Developing maximal strength adaptations is beneficial for everyone from elite athletes to the elderly and everyone in between.
Because strength is key for most of the population, human performance researchers and sports scientists have teamed up over the past few decades in order to determine how to maximize progress with the latest scientific training protocols.
Essentially these researchers have been looking for the safest and most effective way to manipulate certain variables of training such as load, intensity, volume frequency and exercise selection.
Within this article I will provide you with four of the most recent breakthroughs in human performance research to help YOU build maximal strength in the shortest possible time!
From increasing your squat to help your legs and glutes grow, to improving sports performance, the methods in this article will give you the background and knowledge you need to maximize your current workouts.
Here are 4 scientifically backed tips to help you build strength.
Background: Principles of Strength Training
Before we dive in, it’s important for me to give you a quick review of the basic principles of strength training.
While the latest training technique with bands or chains may seem sexy, like everything, the main principles of strength training that were discovered years ago that are still key today.
For example, here are some of the key and fundamental principles of strength training you must master and focus on:
- Load/weight on the bar,
- Number of sets,
- Changes in exercise selection,
- Rest period length,
- Careful manipulation of volume (sets x reps),
- Intensity … these must all be accounted for (1).
Essentially, in order to continually force your body to adapt to strength training, you have to train with sufficient loads that are going to challenge your musculoskeletal system.
Recent research suggests that for untrained individuals to maximize strength training adaptations they need to train with at least 60% 1RM, 3 days per week, 4 sets per muscle group.
However, for trained athletes, a mean training intensity of 85% 1RM, 2 days per week, 8 sets per muscle group has been shown to enhance muscular strength (2).
In short, you need to lift heavy, several times per week, progress the weights, stay consistent and eat well
Now we’ve covered the basics, you’re ready to take your strength training to the next level with these four tips!
1. Linear Periodization To Maximize Strength Gains
Periodization refers to the systematic (orderly) variation of key training variables.
There have been several different periodization models that have been shown to provide favorable strength adaptations (3).
The first model of periodization to gain traction was Linear or Traditional periodization. This consists of several training blocks starting at high volumes with low intensities and gradually progressing to periods of high intensity and low training volumes (4).
In less technical terms, you would start with lots of sets but less weight then switch to higher weight with less sets.
While this has been effective for many, linear periodization can be slightly boring within a training regimen due to infrequent variations or changes in exercises etc. Also, linear periodization may increase the athlete’s risk of overreaching as they repeat the same exercises etc. (5).
2. Non-linear or Daily Undulating Periodization To Maximize Strength Gains
Recent research has brought to light a new model of periodization referred to as nonlinear or daily undulating, in which volume and intensity are varied on a daily basis (rather than every 1-2 months like above).
For example, in a linear approach you may do 6 weeks of hypertrophy training, 4 weeks of strength training, followed by 3 weeks of power training. However, in a NON-linear or Daily Undulating Periodization approach you may perform a hypertrophy, power and strength workout all in one week!
This model of periodization seems to provide athletes with more frequent variations in volume and intensity and may reduce boredom, injury risk and actually result in improved maximal strength training adaptations as the body is provided with new and unique stimuli multiple times in one week.
In fact, one group of researchers directly compared traditional periodization to non-linear on maximal strength training adaptations.
27 strength trained men were split into three groups non-periodized, linear-periodized, and non-linear and each followed their respective training regimen for 12 weeks.
At the conclusion of training effect sizes revealed that non-linear periodization resulted in improved maximal strength training adaptations on the leg press and bench press
(4.6KG & 2.9KG VS 1.1KG & 0.6KG) respectively (6).
These results have been replicated on various occasions; another group of researchers ran a similar investigation and demonstrated average strength gains on the bench press and leg press to be 14.4% and 30.1% greater following a non-linear model (7)!
How to Apply Non-Linear Periodization to Maximize Strength
The benefits of a non-linear approach are that it provides the athlete or lifter more flexibility in organizing their workouts. If your goal is maximal strength on the “big three lifts”, an example routine following a non-linear approach is listed below.
Monday: Squat, Bench Press, Dead Lift – Hypertrophy
Wednesday: Squat, Bench Press, Dead Lift – Power
Friday: Squat, Bench Press, Dead Lift – Strength
3. Applying Resistance Bands to Maximize Strength Gains
Once you have your weekly routine planned out, another way you can maximize strength gains is by adding variable resistance training techniques such as elastic bands.
Elastic resistance bands have previously been shown to improve both strength and power adaptations in highly trained athletes.
In theory, overloading the eccentric portion (lowering) of a lift with added resistance from the bands may force the neuromuscular system to recruit more type two fibers, increasing maximal strength gains (8).
One study particularly applied resistance bands to a non-linear strength training plan. These researchers took 14 college athletes and split them into two conditions.
The control group followed the same workouts without resistance bands. However, the banded group added 30% of their 1RM in band tension on the back squat and bench press exercises on their power days.
