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Strength training: program and training

Strength training: program and training


Bodybuilding is often associated with the image of developed muscles and the idea that if muscles are big, they must be strong. This is an erroneous view, as a large muscle is not necessarily strong. Conversely, a smaller muscle is not synonymous with physical weakness.

What you need to know is that working on muscle volume does not call on the same training methods as working on strength and power. The mechanisms involved in building strength are not activated in the same way as those involved in building muscle volume.

However, when you're looking to increase muscle volume through bodybuilding, it may be worthwhile to go through a cycle of strength training. This will enable heavier loads to be used in the subsequent phases of volume training. The result of the training will be adaptation to the new loads and, consequently, larger muscles.

This is also true when, for a given exercise, we encounter a phase of stagnation. Including strength training for this exercise in our muscular training will enable us to overcome the plateau we've reached!

Anatomical reminder of strength

Skeletal muscles are made up of two types of fibers. Red muscle fibers, known as slow twitch fibers, are long-lasting. White muscle fibers are fast-twitch, capable of developing greater strength, endurance and power.

For endurance and resistance training, the main focus is on stimulating red fibers. For strength training, the focus is on stimulating white fibers.

Let's take a look at how to work on strength and how this can be applied to a training routine.

There are two ways of including a strength cycle in your strength training. The first is to work the whole body at each session, using one basic movement per muscle.

The second is to work just one muscle group at normal speed, usually lagging behind or stagnant, in order to provoke adaptation and thus kick-start growth.

To work on strength and power: target repetition exercises. It's usual to use the 5X5 system (5 sets of 5 repetitions) with a load of 90% of your 1RM (maximum repetition). Of course, before tackling these 5 sets, you'll need to warm up with a few lighter sets to prepare your muscles, tendons and joints.

Endurance work in sets of 3 repetitions is also used, 5X3 at 95% of your maximum weight. The principle is identical. In this type of repetition exercise, rest times between each set are between 2min30 and 3min30, allowing total recovery before moving on to the next set.

Strength cycles are very demanding from a neuromuscular point of view. And the speed of recovery is relatively long. This is why these cycles should not exceed 6 weeks. Recovery time is roughly equivalent to the duration of the cycle, and it's only then that the most progress is seen.

Strength program

Here's a strength training program for overall strength, based on the half-body principle. We start with the choice of a basic exercise for each muscle group, which will guide the choice of poli-articular movements:

Example of a strength training session

  • Squat (lower body): 5 sets of 5 repetitions of the movement at 90% of your maximum weight
  • Deadlift (back): 5 sets of 5 repetitions of the movement
  • Weighted pull-ups (back): 5 sets of 5 repetitions of the movement
  • Bench press (pectorals): 5 sets of 5 reps
  • Neck press (shoulders): 5 sets of 5 reps

For consistency of performance and endurance, it's a good idea to choose 3 exercises in one muscular session (two for the upper body and one for the lower body) and three more in the following session.

As mentioned above, a warm-up for each part worked on is mandatory, by doing a few sets of the chosen movement and gradually increasing the load without exhausting yourself:

Ex: 4 sets of 10 repetitions of the movement at (30, 45, 60 then 75% of your 1RM level).

This principle can also be applied in a bodybuilding routine where a large muscle group is worked with a smaller one, e.g. pectorals and triceps.

Often, strength and power training will target the pectorals. We can therefore perform a 5X5 exercise on basic movements targeting the pectorals (bench press, incline press, etc.).

The 5X3 can also be used for a half-body workout or a more traditional bodybuilding routine. In this case, the load used for the 5 sets of reps will be 95% of the 1RM level. This type of muscle-building session should be incorporated once or twice in a 6-week strength cycle to break up the routine and temporarily overload the targeted muscles.

A little extra that can be applied occasionally to provoke an adaptation process in the targeted muscle is to work on the principle of negative reps.

The principle of the exercise is as follows: load your maximum bar to 110% of your 1RM level and slow the speed of the bar's descent to a maximum. Once the bar is in contact with your pectorals, a partner helps you raise it back up to the starting point, then you slow down the speed of descent again, 3 times.

The effort and maximum overload imposed will trigger adaptation by creating more micro-traumas than a classic training or bodybuilding session, which, once repaired, will make the muscle stronger.

Now that you have different ways of increasing your muscular or athletic strength, either over the whole body or over a specific muscle group, after a few weeks' training you'll find that this acquired strength will translate over the longer term into higher exercise loads than you handled before this cycle. You'll gain in endurance and muscular power, and the increased loads in your workout will result in increased muscle volume.

So don't deprive yourself of these few weeks of specific work and take your muscular development to the next level.

Author Alexandre CARPENTIER

Bodybuilding Champion N.A.C 2012

Alexandre shares his experience of bodybuilding with MegaGear blog readers

Posted in: Strength programmes