How to improve strength without increasing bulk
Strength is the body’s ability to produce maximum force at a given velocity (speed) in a single contraction. For many sports improving strength without bulking up is an advantage, but most people don’t understand how to do this. Also, there are many people who still believe that any form of weight training will build unnecessary bulk, which just isn’t true. So what are the advantages of strength training? As stated in my blog on improving long distance running, improving maximum strength increases average force production. For example, It takes 200 pulls give or take to complete a 2000 meter rowing race, so a 5% increase in force production with every stroke you take could knock a few seconds of your time. The question is how do I achieve the strength I need without bulk? Let us first look at what not do.
Training for size and not strength.
Bodybuilders do not have the proportional strength of power lifters. Although body builders are bigger, they are not as strong as power lifters because the type of training they do is for size and not strength. When bodybuilders train they work with in the repetition range of 8-12 repetitions (60-80% of maximum effort), and take very short rest periods of 1-2 minutes and they consume a lot of calories post work out. The short rest period of 1-2 minutes does not allow the muscle to fully repair between sets which causes maximum break down of the muscle. Studies have shown that a higher repetition range (8-12) with shorter rest period causes a larger release of testosterone and growth hormone, which are two hormones needed for muscle growth. This explains how and why bodybuilders get such a specific result, and this type of training should be avoided if you are a sportsman, unless you want to get bigger for your sport.
What’s the difference between bodybuilding and other forms of weight training?
The types of strength that can be improved by weight training are strength endurance, which is your muscles ability to produce force over a prolonged period of time; an example of this is rowing, running and cycling. There is also elastic strength, which is the muscles ability to produce a large force quickly in a short period of time like in jumping, punching or throwing. Lastly, maximum strength, which is the maximum force the muscles can produce in one contraction and is used for strong man training. We will look at strength endurance and maximum strength.
2 methods I recommend for Increasing strength without size
Although the repetition range is high and the rest period is short the hormone release after a workout is really low. This is because the intensity of each repetition is lower. This is an excellent choice for endurance athletes. The repletion range is between 15-30 repetitions (30-60% of maximum effort), with rest periods of 30-45 seconds, and you may perform 15 sets of different exercises per session. You can do this type of strength training without gaining bulk.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3wXPn54GH4 (watch her in action)
The picture above is of Nurcan Taylan who is the 48kg (7 ½ stone) European weightlifting champion of 2011. She may not look it, but she is one of the strongest women in the world for her weight group. She trains in the 1-6 repetition range (80-100% of maximum effort) with a rest period of 3-7 minutes, which is normal for maximum strength. The intensity of weights used during maximum strength training is far greater than the intensity used by bodybuilders, but the difference is that the rest period is far longer. When the rest period is longer it allows the muscles to recover fully, and the intensity of the weight lifted places a great demand on the nervous system.
The nervous system
Figure 4. a nerve attached to the muscle it controls.
It is important to realise that it’s not just the muscle we train; the nervous system is also trained. It is your nervous system that decides how many muscle fibres you recruit when you lift a weight. For example, if you wanted to lift a book off the floor you may only need to use 10% of your muscle mass. However, if you wanted to lift 100kg of the floor you may recruit 90% of your muscle mass. It is believed that even highly trained strength athletes still are not able to voluntarily access the nervous systems full potential in accessing the vast amount of muscle fibres at its disposle, but by training maximum strength you will improve your body’s ability to recruit muscle fibres. This weight training method is also useful for endurance athletes. However, before you can work at this intensity you must have been training for at least 2 years.