High school. Weightlifting class. The big question is always “what’s your max?” It’s a very simple question, and pretty much all that matters to a fresh, 16-year-old beginner powerlifter or bodybuilder. Every training session is about more weight on the bar. Maxes on the big 3 (squat, bench and deadlift) are on the wall, and getting stronger and bigger is on your mind 24/7.
This kind of focus from a teenager is admirable. Admirable, but mistaken.
The mistake is that after high school, too many of us still focus on putting more weight on the bar as the exclusive goal to get stronger. And while actually adding more weight to the bar is confirmation of your absolute strength, the goal isn’t necessarily the path. Depending on a single method for strength training is an invitation to frustration, possible injuries, and slower progress.
Though there are more than a few methods to “move more metal,” I’m going to hook you up with 3 of the easiest to start using today.
Learn To Lift Better
Let’s be honest; most of us have terrible lifting technique. We want more out of each set, but each set looks worse than the last. This practice of “put it up however I have to” will bring your progress to a screeching halt…usually in the form of a ripping/tearing/snapping sound.
Back in my competitive lifting days, I learned that little tweaks here and there made a huge impact on my progress. I dug into learning more about the mechanics of each lift. I read articles from high level powerlifters, and contacted some of them directly to learn the “good stuff” about execution at each stage of the lifts. By combining the information I gleaned from these titans with my knowledge of human movement, I saw my strength levels increase faster than I ever had before.
Poor technique is a top progress killer. You absolutely have to get better at the execution of your lifts if you want to get and stay strong.
Strengthen Supporting Muscles
After you begin to take a good, hard look at your lifting technique, let’s talk about what’s going on under that bar. A lift is only as good as the muscles you’re using. If you want a bigger bench, strengthen your triceps, anterior delts, and mid traps. If you want a bigger deadlift, strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, low back, mid/upper traps, and grip. Each stage of heavy compound lifts like the bench, squat, or deadlift uses certain muscles more at different stages in the lift.
Preparing for my first ever powerlifting meet, I found out that because of my longer arms, my bench press was going to be a non-cooperative, slow-to-improve jerk. Squat? Check. Deadlift? Check. Bench press? Turtle-like progress. I noticed that my problem was on lockout, the end of the lift. I could get the heavy weight off my chest, but about halfway through, I ran out of strength, and struggled to finish. The solution? I began a steady diet of close grip pushups and cable pushdowns to strengthen my triceps for a few weeks. Lo and behold, my bench press numbers began moving up faster, and that sticking point became a less frequent visitor.
Once you understand the lift, train the supporting muscles to increase your proficiency in it.
Add More Sets and Reps Before You Add More Weight
With many of my personal training clients, they may not see an increase in weights for 2-3, sometimes even 4 weeks. For a few sessions after a weight increase, we’ll focus on using the new weight more, and staying under the weight longer. Adding more sets and reps will support the previous 2 methods by increasing your overall work volume per session.
Here’s how I typically do it for a general client looking to get progressively stronger:
Week one: 2 sets, 8-10 reps
Week two: 2 sets, 10-12 reps
Week three: 3 sets, 10-12 reps
Week four, add weight, 2 sets, 8-10 reps
Simple, right? Using this method, you’ll see progress weekly, and hit the dreaded training plateau far less frequently than trying to lift more and more each and every week. Training in a manner similar to this teaches your body to use the weight more efficiently, and allows you to both get better at the mechanics of the lift and better understand where your weakness are.
Let’s take this home and put it to bed. The goal isn’t always the path. There are a lot of ways to lift more without always lifting heavier and heavier weights. Start using one, or better yet all of the methods you have here immediately, and watch your strength steadily increase without pounding your joints into oblivion under piles and piles of weight.
Good luck, and happy lifting!
About Chad Smith
Fitness Expert Chad Smith is an award-winning Personal Trainer, former competitive bodybuilder, powerlifter, professional wrestler, and Co-Owner of Fitness Revolution Hagerstown. He has trained over 25,000 sessions over the course of his 20+ years in the business of fitness. You can follow his blog or contact him directly.