.

This information has broad implications for competitive athletes, given that static stretching is associated with a significant decrease in explosive muscular performance.  The impact of pre-activity stretching can impair a sprinter’s burst from the starting blocks; a tennis player’s serve; a weightlifter’s Olympic lift; or a basketball player’s attempt at a blocked shot.  Their performance, after warming up with stretching, is likely to be worse than if they hadn’t warmed up at all.

Although this information primarily applies to people participating in events that require strength and explosive power — more so than endurance — research also speaks of static stretching impairing performance in distance running and cycling.

Ultimately, a warm-up should improve performance, not worsen it.  A better choice is to warm-up dynamically, by moving the muscles that will be employed in your workout, practice, or game.  In other words, your warm-up should include movements that reflect the demands of your activity, whether that be physical training or sport participation.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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The Effect of Load on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy

28 Oct

Thumbnail_14[1]If you want to build muscle, both high-load (heavy weight) and low-load (light to moderate weight) training are effective.

However, if your goal is to build strength, high-load training is superior, according to a study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. (Schoenfeld, et.al.)

When major muscle group exercises were performed to failure, both high- and low-load exercises “elicited significant increases in muscle hypertrophy.”

But, when it comes to building strength, training with heavier loads (≥80% 1RM) is the way to go.  High-load training was (is) associated with maximal “strength adaptations.”

In the study, “upper body muscle endurance improved to a greater extent” with low-load training, as compared to lower-body muscle endurance.

Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!

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