Imagine for a moment that right now at this very instant, you have more strength and power in your muscles than you ever thought possible. It’s kind of like you have this hidden reserve of might and power that’s locked away deep within your muscle bellies. The only question is how can you unlock this hidden strength so you can use more of it in everything you do?
I’m here to say that you most certainly do have a lot more power and strength than you currently believe. The only issue is that strength may be a little difficult to access.
A large part of this issue is more due to our nervous system than the actual muscles themselves. While our muscles have the ability to contract with a lot of force, it’s usually our nervous system that is in control of just how much of that force we can actually use and how we can use it. In fact, your muscles have the ability, right now, to contract with so much force that they would cause you considerable pain and even injury. Thankfully, your nervous system helps to keep that from happening, kind of like an electronic governor on an automobile.
The good news is that you adjust your neuromuscular strength and control system. You can most certainly tell it to ease off the control a bit and allow your muscles to contract with more force in a safe manner.
One of the most common examples of this is the typical quick increase of strength someone may experience when they start strength training. While some muscle growth and improvement can happen within the first few months of training, a lot of the quick increase in strength is a result of neurological adaptation. In other words, our nervous system becomes more effective at giving muscles the directions to contract with more force.
Just as a new weight lifter can have a dramatic increase in strength from neurological changes, so can the advanced lifter. All that’s needed is to affect the nervous system in some new and efficient ways.
Strength Tip #1 – Use Different Speeds & Tempos
Like many aspects of the human body, the nervous system is conditioned by habit. It adapts to what it’s used to, but those adaptations are limited within that narrow scope of that exposure. So if you always lift slowly, your nervous system will always be set up to use your muscles for slow and steady work. The same goes for those who lift fast.
There can be a lot of debate over which is best (fast or slow) but no matter which one you choose, you’re missing out. This is why I’m a big fan of using both. I’ve seen folks who can lift slow like a pro, but are weak as a kitten when they need to lift fast. The same can be said for those who lift fast but switch to slow. By using a full range of speeds you will gain a broader spectrum of usable strength.
Strength Tip #2 – Use Different Weight & Rep Ranges
Just as our nervous system gets used to a certain speed, it also gets used to certain weight and rep ranges. Once again, we find that the adaptation is specific to the narrow scope of what we are doing. This is why someone can squat 200 pounds without breaking a sweat, but then they do 30 seconds of box jumps and collapse on the floor. The same can also be the other way around.
Our muscles are capable of various styles of strength application, but it’s hard to develop all of them if we only lift within a single weight range. So mix it up, I find using weight ranges that allow 5 reps to weights that allow 20 reps is a good range to work with. You might find different so play around. Go heavy on one workout, medium the next and then light on the third. Or switch things up week-by-week or month-by-month.
Strength Tip #3 – Train Stability & Control Along With Strength
Imagine putting a 500 HP engine into a car with bad brakes and bald tires. How much of that 500 HP do you think you could use racing around a twisty and curvy track? The same can be said for your muscular power. You can build a massive amount of power into your muscles but if you have trouble controlling it, your nervous system is going to have a hard time accessing it in real life. This is largely why the functional movement craze tends to place a lot of emphasis on balance boards and the like.
Now I don’t believe in doing squats on stability balls or anything, but I am in favor of using as little support as possible while training. In fact I hardly do any sort of training from a seated or lying down position.
This requires a high degree of control and stability at every joint in the body through almost every move. A single leg squat might not seem impressive without 300 pounds on the back, but the balance and coordination required to squat on one leg is insane. Once you start to build that balance, your leg strength will go through the roof!
In the end, less stability requires more control and more control means you can use far more of the strength you already have.
Strength Tip #4 – Use Ground Based Exercises To Develop Full Body Power
Just like any mechanical machine, the human body can lose power if a generated force is not transferred efficiently. In other words, you can create a lot of power in your muscles, but that power is only good if it can flow towards that which we want.
Can you imagine hitting a baseball with a soft foam bat? The power in the swing would dissipate along the bat and further dissipate with the contact on the ball. But if you had something nice and stiff to hit the ball with, the power can shoot right through the bat, into the ball and create far more force.
If your muscles in your upper body are super strong, you can only throw a punch with so much power if that power cannot transfer down the rest of your body and to the ground in an efficient manner.
Through the use of ground based exercises, where you remain standing rather than seated, you train your whole body to transfer power efficiently so each muscle contraction is far more effective. This also has the added side benefit of conditioning more muscle with each exercise you do. You could even classify each ground based move as a full body movement even if you are focusing on just something as simple as curls. Because of this, I always recommend at least one exercise per workout that is done from a standing position or at least not done sitting or lying down.
These ideas might not seem too crazy, but the truth of the matter is that our muscles can only get so strong. We can only place so much more weight in our hands before we hit a plateau or injury occurs. The tactics above will allow you to continue to get stronger without always needing to increase the workload and the stress on your joints. Try using just a few of these ideas and I promise you will be feeling strength, power and control you never even knew you had.