After 5 weeks of training the resistance bands group demonstrated greater improvements in rate of power development, back squat 1RM and bench press 1RM (9)!
You can order these bands from stores such as EliteFTS or MyProtein.
4. Creatine Monohydrate to Maximize Strength Gains
Once you’ve effectively applied the basics including overload, progression, non-linear periodization and variable resistance training you’re ready for the final piece of the puzzle, creatine monohydrate!
Creatine is arguably the most effective and widely used sports supplement and rightly so.
Creatine works by increasing the amount of readily available ATP energy in the muscle. ATP is the energy system that fuels high power/strength activities, helping our muscles contract and produce force. It’s basically like the gasoline to your car, it provides all our cells with energy to function.
One group of researchers examined the effects of creatine supplementation on strength and strength endurance in highly trained power lifters.
At the conclusion of training, strength gains on the bench press increased by 20lbs in the creatine group compared to only 5.6 in placebo. That’s a 400% greater increase!
In regards to strength endurance, the creatine group demonstrated average increases of 39.7% compared to only 7.1% in the placebo, over 500% greater gains! (10)
But before you ask, this wasn’t just a one-off or poorly designed study. These results have been replicated time and time again and researchers conclude that creatine just may be the most effective supplement for strength and power gains as well as muscular growth (11).
In fact, research has demonstrated an average increase of 4.4lbs of muscle mass when taking creatine paired with resistance training compared to no creatine (12). It’s also extremely safe, cheap to buy (a bottle is $10) and healthy!
Time To Maximize Your Strength Gains!
There you have 4 effective and research-proven techniques to boost your strength. For most, working on the basics first will provide the biggest reward. If you are highly advanced, using techniques such as resistant bands, forced reps, cluster sets etc. can also help bust plateaus and provide quick improvements. Learn more about Advanced Training Technique tips in this article: https://www.rudymawer.com/blog/5-advanced-workout-methods-for-rapid-muscle/
- Before adding any special tips into your strength training regimen make sure you have your basic principles in check. These include the chronic alteration of load, number of sets, repetitions, exercise selection, order, rest period length and the careful manipulation of volume and intensity.
- Next, non-linear periodization or DUP provides you with more frequent variation of volume and intensity which has been shown to lead to improved strength adaptations (you may also enjoy it more as your routine changes within a week).
- Adding resistance bands to your big three lifts (squat, bench, deadlift) may help optimize strength and power development by providing added resistance throughout the entire strength curve.
- Lastly, supplementing with creatine will help you train harder and quickly improve your strength gains. It’s also extremely effective for adding muscle mass, safe, low in cost and provides health benefits.
1.) Kraemer, W. J., Adams, K., Cafarelli, E., Dudley, G. A., Dooly, C., Feigenbaum, M. S., … & Newton, R. U. (2002). American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 34(2), 364-380.
2.) Peterson, M. D., Rhea, M. R., & Alvar, B. A. (2004). Maximizing strength development in athletes: a meta-analysis to determine the dose-response relationship. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 18(2), 377-382.
3.) Stone, M. H., O’bryant, H. S., Schilling, B. K., Johnson, R. L., Pierce, K. C., Haff, G. G., & Koch, A. J. (1999). Periodization: Effects of Manipulating Volume and Intensity. Part 2. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 21(3), 54.
4.) Willoughby, D. S. (1993). The Effects of Mesocycle-Length Weight Training Programs Involving Periodization and Partially Equated Volumes on Upper and Lower Body Strength. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 7(1), 2-8.
5.) Zourdos, M. C. (2017). Physiological responses to two different models of daily undulating periodization in trained powerlifters.
6.) Monteiro, A. G., Aoki, M. S., Evangelista, A. L., Alveno, D. A., Monteiro, G. A., da Cruz Piçarro, I., & Ugrinowitsch, C. (2009). Nonlinear periodization maximizes strength gains in split resistance training routines. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23(4), 1321-1326.
7.) Rhea, M. R., Ball, S. D., Phillips, W. T., & Burkett, L. N. (2002). A comparison of linear and daily undulating periodized programs with equated volume and intensity for strength. The Journal of strength & conditioning research, 16(2), 250-255.
8.) Anderson, C. E., Sforzo, G. A., & Sigg, J. A. (2008). The effects of combining elastic and free weight resistance on strength and power in athletes. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 22(2), 567-574.
9.) Joy, J. M., Lowery, R. P., de Souza, E. O., & Wilson, J. M. (2016). Elastic bands as a component of periodized resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 30(8), 2100-2106.
10.) Kelly, V. G., & Jenkins, D. G. (1998). Effect of oral creatine supplementation on near-maximal strength and repeated sets of high-intensity bench press exercise. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 12(2), 109-115.
11.) Buford, T. W., Kreider, R. B., Stout, J. R., Greenwood, M., Campbell, B., Spano, M., … & Antonio, J. (2007). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 4(1), 6.
12.) Kreider, R. B. (2003). Effects of creatine supplementation on performance and training adaptations. Molecular and cellular biochemistry, 244(1-2), 89-94.