Home Blog Weight Training Programs: 7 Ways to Get Strong(er) Now

Weight Training Programs: 7 Ways to Get Strong(er) Now

Written on October 26, 2011 at 7:42 am, by Eric Cressey

When it comes to intermediate to advanced lifters and their weight training programs, they don't just want to get strong; they want to get strong fast.

With that in mind, I'm devoting today's post to some of my favorite strategies to increase strength quickly.  I talk a lot about longer-term strength and conditioning strategies, but figured it'd be a good idea to highlight some "quick fixes" today.

1. Warm-up - This seems like a no-brainer, but you'd be amazed at how many people jump right into their weight training program of the day without even getting their body temperature up. It's well documented that performance improves as core body temperature rises.  However, as this study demonstrated, even a lowered skin temperature can decrease force output - independent of core body temperature.  So, it may be advantageous to start your day's strength training program in long sleeves and remove layers as you go.  I prefer to see folks sweating by the time the warm-up ends; set aside at least ten minutes for it so that you can get some foam rolling and mobility drills in.

This is why every training session in Show and Go begins with foam rolling and a dynamic warm-up.

2. Hydrate - You'd be amazed at how many people - both athletes and non-athletes - are chronically dehydrated.  Research at my alma mater, The University of Connecticut, demonstrated that dehydration negatively impacted performance - especially on subsequent sets.  In other words, dehydrated lifters don't bounce back as quickly between sets.  As an interesting aside, everyone on this study was either a classmate or professor of mine; cool (no pun intended) stuff!

Regardless, drink as much as you think you need to drink - and then drink some more.

3. Have Some Caffeine - I don't love the idea of guys crushing energy drinks like the world is about to end and they don't need their adrenal glands anymore, but a little boost here and there can do the trick for a lot of lifters.  On the whole, research supports the idea that caffeine improves performance in most scenarios with minimal risk, provided the dose isn't excessive and the individual isn't prone to certain issues (migraines being the one that comes to mind the quickest).

Think of it as a "here and there" boost, but don't assume that you need to crush it to be successful.  Many people get enough of it in from drinking coffee in the morning that they're desensitized, anyway.  I'd prefer folks drink coffee, anyway, as it's loaded with antioxidants and actually confers more health benefits than folks realize.

4. Firm up your Grip - It drives me bonkers when I see a lifter get all fired up to take a big lift, and then grab the bar with a limp hand. There are times to be gentle - handling puppies, performing surgery, and knitting scarves, for instance - but lifting heavy stuff is not one of those times. A firm grip do so much more than connect you to the bar; it turns on more proximal muscles and gets the nervous system going, as we have loads of mechanoceptors in our hands (disproportionately more than other areas on the body). As an example, physical therapist Gray Cook often cites a phenomenon called "irradiation," where the brain signals the rotator cuff to fire as protection to the shoulder when it's faced with a significant load in the hand, as with a deadlift. Just grabbing onto something get more muscles involved in the process.

5. Tinker with Technique -  It goes without saying that just a few subtle strength exercise technique adjustments can make a big difference quickly.  Using the deadlift as an example, the few I know that can make a dramatic difference quickly are:

a) bringing the hands in closer (shortens the distance the bar must travel)
b) taking off the shoes, or getting into a pair of minimalist training shoes (also shortens the distance the bar must travel, and puts the weight on the heels, where you want it)
c) spending less time in the bottom position before one pulls (notice in the video below that I get my thoughts together, then dip, grip, and rip; it allows me to get a bit more out of the stretch-shortening cycle at the bottom):

These are just a few coaching cues for a single strength exercise, but there are countless more unique to each individual to help people increase strength quickly.

6. Change the Music - I don't need to cite a study to prove to you that lifting with good music will help your cause, but I will anyway: Music (or the expectation of music) makes cyclist work harder.  Cycling isn't lifting heavy stuff, but it goes without saying that my experience has been that folks get strong faster when they've got music playing and lots of energy in the gym.

7. Utilize Post-Activation Potentiation - This is a fancy way of saying that if you lift (or even just hold) a heavier weight, when you subsequently (shortly thereafter) perform a comparable exercise with a lighter weight, it will feel easier.  In the research, it works in some scenarios, but not in others (seems to be more effective in the lower body than the upper body).  Chad Waterbury covered this concept in some detail HERE, if you're interested in reading more.

These are just seven strategies you can employ in your weight training programs to increase strength transiently, and there are surely many more.  By all means, share your top short-term "get strong fast" strategies in the comments section.

Looking for a weight training program where you can best put these strategies in action?  Check out The High Performance Handbook.

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  • Neil Baroody

    Hey Eric,
    Great post! I am just curious in regards to your thoughts concerning hydration options. Should you consume plain water, a carb/protein mix such as surge, or a plain carb source such as coconut water?

    Hope all is well!

