We know that strength training is incorporated in many athletes workouts. Boxers and wrestlers are a couple of athletes who train to increase their strength while maintaining their weight. We've always believed that strength and size go hand-in-hand. So than how do they do it?
What is the best workout for gaining strength while maintaining weight? Be specific.
What else do these athletes do to help increase their strength without gaining too much weight?
Which supplements would help? Which supplements wouldn't?
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When the topic of lifting is mentioned, it is easy to imagine a routine designed almost solely for the purpose of gaining as much lean mass as possible. But while it may be a foreign idea to those outside of the bodybuilding community, there are many people who wish to increase their strength and power without increasing their mass.
Why would anybody want to do this? Competitive athletes such as wrestlers and boxers must work hard to maintain their current weight class, while maximizing their performance. A workout designed to increase strength without increasing mass would certainly be useful for these athletes.
How To Get Stronger Without Getting Bigger
In regards to muscular strength, there are two major contributing factors to consider.
1. Cross-Sectional Area:
The bigger the muscle fibers, the more force they will be able to exert. This is obviously not the way to go for someone looking to maintain size, so we must turn to the second factor.
2. Neural Adaptions:
Each muscle group is made up of many individual motor units. When these motor units receive neural impulses, they contract. Any number of motor units may contract simultaneously to exert varying amounts of force. In most individuals, the number of motor units being recruited at any one time is far from the maximum capacity of the muscle. Even at maximal effort, the entire muscle group may only be exerting a fraction of its maximum force.
For someone who wants to gain strength without bulking up, the focus of their workouts must be on increasing the neural drive to their muscles. By doing so, a greater number of motor units will be able to fire simultaneously, thus generating more force.
We know that with most people, only a fraction of the muscle group can be activated at any one time, even with maximal effort. In order to increase neural drive to the muscles, we must concentrate on lifting heavy weights in the 1-6 rep range.
The first step is to design a split that is tailored for the persons individual needs. The split should enable the lifter to focus on a few muscle groups during each workout & give the body enough time to fully recover from each workout.
The most basic split, which can be further adjusted based on the individual, is a 3 day split, with one day in between workouts. The body is divided up into 3 main areas. It is not necessary to workout more often than this, as long as each workout is intense & productive enough.
'Lower Body' - consists of the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and lower back.
'Upper Back' or 'Pulling' - consists of the lats, rhomboids, and traps. The biceps are also targeted in this part of the workout.
'Chest' or 'Pushing' - consists of the chest, shoulders, triceps, abs, and the forearms.
It is very important to properly warmed up before beginning any workout. The first step in properly warming up is with a short, fairly intense session of cardio. This session should be 1-5 minutes long different people need varying lengths of warm-up. This helps to get the blood flowing throughout the entire body, increase mental focus, and prime the muscles for action.
The next aspect of warming up is an exercise specific warm-up. This is important to increase local blood flow to the muscle group, prevent injury, and maximize performance. Use approximately 50% of your 1 rep max, and perform 10-20 easy reps. You should not come close to exhaustion during this set.
2 Acclimation Sets:
You should next do a set of around 5 reps with 60-70% of your 1 rep max. You should not come close to failure on this set; its purpose is to get your muscles & nervous system adjusted to the heavy weight you are about to lift.
Perform one more set with a moderately heavy weight; one that you could do nor more than 10-12 times. Perform 5 or 6 reps with this weight. Again, the purpose is not to tire yourself, but to 'acclimate' your body in order to lift the heaviest weight possible.
3 Working Sets:
After a couple minutes of rest, and a few sips of water, begin your working sets. Use a weight that you can do no more than 5 or 6 times with good form. If you can do more, increase the weight. Remember that it does not take much volume to build strength.
Even a single, very heavy and intense set can stimulate significant strength gains. 2-3 working sets is plenty, as long as they are heavy & intense enough. Be sure to be fully rested between sets. It may seem more intense to rest as little as possible, but do not be fooled into this line of thinking. You need to let your energy stores fully recharge so that you can lift as heavy weight as possible. Remember, this is strength training, not endurance training.
Always lower the weight in a slow, controlled manner. More than half of your results will come from the eccentric(lowering) part of the lift. Bouncing the weight off your chest or letting the barbell fall will not yield the best results.
4 Compound vs. Supplementary Lifts:
Compound lifts which activate multiple muscle groups & allow you to use more weight are superior to isolated lifts such as a biceps curl or triceps push-down.
Using heavier weights more effectively stimulates neural drive as well as increases functional strength.
