If you've resolved to get stronger this year, there are certain things you should be doing in the gym to maximize your results. However, you may need to adjust what you're doing based on the kind of muscle you're aiming to build. If you want to get strong but have no desire to get overly bulky, the tips in this article are for you.
In some cases, the desire to build strength without bulk owes to participation in certain types of sports that require strength, but in which having too much muscle mass would slow down performance. In other situations, it’s just a personal preference — you want to be strong, but aren't quite going for the Schwarzenegger look. Luckily, as long as you implement a few key principles into your workout program and make a few adjustments to your diet, you can get stronger without adding as much of the muscle size you otherwise would; here are the adjustments to make.
Decrease Your Rep Range
When your single aim is to build as much strength as possible, you should focus on the lower rep range, as this is what will allow you to lift the heaviest amount of weights, and thus see the greatest gains in strength.
Just as if you were training to be a hockey player you would want to spend a large portion of your training on the ice, likewise, if you’re hoping to increase your strength, you should focus a large percentage of your time on lifting weights that are as heavy as possible.
Furthermore, training in the 8-12 rep range is more recommended for hypertrophy training, which will only encourage further muscle growth and move you away from your goal.
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Reduce Your Total Calorie Intake
Next up, one of the basic requirements of adding more muscle mass to your frame is having a surplus calorie intake, thereby providing the body with extra nutrients to generate this new muscle tissue. If that surplus is not present, the body is not going to be able to assimilate new muscle tissue, no matter what you do in the gym. Therefore, one of the most effective ways to build strength without bulk is by keeping total calorie intake under control.
You do not want to be taking in fewer calories than you need to maintain your body weight, as this could make it much harder to see strength gains, but you should be able to get reasonable strength gains on a maintenance intake or slightly higher. Even at 100 or so extra calories a day, any weight gain you do experience will be quite slow and these few extra calories will likely be quite beneficial with regards to enhancing recovery.
Limit Cardio and Weight Training Volume
The third adjustment you should be making with your training program in order to build strength without bulk relates to the total volume you're performing. You should be looking at the cardio side of things in particular, as many people find that doing too much cardio will severely limit the increases in strength experienced. You can do one or two 20- to 30-minute moderate-paced sessions a week or possibly one interval training cardio session, but try not to go over this if you really want to push your strength to the limit.
On the weight lifting side of things, higher volume programs do typically encourage size increases slightly more (provided sufficient recovery is still given), therefore, keeping the total number of reps on the lower end is a wise move. This is supported by the fact that you will be lifting a heavier weight with each rep you do, which does really tax the nervous system. If you combine very heavy weight with high volume, you'll really set yourself up for overtraining, which then adds another problem to the mix.
Don’t Overlook Olympic Lifts
Finally, don’t overlook the Olympic style of lifts for maximum strength generation, as they work extremely well. Such examples include the clean and jerk, the hang clean, and the overhead snatch. These are the main movements that Olympic weight lifters use in training, and for good reason. When you utilize these movements, you aren't going to need to add a whole lot more to train the entire body in a short yet effective session.
Keep Light By Keeping It Heavy
So, be sure you're keeping all of these factors in mind. For maximum strength gains, you ideally want to focus on a limited number of exercises that work as many muscle groups as possible at once, while lifting the heaviest weight you can. Following these tips will help you gain the strength you need without the bulk you don't.