Come see a sports physiotherapist and there will inevitably be a discussion around strength work. Strength work is proven to benefit every body system, prevent injury and improve performance. Anyone who begins strength work should see an immediate increase in neuromuscular pathways and muscle activations patterns. But what happens after the immediate neuromuscular improvements plateau? If you are in the gym multiple times per week for most of the year how do you optimise each session to ensure you are getting the most out of your time? Marina has come up with some tips to maximise strength performance through your gym program.
Variation : Vary your program every 3 to 6 weeks
Sometimes when going to the gym we tend to get stuck into the same routine with exercises we already know and like, however to increase strength your body and muscles need different types of stimulation. Varying exercises will do a few things for your new exercise program: ensure you strengthen the muscle through its entire range and expose the joint to different forces, it will also spice up your exercise routine to keep things entertaining after a while. As much as variety is great you do need consistency for a while to perfect exercises and increase load, hence it’s recommended you vary your program every 3 to 6 weeks.
Time under tension : Find exercises to perform slow eccentric phases
How long the contraction of the muscle lasts will also affect how they respond to exercise. Generally speaking muscles get the most overload with heavy slow eccentric phases (the part of the movement where the muscle is lengthening) which can last between 1 to 6 seconds. Hence the tempo of the exercise should be programmed, including the concentric phase (push or pull phase), pause at the top, and eccentric phase. However, be careful to not overload excessively and choose only one or two exercises to perform slow eccentric phases initially.
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Progressive overload : 3-6 sets of 3-8 repetitions with increased intensity and recovery scheduled
Lastly to improve strength the muscle needs to be overloaded. An old rule of thumb used to be applied which is not to increase your load by more than 10% each week, however different muscle groups may not be able to handle even a 5% increase each week. If you’re new to the exercise or gym you may also improve quicker than an experienced weightlifter. A safe way to overload is to increase the repetitions and sets done rather than weight at first. If you’re reaching over 12 repetitions easily then increasing the weight and decreasing the reps is the next way to go. To improve strength the research recommends 3 to 6 sets and 3 to 8 repetitions.