Strength training is the fountain of youth. That’s not hyperbole, either. It’s science. Over an 18 year period, researchers studied 8,762 men aged 20-80 and found that those men who built and retained strength throughout their lives lived longer. If living longer isn’t enough of a reason for you to get in the gym and hoist some heavy ass weight, then you need to examine your life choices, bro.
But you’re also not as young as you once were. And though you want to go to the gym and wave your dick around like you’re 20 again, lifting with that mentality isn’t good for long-term health. Grinding out reps can lead to injuries. And the frustrations that come with not seeing the results you “think” you should see leads many to give up and quit.
The truth is, you don’t need to lift at 100% every single day to build strength. In fact, there’re ways that don’t lead to physical and mental burn out. And following these strategies can help you get superhero strong while building more muscle and improving your quality of life.
(Ride the) Wave Loading
Some people like the smell of napalm in the morning. While some get dick-hard at the smell of money. But if you love to lift weights, there’s nothing more exciting than that surge you feel in your veins before you lift. Hell, you probably feel the buzz building all day while you’re at work.
But since you’re now wiser than you were in your 20s — aka: you’re not a neophyte numbskull who loads the bar and goes from 0-60 without warming up — you know you need to “prime” your nervous system to be ready for your lifts. So you take five or ten minutes and do some dynamic warm-ups or rep out a few practice “reps” with the barbell and super lightweight.
Warming up is great; I’d never suggest skipping it. But when your goal is to lift heavy, the best way to get your body warmed is to lift some “heavyish” weight. Wave loading is one of the more superior strategies for initiating a physiological response known as post-tetanic potentiation. PTP works by helping your body prepare for the heaviest loads by recruiting more of your high functioning motor units.
This isn’t a strategy for noobs. Wave loading is a killer way to increase strength, explosiveness, and work capacity. But it’s also something that needs to be used by those who have at least 12-18 months of consistent training under their belt.
Here’s a quick example of what your first wave “could” look like:
First Set: 7 reps at 185 pounds
Second Set: 4 reps at 215 pounds
Third Set: 2 reps at 240 pounds
Now, after lifting the first wave you’d perform 1-2 more waves. But each subsequent wave’s load would be heavier than the last. For example, you could make your second wave of 7 reps the same as your 2nd set of wave 1 — 215 pounds for 7 reps. Or you could be a bit more conservative and opt to add 5 extra pounds. Whatever weight you choose for the beginning of your next wave, you’re gonna notice that this next wave feels a lot lighter. Why? Because wave loading creates two muscular effects: potentiation and recruitment.
According to studies, post-activation potentiation is a physiological phenomenon that induces a high degree of central nervous system stimulation. What does that mean for you? Well, the more motor units your body recruits, the more muscle you’re able to use, which increases the force you can produce, and that means you’ll be able to push more weight.
But here’s why this strategy is so freaking kick ass. Because wave loading helps you recruit and activate more muscle fibers and motor units, it allows you to progress your gains without blowing out your CNS (central nervous system).
Choosing the optimal amount of reps depends on your goals: if you’re looking for hypertrophy, keep the waves a bit higher in reps, 9, 7, 5; if you’re looking for raw strength, stick with 3, 2, 1; if you want a mix of both, try reps of 5, 3, 1.
When it comes to wave loading, start with two waves at first. As you become more proficient or are in need of a bit more volume, you can add an additional wave. Fewer total waves, though, will allow your CNS to recover more effectively. And by limiting CNS fatigue, you’ll be able to progress faster in your pursuit of superhero strength.
Are You Down with DUP? (Daily Undulated Periodization)
Fact: the more you force your muscles to adapt, the more they’ll grow. But most dudes think they need to hit each muscle group once a week. But if you look at old-school bodybuilders like Arnold—who was a beast in terms of strength as well—they trained each muscle group 2-3 times a week.
Now, they weren’t idiots who trained at the same level every day. Their intensities varied. But Arnold and his crew knew that if they wanted to grow and increase strength and size, they needed to train their (main) muscles more than once a week.
This is where DUP comes into play. Daily Undulated Periodization focuses on the big three — squat, bench, and deadlift — and allows you to hit those three lifts multiple times per week without over fatiguing your muscles. Yes, you’ll train those lifts every other day (M, W, F for example), but each of those days undulates the intensity.
For example, Monday you’d hit squats for 5 sets of 5 reps of heavy ass weight. Then you’d train bench in the more traditional hypertrophy range of 4 sets of 8 reps. And you’d finish by focusing on developing more power with deadlifts for 6 sets of 3 reps.
