Things your gym instructor may not tell you, but you should know
Most of us today realise that strength training is a critical part of staying healthy and fit. Be it lifting weights or using one’s own bodyweight or simply doing work that requires us to use our muscles, strength training helps us build and maintain muscle, keep fat gain in check, improve bone mineral density and build immunity. Here are simple ways of ensuring you continue to get stronger as the weeks, months, and years roll by.
Do less but do them well
Most fitness enthusiasts attempt to do too many things in their pursuit of strength and fat loss. While this keeps things interesting, it seldom leads to true strength or progress. Experienced athletes understand the importance of picking a few skills (exercises) and continuously working on them. This is why you see strong people focus on only a few moves but working on them consistently for years. The squat, deadlift, Kettlebell swing, push-up, overhead press, pull-up and row are the moves that provide the most benefit for any trainee. Do other fun-looking exercises too, but be sure to work on these moves consistently and spend most of your training time on these.
Stick to linear progression
While there are many variations, linear progression is the best there is when it comes to progress. This is simply about gradually increasing the load or volume in a particular exercise over a period of time. Let’s take the squat for example. While there are many different types of squats, you get stronger by sticking to one version and gradually working with a slightly higher weight week after week. If you are unable to increase the load, increasing the volume (number of reps per set) helps achieve the same goal.
Constantly improve skill
Every exercise is a skill, and the better you get at it, the more load and volume you can handle. And the more load and volume you can handle, the stronger you get. So to get stronger, treat every exercise as a skill, and work on doing it better every time you do it.
A lot of us think progress is a function of how hard we work. While that is true, how hard we work is a result of how well we rest. This is true for rest periods between sets and also for rest days between training sessions. The better our quality of rest, the stronger we are when we work. So make it a point to rest enough and rest well. This means not training too often, taking enough time off between workouts and, most importantly, doing enough stretching, foam rolling and other maintenance work between hard training sessions.
Nutrition is usually looked at only when we are looking to lose or gain weight. But nutrition is responsible for muscle recovery and growth too. So when you’re looking to get stronger, ensure that you are eating enough of the right foods. While the specifics change from person to person, the three main ingredients anyone needs to gain strength are protein, starch and vegetables. Fill three-fourth of your plate with any vegetable (except tubers, raw banana, corn) cooked in any way that doesn’t use much oil, and one-fourth with simple starches like steamed rice or plain roti.
Sleep is when growth happens. It is when the system (our body) resets and renews. Without sufficient sleep, the body is unable to function optimally and that affects everything from muscle activation and usage, digestion, production and utilisation of energy to mental clarity and focus. So when you are short on sleep, there is simply no way your body can work on building strength or muscle. If strength gain or fat loss, or any physiological improvement is a goal, make sure you sleep plenty.
Stay patient and consistent
Progress doesn’t happen overnight and not in leaps and bounds. It happens in tiny steps, and these tiny steps gradually add up to something bigger over a period of time. Patience and consistency are key when it comes to gaining strength. So don’t lose heart if you don’t see a rapid increase in strength levels with a few weeks or months of training. The important thing to keep in mind is that there always needs to be progress, irrespective of however small it may be. As long as that is the case, you can be rest assured that you are waking up stronger everyday.