Nowadays there are many people leading very busy lives… which doesn’t leave a lot of time to spend in the gym; because of this they want to see the maximum amount of strength gains in the shortest amount of time.
Strength has been defined as “The maximal force that a muscle group can generate at a specific velocity” (Beachle and Earle 2008).
The secret behind gaining strength has been described to lie within compound exercises. Compound exercises have often been recognised as key in improving overall strength in a number of muscle groups at once, providing maximum muscle fibre recruitment and allowing for more muscles to be worked in fewer exercises. Below are the 6 best exercises for gaining strength and I’m 100% sure anybody using these 6 exercises as part of a program will be delighted by the results.
1. The Squat
The first exercise is the squat.
The leg muscles and the gluteus maximus are the largest muscles in the body, which have the largest cross sectional area and provide the most force. Many people consider the squat to be the go to exercise for working the majority of the lower body, however, as well as using quadriceps/hamstring groups and the gluteus maximus, all the muscles primarily used to generate movement, the upper half of the body is also worked in the squat exercise.
In the squat the upper body provides a crucial element by controlling the amount of stress that is put through the lumbar spine. This means while working your legs you also work to strengthen your core and several muscles in the upper body. By integrating several muscle groups at once more hormones are released which can aid in strength and anabolic gains.
2. The Clean Jerk
The clean and jerk is another exercise that is crucial when selecting exercises to provide maximal strength benefits and is one of the few full body exercises commonly used in training. For those with little time on their hands this exercise works everything from the medial head of the gastrocnemius (calf muscle) to the triceps and trapezius in the later stages of the movement. Completing this exercise as part of a regular program is guaranteed to provide improved muscle mass in all the crucial areas- so it’s perfect for building that summer body.
In the clean and jerk, core strength and stability are once again vital for the safe and effective completion of the movement. The fact that this exercise is carried out explosively means that it develops the strength and the speed of the fast twitch muscle fibres throughout the whole body.
3. The Deadlift
Deadlifts are an often neglected exercise during a workout due to the fact that it can sometimes be difficult to know what training day to assign it to… is it back, or is it legs? Most fitness professionals would say that it fits well with ‘back day’ as it stresses what is argued to train the erector spinae. However, did you know the deadlift also works quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and, of course, the core.
This compound movement is a stand out exercise in its own right but is also very useful in developing strength off the ground where the deadlift is also useful as a power training exercise. To gain maximum strength in training deadlifts with slower repetition are best as they allow for more muscle contraction and fibre recruitment.
4. The Bench Press
Bench press is one of the more well-known exercises by people striving for both strength and that classic ‘beach body’ physique. Although the bench press is an exercise used to gain more localised strength- it is still a very effective compound exercise.
There are several variations of the bench press that are commonly performed, for example the medium grip barbell bench press, barbell incline bench press, decline dumbbell bench press and the close grip version- which acts to place more stress on the triceps. Adding both stress to the triceps and chest, the close grip bench press in particular is a useful compound exercise for gaining upper body strength.
5. The Overhead Press
Overhead press is a crucial exercise when looking to develop all round shoulder strength. It targets all 3 heads of the deltoid group as well as requiring a lot of core strength in order to maintain strict and proper form throughout the exercise. This exercise like all listed in this article is a crucial exercise in its own right, however it also provides strength benefits in the tricep muscles- which can be useful in the bench press and good practice and training when performing various other compound exercises such as the clean and jerk.
When performing the overhead press this exercise fits smack bang in the general strength training guidelines whereby to gain maximum strength an individual should ideally use a weight whereby muscles become fatigued after 5 – 6 reps.
6. The Bent Over Row
The final exercise of the 6 is the bent over row. This exercise targets the rear deltoids and the latissumus dorsi, as well as once again incorporating a lot of the core muscles. The transverse abdominus are crucial throughout many of the aforementioned exercises as well.
In the bent over row the core muscles are engaged, as within the squat, to prevent and reduce unwanted stress upon the lumber spine and to allow the exercise to impose maximum effect on the targeted muscles.
Incorporating Compound exercises into your Training Routine
The completion of these 6 exercises in any old fashion is not enough to achieve maximum strength gains. In strength training there is an increase in resting metabolic rate, which is brought about by an increase in muscle mass and density. This increase in metabolic rate can cause an increase in anabolic hormone release, including hormones such as testosterone- the secretion of hormones however can be regulated through the intensity and repetition of weight, whereby the optimum rep range when training for strength is between 3 and 6 per set.
For the beginner these figures will be slightly different, whereby training every day and completing multiple heavy, low rep sets could massively increase the risk of injury. For any weight training/ weight lifter beginner looking to increase strength it is advised to complete 3 full body sessions a week incorporating all of the above exercises 1 set apiece of 12 repetitions- allowing you to achieve correct form and for the body to get used to performing compound movements.
Gradually overtime as you get used to the movements increasing the weight is recommended. Performing 3-6 reps is ideal for increasing strength- however, this is not always the case, whereby imposing a constant heavy load upon the body when executing compound exercises, can increase the risk of injury and overloading the central nervous system. To avoid this, many bodybuilders, fitness professionals and the general public have used pyramid setting.
Pyramid setting allows the lifting of lighter weight sets with higher repetitions whilst still optimising strength gains. A more advanced athlete would perhaps look to aim for sets of, 12,10,8+6.