Muscular Strength and How to Get Stronger

Muscular Strength
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In the exercise world, we talk a lot about building strength, but what does that actually mean?  Strength refers to a muscle's ability to generate force against physical objects. In the fitness world, this typically refers to how much weight you can lift for different strength training exercises

The American Council on Exercise has an excellent definition in their ACE Personal Trainer Manual:

"Muscular strength is the foundation of all physical activities."

Pretty much every single thing we do each day, from getting out of bed to driving to work requires a certain amount of strength.  Okay, that's obvious, but how do we actually measure strength?  The usual test involves something most of us have no urge to do:  A one-repetition maximum, or 1RM

This means you lift the absolute most amount of weight you can for just one rep. Not something I would recommend a beginner (or anyone) to do fresh out of the gate.  A better method is to figure out how much weight you can lift for about 10 reps, which is typically 75% of your 1RM.

To do that, you choose a weight that seems reasonable for an exercise.  For example, I would choose about 20 lbs for a chest press exercise because I think I could do 10 reps with that weight.  If I could do more than 10 reps, I'll know that I need to increase the weight next time around.

You can also use a handy one rep max calculator, which I highly recommend.

  Even if you're not trying to be some big time bodybuilder, knowing how much weight to lift can make a huge difference in the results you get.  Most of us don't lift as heavy as we could, especially women because we worry about getting bulky.  Don't worry...we don't have the hormones necessary to build huge muscles.

And just ask any guy who's trying to build muscle how hard it is!

 More about how to choose your weights.

How to Get Stronger

The key to getting stronger is, of course, to lift heavy weights.  Each time you lift heavy weights, you increase strength, muscle size and connective tissues such as ligaments and tendons.  In other words, every part of you gets stronger, not just your muscles.

If your goal is strength, your goal should be about 2-6 sets of up to 6 reps of each exercise with about 2-5 minutes in between each set.  That means you want to lift enough weight that you can ONLY do 6 reps and no more.

That's very heavy weight, so if you're new to exercise, you need to work up to that.

Building Strength to Lift Heavier

If you're a beginner, start with a basic total body workout, working between 8 and 15 reps for each exercise and doing 1-2 sets. 

Work on your form and building a strong foundation in all your muscle groups before going crazy heavy on the weights, which could cause injury and extreme soreness.  Work on that for a few weeks and, as you get stronger, you can increase the weights you're using and decrease the reps.

More About Building Strength

Source: American Council on Exercise. ACE Personal Trainer Manual, 5th Edition. San Diego: American Council on Exercise, 2014. p. 334

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