In fitness, muscular strength is defined as the muscle’s ability to produce maximal contractile force against a resistance in a single contraction. You might have also heard this concept summarized as a person’s “one-repetition maximum” (1RM). Probably the most well-known muscular strength competition is powerlifting. But building muscular strength can benefit just about anyone wanting to increase strength, enhance power, and get results by adding variation to their workout programs. It can also be a great segue into high-intensity power exercises like plyometrics.
The following program is designed to increase muscular strength and prepare the body for a high-intensity power phase. Most fitness levels can safely perform this program, but you should do this program only after completing other resistance and cardiorespiratory training phases. This program consists of two weightlifting days, 3-4 cardio days (including an interval day), and 1-2 active recovery days.
- Adequately warm up all muscle groups by performing a dynamic warm up similar to the one below. Additionally, always perform one warm up set of each weightlifting exercise of 10-15 reps at about 50% maximum capacity.
- Tempo for each exercise should be moderate and controlled with a slight increase in speed on the concentric (muscle shortening) action and a slight decrease on the eccentric (muscle lengthening) contraction. For example, when doing a chest press, use a slightly higher speed to push the weight away from your chest and a slightly slower speed to lower it back down.
- Use proper breathing – exhale deeply on the concentric action and inhale deeply on the eccentric action. Never hold your breath.
- Never sacrifice proper form and technique for increased weight!
- Rest 45-60 seconds between your warm up set and the next set. Rest 2 minutes between sets of the same exercise.
- It’s good practice to stretch after each workout.
Progressing your workout
Most exercises consist of 3-6 reps at weight heavy enough to fatigue the muscles. Start by working up to 6 reps. Once you reach 6 reps, drop down to 3 or 4 reps and increase the weight. Work back up to 6 reps, then increase the weight again. And so forth.
For cardio interval training, first work up to 4-5 two-minute high-intensity intervals followed by 3 minutes of active recovery (1:1.5 work:rest ratio). Then drop down to 3 three-minute intervals followed by 4 minutes of rest. Work up to 4-5 three-minute intervals followed by 3 minutes of rest. Always adequately warm up and cool down. For cardio, increasing intensity typically means increasing speed. But if using equipment like an elliptical or bike, it could also mean increasing resistance. For a treadmill, it could mean increasing speed or increasing the incline.
Before getting into the workouts, it’s vital that you have a spotter if working with a barbell. If you do not have a spotter, either lower the weight and do 8-12 reps OR use a smith or other machine. If using a smith machine, be sure to place the risers at a height that will allow you to safely perform the exercise.
Dynamic Warm Up
2-3 sets of:
- Birddog, 8-10 reps each side
- Forearm plank, 30-45 sec.
- Side plank, 20-30 sec.
- Bent knee reverse crunch, 10-12 reps
- Prone arm lifts with arms straight in front and straight to side, 10-12 reps
Be sure to perform 1 warm up set of each exercise at about 50% maximum capacity for 10-15 reps.
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