Always perform compound or 'big' movements before you move on to supplementary lifts.
- Bench press would come before triceps push-downs.
- Squats would come before Leg Extensions.
- Weighted pull-ups would come before biceps curls.
After the main lifts are competed, you can do more isolated lifts to further target a certain muscle or a motion specific to your sport or goals.
For example, during my 'chest' workout, I do 2 or 3 compound exercises targeting the chest, triceps, and shoulders. Afterwards, I will focus on my abs and possibly 1 additional set for my triceps. I also do 2 or 3 sets to target my forearms. I sometimes like to work my grip using Ironmind Heavy Grippers. But all of that is after I complete the main lifts.
5 Cool Down:
The purpose of a cool down is two-fold. It helps to flush metabolic wastes from your muscle tissue, which aids in recovery. It also helps to restore venuous blood flow to the heart. After a workout, blood is trapped in your muscle tissue. This trapped blood is responsible for the pumped feeling which is common after a workout.
Although this may feel good, it does nothing to aid strength gain or recovery. A cool down helps to release this blood and restore normal circulation. A typical cool down would be 5-10 minutes of light cardio.
6 Record All Lifts:
Not keeping track of previous workouts is a very common mistake. Unless you can accurately remember your pasts week's workout, it is important to keep some kind of log.
The most important aspect of a weight training program, whether it be for size or strength, is progressive resistance. This means you should be lifting more weight with each workout. If you do not keep a log, you may end up using the same or less weight as before.
7 Proper Rest & Recovery:
Your strength gains are made outside of the weight room as much as in it. Without proper rest and recovery, your gains will be diminished. In some cases, overtraining can occur. When this happens, it is common to reach plateaus which seem to be impossible to overcome.
Many athletes try an overcome this by training harder. Ironically this was the cause of the problem in the first place. In severe cases, an athlete may actually get weaker as a result of overtraining.
It takes much less time in the gym to make optimum strength gains as many people might think. 3 sessions per week, if performed with intensity, is plenty. Remember, quality ALWAYS trumps quantity. If you have been strength training for a while, and have run into a wall, immediately take a week off. You will be surprised at how much stronger you come back.
A Typical Baseline Workout For Strength Gain
Workout 1 - Lower Body:
5 minute cardio warm-up
Squats Warm-up set : 50% of 1 RM, 10-20 reps Acclimation Set #1 : 60% of 1 RM, 8 reps Acclimation Set #2 : 80% of 1 RM, 6 reps Working Set #1 : 90% of 5 RM, 3-5 reps Working Set #2 : 95% of 5 RM, 3-5 reps Working Set #3 : 95% of 5 RM, 2 reps (If the previous two sets were intense, you may not be able to do a full 5 reps. Don't worry, this is good.
3-5 minutes rest & water break
Lunges (No need for warm-up or acclimation sets in this case) Working Set #1 : 6 reps (3 with each leg) Working Set #2 : 6 reps of the same weight Working Set #3 : Aim for 6 reps, but do not be surprised if you only get a few.
3-5 minute rest
Leg Curls (optional, for extra emphasis on the hamstrings) (No need for a warm-up) Working Set #1 : 5 reps Working Set #2 : 5 reps
Calves Brief Warm-up : 10-20 reps (Ideal because the calves have not yet been directly worked.) Working Set #1 : 5-6 reps Working Set #2 : 5-6 reps Working Set #3 : As many reps as possible
5-10 minute cool down
Workout 2 - Back:
5 minute warm-up
Weighted Pull-ups Warm-up Set : 10-20 reps (You may want to use the cable pull-down machine for this) Acclimation Set #1 : 8 reps (Cable pull-down or non-weighted pull-ups) Acclamation Set #2 : 6 reps (Same as above) Working Set #1 : 3-5 reps Working Set #2 : 3-5 reps, or as many as you can Working Set #3 : As many as you can
3-5 minute rest
Bent Over Rows Brief Acclimation Set : 8-10 reps Working Set #1 : 3-5 reps Working Set #2 : 3-5 reps, or as many as you can Working Set #3 : As many as you can
3-5 minute rest
Bicep Curls (Optional because the biceps are already worked during pulling exercises) Working Set #1 : 3-5 reps Working Set #2 : 3-5 reps
Workout 3 - Chest, Shoulders & Abs:
- 5 minute warm-up
- Bench Press Warm-up Set : 10-20 reps Acclimation Set : 8 reps Acclimation Set : 6 reps Working Set #1 : 3-5 reps Working Set #2 : 3-5 reps Working Set #3 : 3-5 reps, or as many as you can do
- Military Press or Other Shoulder Press Brief Acclamation Set : 8 reps Working Set #1 : 3-5 reps Working Set #2 : 3-5 reps Working Set #3 : 3-5 reps, or as many as you can do
- Abs exercise of your choosing Warm-up Set : 10-20 reps Acclimation Set : 8 reps Working Set #1 : 5-10 reps Working Set #2 : Use slightly heavier weight, as many reps as possible.
