8 ways to improve your strength workouts
It's no secret, that in order to build muscle and get stronger you need to lift weights and progress your training over time. A good strength training program can help you with this. However, if you feel like you've hit a plateau in your workouts here are 8 ways to improve your gym workouts. Scroll down to read: What is progressive overload; How to apply progressive overload; and 8 effective ways to improve your strength workouts and spice up your workouts ☺️
Why do I need to increase training volume? What is progressive overload?
To build muscle and get stronger we need to always challenge our muscles, so they have a reason to grow.
When you lift heavy weights to the point where you are struggling to complete the last couple reps in your set, you are essentially breaking down the muscle fibre (which is a good thing!). 24-72 hours after your workout, the muscle is then building itself back up so that next time it is able to lift that weight.
If you were to always train the exact same programme and lift the exact same weights in every single workout, your muscles would get used to this and not see a reason to grow.
Therefore, it's important to increase training volume every few weeks. This can be done by
Lifting heavier weights
Adding more reps
Adding an extra set
Increasing training volume is called "progressive overload" and is one of the key factors for building muscle.
Let's take an example:
In your training programme it might say to do 3 sets of 10 reps with 20kg. This feels heavy and you're struggling to complete the last couple sets. The day after your workout you feel quite sore.
You repeat this workout the following weeks, and notice yourself get less and less sore after your workouts. You can also now complete all 10 reps with no struggle. This is because your muscles have built themselves up to handle the load.
You now decide to increase your training volume by adding more weight, and lifting 30kg instead of 20kg. Now it feels like a struggle again and you feel sore again the day after. After a few weeks with this workout you decide to increase the training volume by adding an extra set. You are now doing 4 sets of 10 reps with 30kg.
8 Ways to Improve Your Strength Workouts in the Gym
Here are 8 incredibly effective ways to spice up your strength workouts at the gym and apply progressive overload, if you feel like you have hit a plateau in your progress.
#1 Complete regular strength tests
Sometimes we don't know how strong we are until we actually test it out properly. You might realise you are stronger than you think which will then prompt you to lift heavier and spice up your usual workouts.
Strength tests are great because they
Teach you what it feels like to push yourself to the limit
Teach you how strong you actually are, and we are often stronger than we think
Motivate you, because you can see an actual improvement from time to time.
I recommend doing a strength test every 8-10 weeks. If you're signed up for the trainn app you will get automatic reminders for when it's time to complete a strength test, or you can navigate to the explore tab to access all the different fitness tests available. If you're working with a personal trainer, he or she should remind you of this.
Example of strength tests:
Test how heavy you can lift of a certain exercise for e.g. 6 reps
Test how many reps you can complete of an exercise with a certain weight
Test how many reps on an exercise you can complete in 2 minutes (with or without breaks)
#2 Maintain a log or follow a training plan
Random workouts = random results.
Writing down your workouts and following a specific training plan will without a doubt make it easier for you to increase training volume over time. You have all your exercises, sets, reps and weight written down, so you can easily increase these over time. Keep note of your best lifts and constantly strive to improve those numbers
The benefit of following a structured workout is that you'll know exactly what you're doing for each workout so you avoid having to make it up on the spot or "do what I feel like in the moment" (which - don't get me wrong - is absolutely fine for some people).
#3 Increase reps or weight
Like mentioned above, progressive overload is key when it comes to continuously seeing results in your workouts. The aim is to increase reps or weight every few weeks. Pick a couple exercises where you test out a few more reps or
Let's take an example:
Last week you did 3 sets of 10 reps squats with 20kg.
Today you try 25kg for the first 2 sets and then you lower the weight back down to 20kg, but you can do more reps
You have now increased your training volume. Write this down, so you can try all 3 sets 25kg next week.
#4 Add resistance bands
If you have a more physique-based goal and you want to build your muscles, adding resistance bands will do you wonders! Why? Because it activates all of your small stabiliser muscles, and it ensures constant tension on the muscle (and therefore activation).
You can add a small resistance band around your leg for lower body exercises, or loop a long resistance band around dumbbells to create tension and make it harder to push/pull them. Trust me, you'll feel the burn after 😄
#5 Do your compound exercises first
Compound exercises are amazingly effective because they work the biggest muscles in your body and they work several muscle groups at once - compared to an isolating exercise that only works one muscle at a time. This means we are a lot stronger in compound exercises and they are also the exercises we see the most progress in.
Make sure to place your compound exercises in the beginning of your workout where you'll have more energy. Aim for your workouts to include 2-4 compound exercises.
Lower body compound exercises:
Squats, Deadlifts, Lunges, Split Squats
Upper body compound exercises:
Bench press, Pushups, Pull ups, Bent over row
#6 Do your weakest exercise first
It's no secret that we have the most amount of energy in the beginning of our workout. If you have an exercise you struggle to see progress in, try placing it in the beginning of all your workouts and notice the difference that makes.
#7 Swap dumbbells for barbells
Dumbbells are amazing because they require balance and stabilisation. They also ensure it's not always your strongest arm or leg doing all the work, but both are working equally.
Barbells, on the other hand, are amazing because it's easier to put more weight on the bar and therefore lift a greater load.
Almost all dumbbell exercises can be replaced with a barbell. Try making the swap and see if this means you can lift a bit heavier.
#8 Change your workout split
A workout split is how you divide up your workouts throughout the week by bodypart. The most optimal way to build muscle is to target each muscle group 2-3 times per week, so the workout split you do depends on how frequently you train.