  • Hi Neil,

    It really depends on the person. I think just about everyone (short of seriously obese folks) should have some kind of amino acid in there, but the amount of carbs will really depend on how lean one is, how high the training volume is, etc.

  • Lucy

    In regard to #1, I have been wondering how training this winter in an unheated barn will affect me, and have been prepared to see some stalling over the winter. (This is in Maine, barn is already colder than the outdoor temps most of the time.) Not worried, just curiosity at play as I plan my training.

  • Sweeny

    As part of 4 i also find it helpful to squeeze the glutes as hard as i can.. pretty much squeeze/flex everything for the irradiation effect

    Thanks for show and go discount eric, i got it yesterday, well worth it. If you get a chance id appreciate if you could tell us how you feel show and go compares to other popular programs such as de francos westside for skinny bastards, mehdis stronglifts 5×5, and wendlers 5/3/1

  • One of the biggest ones – that can make or break a workout – is controlling your mood going in. Some people like to lift angry, some people like to lift happy and with buoyancy, but no matter what you should 1. WANT to be there, and 2. Set yourself up with whatever visualizing you need to do pre-workout (while intaking your caffeine for example)to put you in the right mood and frame of mind.

  • Great, often overlooked, tips!

  • Great post, thanks Eric. Tinckering with technique can seem like a long term process but it has given me the most bang for my buck.

  • First and foremost, Eric you are such a great resource!!! I am going to offer an alternative to the coffee idea. Perhaps you would consider this valid:
    When it comes to research and coffee, it is very reductionist (same with alcohol)
    researchers look at some properties (rather than all)and bingo: it is good for you.

    What about the acidic load, the dehydration of coffee, the addictive qualities, the artificial adrenal stimulation, the tapping into mineral stores of the body, etc etc etc???

    Coffee as a whole is perhaps not the greatest choice.

    What about green drinks? In my humble opinion green drinks are superior than coffee. Green drinks help Build energy and mineral reserves,rather than artificially stimulate and tap into energy reserves. Green drinks alkalize, hydrate the body, are loaded with phytonutrients and antioxidents, etc etc.

    Perhaps you would consider this a better alternative…

    Once again, thanks Eric for being such a great resource. This is like the only time in over a year I felt like chiming in with a alternative that I felt was going to help people more than what you had offered. Thanks for being one of my top resources!
    Be Blessed
    Scott

  • Chris Norton

    I have followed you for approximately 5 years now and have always agreed with everything you’ve said. Today is a turning point. If getting strong is the most important thing to you, then yeah go suck down some caffeine. From a health perspective, I don’t think relying on a drug (whether legal or not — andro used to be legal, may still be) this is not good advice at all.

  • Phil W

    Read this yesterday, tried it today. My trap-bar deadlift (as per S&G)increased from 140Kg for 3 to 150Kg since last week’s session. More importantly, they seemed much easier. I could probably have gone heavier if I weren’t favouring a slightly delicate back. Seems like you might actually know what you’re talking about. 😉

  • Scott,

    In terms of coffee I beg to differ. The research on coffee indicates that the benefits of consumption outweigh any potential risks for most people.
    Now some people are slow metabolizers of caffeine, and these people would do best to minimize coffee and all caffeine consumption altogether.
    However, for the rest of the population coffee is associated with decreased risks of Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons, diabetes, several types of cancer, and improved cognition and athletic performance.
    Research also shows that the diuretic effect of coffee is quite mild, especially if you are a consistent consumer, in addition to being offset by its fluid content.
    As for the acidic load, a few cups of coffee per day within the context of an otherwise healthy diet will pose no problem. The acid-base balance idea is blown way out of proportion. For most people the kidneys due a pretty damn good job of regulating that.
    The addictive qualities are certainly a reasonable point as caffeine is a drug, but as for the tapping into mineral stores…I am really not sure where you are going with that one.
    Moving on to the green drinks, how exactly are they going to provide a quick energy boost? While they may be healthful, there is certainly not much, if any, data to back that up. There is far, far more data on coffee. In addition coffee is an incredibly rich source of antioxidants, so that is at least a draw in that regard.
    In conclusion I have to agree with EC that coffee before training is a fine choice. A nice little pick me up, decreased rate of perceived exertion, and some health benefits to boot.

    Brian

  • mike goncalves

    Hi Eric
    Just wanted to know what your thoughts on wave loading for strenght training.

  • I am no expert in the matter, but a quick fix strategy I would include is proper breathing during a lift, particularly when going heavy (which is assumed for getting stronger)! Hearing Patrick Ward iterate the importance of diaphragmatic breathing makes me think of getting that good core brace, say, immediately before a good set/rep of deadlifts.

  • Benjamin

    On the topic of carbs, I just read an article by Bill Starr about Dr. Zeigler, York Barbell’s doc. He created sugar tabs with fructose (fast) and sorbitol (slow) sugars. Bill says these were very helpful for those big workouts.

