Building strength is important for not only powerlifting, but for bodybuilding and general hypertrophy as well. Here are the most important factors that can easily be overlooked or under-emphasized in increasing ones strength.
1. Eat Your Heart Out
Above all else, eating a caloric surplus – along with sufficient amounts of protein, vitamins, minerals, and simply calories will be the most influential factor in how much strength you can gain. Protein is essential for muscle repair. A good general intake of protein – and to be more specific – high quality protein sources with a good amino acid profile is recommended. Eating plenty of carbohydrates will ensure that your glycogen stores in your muscles are full. When you’re “carbbed up”, your muscles are saturated with glycogen, which is what creates the skin-tight pump, vascularity, and these stores are used for energy. Having your stores as full as possible will ensure you are able to lift heavier, and longer, which means you will overload the muscle more. So, along with general recovery and energy, eating enough opens doors to many other variables such as training. If you have a fast metabolism, eat more cheat meals to help advance you into a caloric surplus. Supplementation such as Whey protein and a multivitamin is encouraged.
2. Heavy, Low-Rep, Maximal Effort Lifting
No-brainer, eh? If your goal is simply strength and putting up big numbers, there’s no better way than to lift (with proper form) as heavy as possible, implementing rep schemes as low as 1-5 reps per set. By lifting with what would be considered absolute failure (successfully completing a set amount of reps, but finishing to where you couldn’t do a single extra rep by yourself) in this range, you’ll be forced to adapt your technique, stabilizer muscles, joints, and various other elements that are factored into lifting maximal weight. Not only this, but by working and increasing your numbers in the low rep range, the weight you’re able to use in the higher rep ranges will also increase, allowing for further hypertrophy. Hypertrophy (muscle building) training and strength/powerlifting training compliment each other more than people think! A big muscle is a strong muscle, generally speaking.
3. Adequate Rest and Time Between Sessions
Based on personal experience and through results of clients, having at least 2 days rest before training the same heavy, compound exercises again grant the best long-term results. Sure, with optimal rest and recovery, some may be able to train more frequently, but training too often will not allow you to come in “fresh” and maxed out on glycogen stores, fully recovered, and at your strongest. It seems that these days that immediately proceed a span of days where the body/muscle groups have fully recovered offer more benefit by allowing you to lift much heavier, feel heavier weight on your joints, and thus create more overload. The downside to this is that if you rest too long between sessions, you’ll notice the technique aspect becomes more of an issue. Finding that sweet spot to where you’ve fully recovered, but haven’t spent too long in between sessions is key. Also, adequate sleep is a must, especially when taxing your body by lifting extremely heavy weight. Along with sleeping and taking time off between bodyparts, increasing the time between heavy, low-rep sets will allow lactic acid to diminish an is generally encouraged for such routines.
4. Deload and Speed-Rep Sessions
Many powerlifting and strength-building routines will advise a deload day, or days where an emphasis on speed is used. Deloading is a great way to allow your body and CNS to recover maximally, while still playing around with some weight. Generally, about 40-60% of your one-rep max is used on these days. Speed reps, where lower weight is used and an emphasis on pressing/lifting the weight as fast and explosive as possible will subconsciously cause you to do it all the time, which is an essential aspect in locking out on all movements.
5. Incorporating Different Exercises/Routines
Shocking the muscles in different ways is essential for continual hypertrophy and strength gains. Incorporating tools such as the slingshot, board-presses, decifit-deadlifts, etc are great ways to build strength on your main lifts. For bench pressing, overloading and focusing on building strong triceps through close-grip benching, skull crushers, etc can increase your max bench press tremendously. Deadlifting with a deficit, performing rack-pulls to work on lock-out strength, etc are methods that are great for increasing your deadlift max. Along with incorporating other exercises for the same bodypart, training all the muscle groups of your body will compliment all of your lifts as well. For example, deadlifting and focusing on exercises that increase the deadlift will also most likely improve your squat as well.