On Wednesday, you’d move deadlifts from training for power to strength, squats to hypertrophy, and bench to power; you’d then undulate those lifts again on Friday and finish with the whatever power/strength/hypertrophy block you’d not accomplished yet.
Three Letters for Powerful Results
DUP allows you to train the big strength movements more often, which leads to greater strength and muscular gains. But you don’t have to perform the powerlifting big three here either. You can apply DUP methods to rows, overhead presses, front squats, etc.
As always, your goal should be to add (at least) 5 pounds to each lift every week. If your recovery is on point, and you’re limiting your accessory work, which it’s suggested that you limit accessory work to one day a week, then you’ll make massive strength gains following DUP.
Here’s an example of what a week of using DUP would look like:
- Strength Squat 5×5
- Hypertrophy Bench 4×8
- Power Deadlift 6×3
- Strength Bench 5×5
- Hypertrophy Deadlift 4×8
- Power Squat 6×3
- Strength Deadlift 5×5
- Hypertrophy Squat 4×8
- Power Bench 6×3
- Dips 4×10
- Barbell Rows 4×10
- Arm work of your choice; calves
The Eccentric Effect
The concentric portion of any lift — where the muscle shortens — is where your body is the weakest. On the flip side, your body is the strongest in the eccentric portion — where the muscle lengthens — of a lift. According to some studies, your body can handle around 1.75x more weight eccentrically. Are the light bulbs going off yet?
One study found that eccentric training increased muscle hypertrophy more than concentric training. And the more muscle you can pack on your frame means you’re increasing your overall strength potential. But there’s one more benefit to eccentric training. It’s been shown to help improve your technical skills with whatever lift you’re using it on.
Since you’re forced to lower the weight more slowly in the eccentric, your technical proficiency of the lift has to improve. Eccentric training forces you to consciously create and maintain more tension in the targeted muscle.
And this creates an optimal environment for growth.
If you’ve been training in the gym for less than 24 months, you don’t need to even think about attempting eccentric training. Controlling the weight in both the eccentric and concentric portion of the lift will suffice. If you’re cleared the two-year hump — and I mean you’ve trained consistently for two years, not that you’ve had a gym membership for two years that you periodically use — then you’re ready to get down with some eccentric training.
To start: grab a spotter to assist you on a specific lift. Perform that lift to concentric failure, and then execute 2-3 forced reps of that lift eccentrically; lowering for a count of no less than four seconds. Once that becomes easy for you, you can add 10-20% more weight for the eccentric portion of your chosen lift. The stronger you become, the higher percentage of weight you can add eccentrically.
Eccentric lifting isn’t something you need to do all the time. Sprinkle it in during your off-season or after a hypertrophy phase to maximize your strength potential.
The vast majority of men (and women) start lifting weights because they want to look better naked. And as great as it is to look great with your clothes off, the real goal of improving your health and fitness comes down to increasing your overall quality of life.
Your daily activities probably have little to do with what you do in the gym. Except for in one area: unilateral movements. Much of what you do to live your life is done with one limb at a time. So why do you only train bilaterally?
If you’re looking to improve your overall physical performance, increase hip/knee and core stability, and correct strength imbalances, you need to do more unilateral (single limb) training.
Don’t get ahead of yourself. Unilateral movement won’t directly increase your bilateral strength; squatting 500 pounds with a barbell doesn’t translate to 200-plus pound single leg squats. But increased stability in the knees and hips, as well as improved core stability, will carry over to everything else that you do in the gym with two limbs.
Single limb training is demanding on the technical side of things. But it’s the best way to target and strengthen smaller muscles within the major muscle groups. And when you examine the movements you make every day — climbing stairs, running, walking, etc — many of these movements are performed one leg at a time. That means the stronger your legs are individually, the larger improvement you’ll see in your quality of life.
You’ll walk more efficiently, climb stairs with ease and grace, and you will even notice an overall improvement in coordination and balance.
Single limb training also increases your proprioceptive awareness, motor unit recruitment and muscle activation, while improving balance and stabilization. For sports that require high outputs of power like sprinting, increasing strength and power of a single limb could be the determining factor between winning or losing. Unless you’re a competitive sprinter, unilateral training just prepares you to better hurdle the obstacles of everyday life.
Get Superhero Strong
Strength training isn’t just how much weight you can push or pull. As you get older, you need to use strategies that allow you to lift intelligently and intensely, but that won’t suck the life out of your CNS. Getting stronger is great. But you also want to keep your body and mind running at their peak, you have enough stressors in your life to deal with every day as is. Use these strategies to build superhero strength while keeping fatigue in check.
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