    I’ve learned a lot of these tricks along the way. If it’s cold, warm up with extra clothing! Grab the bar hard! Quit ogling the girls! Meditate!

    yeah, meditate. Mind control is often the difference between a great lifter and an okay one. Kroc’s writing is full of this theme. Visualization *works*. Learn to do a mini visualization before a set you know will be hard.

    And Eric, nice job jacking Elite’s slogan. I hope Dave doesn’t crush you.

  • Eric,
    I have only just discovered you training principles and I am extremely impressed. I have always been an advocate for functional strength. In that if the training that I am doing won’t improve my day to day life then what’s the point of doing it. Case in point I have never seen someone do a tricep kickback in their everyday living. Keep up the great work.
    Niko

  • scott

    Brian-

    thanks for the reply. I respect your knowledge and expertise and thank you for helping people be better through healthy nutrition. I love your program (bonus material I received with show and go. As for the caffeine, hopefully we can agree to disagree. Anyway, I have something that I consider a gift.

    I would love to have you read the greatest book on nutrition I have ever read: http://www.thewellnesspractice.com/products/innate_diet_natural_hygiene.cfm

    more than half the book is citations from the best journals in the world…I believe you will really love this book.

    I have been interested and studying nutrition since I have been 16, and in the last 25 years this is the best book!!! Enjoy

    Scott

  • Lisa

    Totally unrelated to the topic, I have a tech issue with your site. I frequent your site from your newsletter, but every time I have to click on the “Do not show this again” dealio on your deadlift video promo. I don’t know how exactly these things work, but it doesn’t seem to matter whether or not the cookies are disabled or how tight the security is, because I access it from multiple computers of all security levels and it still pops up every time. I thought maybe it was something on your end? Really sorry to bother you with this as it’s clearly not a huge deal. It just annoys the heck out of me every time it pops up and is in the way of me reading the article… Thanks in advance! And thanks for sharing all your wealth of wisdom and knowledge with us! I really like your approach and commitment to quality. Be sure you take some time once in a while 🙂
    Lisa

  • Lisa,

    I believe the “do not show this again” resets every time you clear your browser’s history or – in your case – switch to a new computer. Are you regularly resetting it?

    Sorry about that.

    EC

  • joe

    Eric:
    2 things:
    1–does not a whey shake during or after a workout provide the necessary amino acids?
    2–also which training program do you suggest for a 50 yr old getting back into fitness (seeking overall fitness approach, considering doing a mini triathalon next summer)?

    i’m trying to shed 40 lb, doing a fast paced full-body5 min split workout 3x/wk (10-15 reps this cycle then next month will lower reps and up weights, ditto for 3rd month, then will change exercises)after working out doing 30 min cardio…on alternate days i’m doing alot of aerobic and ski conditioning workouts (avid skier).

    each day also walking 50 min-1.5 hr.

    finding using the foam rollers before workouts is really helping undo the knots/stiffness.

    lastly will start incorporating yoga again on weight days (at night) to further stretch muscles, increase my limbreness.

    lastly as per diet, i find watching starchy carbs really helps…am eating low glycemic fruits/veggies, lots of lean protein and drinking tons of water and loose leaf tea (NO BOOZE!)

  • Joe,

    1. A pre/during shake would get the job done. Post-workout, you might be better off going with solid food. It’s all going to take time to digest anyway.

    2. Have you checked out Maximum Strength?

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?ie=UTF8&location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2FMaximum-Strength-Strongest-Ultimate-Weight-training%2Fdp%2F1600940579%3Fie%3DUTF8%26s%3Dbooks%26qid%3D1207053946%26sr%3D8-1&tag=ericcresseyco-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325

  • John Doiron

    As far as coffee goes, I never drink it, and have severely cut down my soda intake to one per month. Maybe I’ll have to get some good dark chocolate. Also, I appreciate the tip on lifting the bar up right away in the deadlift. I spend a little too much time in the hole, and it’s a good reminder. Finally, I have discovered (the hard way), that most kidney stones come from not enough hydration.

  • Eric,

    I’ve heard about the benefits of caffeine before – what would you substitute if you have an intolerance to caffeine please?

  • Victor

    You must be kidding. I seriously doubt that any of the world class Olympic Weightlifters drink coffee or do music as you suggest. And for you to include them as 2 of the seven ways to get stronger has no foundation and is very misleading. What university did you go to – WOW you cannot be serious!

  • Victor,

    Go to any powerlifting meet.  It’s done all over the place.  Watch any bobsledder or track athlete; you’ll see that 75% of them have headphones on before an event. It’s there in the research and in the actual practice. Stop looking for fights on the internet.

  • Mark,

    It’s really hard to say; it’s such an individual thing.  I would be careful if you’re intolerant to coffee; chances are that you’ll be intolerant to other stuff, too.

  • Eric Cressey

    Sam – I don’t think they’re necessary. Much more benefit to coffee!


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