4 Strategies to Get Stronger This Winter

Be smarter this winter about how you approach increasing your strength.

Science has proven that stronger people live longer. So, essentially, that makes strength training the fountain of youth. Now that you know the secret to youthful vibrance, you have an even better reason for desiring to increase your strength this winter, right?

Science has proven that stronger people live longer. So, essentially, that makes strength training the fountain of youth. Now that you know the secret to youthful vibrance, you have an even better reason for desiring to increase your strength this winter, right?

Seasoned lifters, however, find that gaining strength becomes more tedious over the years. Grinding out reps leads to injury, constant failure leads hundreds to quit, and too many lifters burn out physically (and mentally) because they’re trying to lift at their max all the time.

You don’t need to lift at 100% day in and day out to build strength. In fact, there are more intelligent ways to build strength—ways that don’t lead to physical and mental burn out. This winter it’s time to supercharge your strength potential and finally break through your plateaus so you can increase strength, build more muscle, and improve your performance.

Wave Loading

There’s nothing better than the excitement that surges through your veins before you lift. You probably feel the buzz building all day while you’re at work. But you’re also 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 spend five or ten minutes performing some dynamic warm ups or even repping a few practice reps with the barbell and super light weight.

All of that warming up is great, and I’d never suggest skipping it. But sometimes the best way to warm up is to lift some heavy(ish) weight. If this type of warm up is done correctly via wave loading, you’ll facilitate a physiological response known as post-tetanic potentiation that will excite and recruit more of your high functioning motor units.

For more experienced lifters, wave loading is an excellent way to increase strength, explosiveness, and work capacity. Here’s a quick example of what one wave could look like:

  • Set 1: 7 reps at 185 pounds
  • Set 2: 4 reps at 215 pounds
  • Set 3: 2 reps at 240 pounds

After lifting the first wave above, you’d perform another 1-2 waves after this. 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. You could choose to keep it more conservative and only add 5 pounds. No matter what weight you choose for the beginning of that next wave, those reps are going to feel super light. Why? Because wave loading creates two muscular effects: potentiation and recruitment.

Postactivation potentiation is a physiological phenomenon that has been known to induce a high degree of central nervous system stimulation, which results in superior motor unit recruitment and increased force production. What does that mean for your strength gains?

If you select your weights and reps properly, you’ll limit fatigue while keeping your CNS churning at a higher level. That higher activation will allow you to push your strength higher with less overall fatigue or injury.

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.

Two waves is really all you need when it comes to wave loading at first. As you become more proficient, or are in need of a bit more volume, you can add an additional wave. Keeping your total waves lower will allow you to recover more effectively without placing your CNS under extreme amounts of stress. By limiting that CNS fatigue, you’ll be able to progress faster in your strength gains than ever before.

Daily Undulated Periodization

The more you shock your muscles to adapt, the more they’ll grow. Most lifters hit each muscle group once a week. If you look at old school bodybuilders like Arnold, who was a beast in terms of strength and hypertrophy, they trained each muscle group 2-3 times a week.

Now, their intensities would vary from day to day; they weren’t hitting it hard and heavy every single day of the week. But Arnie and his lot knew that if they wanted to grow and increase strength and size, they needed to train muscles more than once a week.

Daily undulated periodization (DUP) allows you to train the big three (squat, bench, and deadlift) multiple times per week without overly fatiguing your muscles. Yes, you will train those lifts every other day (M, W, F for example), but each of those days will undulate their intensity.

For example, Monday you could hit heavy squats for 5 sets of 5 reps. Then you’d train bench in a more traditional hypertrophy range of 4 sets of 8 reps. You’d finish by a focus 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.

DUP allows you to train the big strength movements more often, which leads to greater strength and muscular gains. You don’t have to perform the powerlifting big three here either. You can apply DUP methods to rows, overhead presses, front squats, etc.

Like all strength training, your goal is 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 set yourself up for massive strength gains following this protocol.

Here’s an example of what a week of using DUP would look like:

Monday Wednesday Friday Accessory Day
Power Bench 6×3 Strength Bench 5×5 Hypertrophy Bench 4×8 Dips 4×10
Strength Squat 5×5 Hypertrophy Squat 4×8 Power Squat 6×3 Barbell Rows 4×10
Hypertrophy Deadlift 4×8 Power Deadlift 6×3 Strength Deadlift 5×5 Arm work

Calf work

The Eccentric Effect

At what point are you the weakest when performing a lift?

If you answered the concentric portion, you’re correct. So if you use the power of logic: That means you’re the strongest in the eccentric portion of a lift, and according to some studies, you can handle around 1.75 times more weight eccentrically. Since you can handle more weight eccentrically, that means you’ll put more tension on your muscles.

One study found that when compared to concentric training, eccentric training increased muscle hypertrophy. The more muscle you acquire means you increase your potential for strength gains. Eccentric training also has been shown to help improve your technical skills of a lift.

Because you’re forced to lower the weight more slowly, your technical proficiency of the lift must improve. Eccentric training will force you to consciously create and maintain more tension in the targeted muscle. This creates a more optimal environment for growth.

If you’ve been training in the gym for less than two years, you do not need to attempt eccentric training. Controlling the weight in both the eccentric and concentric portion of the lift will suffice. If you’re over 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 probably ready to implement 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.

Unilateral Movements

You might think that lifting weights is about improving strength or looking better naked, but neither of those are the real goal. The real goal of lifting weights, and of fitness in general, is to increase your overall quality of life.

Most of your daily activities have nothing in common with what you do in the gym. In fact, many of your daily movements, including walking, are 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?

Unilateral training helps athletes and average clients improve physical performance, increase hip/knee and core stability, and correct strength imbalances that can stave off injury.

Now, that doesn’t mean that unilateral movement will directly increase your bilateral strength; squatting 500 pounds with a barbell doesn’t translate to 200-plus pound single leg squats. However, increased stability in the knees and hips, as well as improved core stability, will carry over to your bilateral lifts.

Due to its mechanical demands, single limb training is one of the best ways to target and strengthen smaller muscles within the major muscle groups. When you examine the movements you make every day (walking upstairs, running, walking) many of these movements are done on one leg at a time. The stronger your legs are individually, and not just together when you’re under a barbell, the bigger improvement you’ll have 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 increases proprioceptive awareness and increases motor unit recruitment, while improving balance and stabilization. For sports that require high outputs of power, like sprinting, increasing the strength and power of a single limb could be the determining factor between an athlete winning or losing. For gen pop clients it’s about making them stronger and more prepared for everyday life.

Strength Is Coming

Be smarter this winter about how you approach increasing your strength. Use strategies that allow you to lift intelligently and intensely, but that don’t suck the life out of your CNS. Getting stronger is great, but keep your body and mind running at their peak while you build massive strength.