- Wrist Curls (No warm-up necessary at this point) Working Set #1 : 3-5 reps followed by a static hold till failure Working Set #2 : Same as above
- Reverse Wrist Curls Working Set #1 : Same as above Working Set #2 : Same as above
- 5-10 minute cool down
We use our hands and forearms in virtually every manual task we perform. Hand & Forearm strength is important for so many things from everyday manual tasks, to sports such as wrestling and boxing.
Hand Strength - It is a common myth that grip strength comes from the forearms. While some forearm strength does translate into grip strength, the majority of hand strength comes from the muscles within the hand itself. Who would've guessed?
An excellent way to develop crushing grip strength, useful for manual labor as well sports such as wrestling, is by using hand grippers. You can find light-weight hand grippers in a Wal-mart or sporting goods store. However, most of these only give around 40-50 lbs of resistance. This is woefully insufficient for most people to develop hand strength with.
Other Factors Effecting Strength
Proper diet is essential for maximizing workout productivity as well as performance. Without a proper diet, athletes will experience decrease workout performance, productivity, and recovery. Endurance and competition performance will also be negatively affected.
Carbohydrates provide crucial glucose to replenish muscle glycogen. Glycogen is the main source of energy used when doing high intensity strength training, power lifting, and competing in wrestling and boxing tournaments.
Protein is essential, even if you are not looking to build mass. Any high intensity exercise wears down your muscle tissue. You need adequate protein in order to repair & maintain your muscles.
Dietary fat is also an important part of strength and athletic performance. Dietary fat is important for connective tissue & joint health. Your tendons and ligaments are what translate the force of your muscles into movement. If these are not healthy and strong, your strength will be limited by this weak link.
Water is a crucial component of performance. Even slight dehydration can cause strength loss of 15-20%. It is recommended that you drink at least 64 ounces of water each day. Keep in mind that this is for the typical, inactive person. Athletes may need twice as much water as the sedentary individual.
- Eat a balanced meal approximately 2 hours before each workout. This helps to insure maximum energy levels.
- Watch your calorie intake. To maintain weight while building strength, it is best to avoid a large surplus or deficiency. If you find yourself keeping pace with your bodybuilding buddies, you may find yourself slipping up to the next weight class. Aim to eat smaller, more frequent meals rather than 3 large meals a day.
Eliminate Hidden Pounds & Replace It With Muscle For Even More Strength:
With our increasing consumption of unhealthy, processed foods, constipation is becoming an ever prevalent problem. Even among younger, supposedly "healthier" individuals, constipation is still a common problem. With some quick research using Google, one can easily find information which estimates that the average 'healthy' American has between 5 and 15 pounds of fecal matter trapped in their colon.
I am pretty sure that this does not contribute to strength! Imagine if you could lose that much weight, and replace it with muscle. You could stand to make some very nice strength gains while keeping the same body weight. I know of several wrestlers who dropped an entire weight class by taking measures to clean their bowel.
A doctor may be able to offer a prescription laxative, but if you do not want to use drugs, there are many alternative methods available. Colonics use large amount of water to flush the colon out. There are also many type of herbal laxatives available at health food stores. Some of these were quite effective when I tried them some time ago.
Supplements to increase strength and performance have been around since before many of us were born. Many athletes take supplements they believe will enhance their strength. In reality, many of these athletes do not have a clue what the supplements are really doing.
Supplements can provide benefits, but in any case, 95% of the results will come from your workout and a good diet. If you are not getting good results, and are tempted to try a supplement that you saw in a magazine, or one that your buddy says is good, think again.
Before trying any supplements, review your entire workout routine, diet, and lifestyle. You may simply be overtrained, which is fixable by a period of rest from the weight room.
In a nutshell, creatine gives you more energy. Creatine Phosphate is the primary source of energy used in very intense, very short activities lasting around 10 seconds or less. After this, glycogen becomes the primary source.
You get a limited amount of creatine from meat and from synthesis, but this supply gets used up rather quickly. Supplementing with creatine increases these stores, thus filling that particular energy tank up a bit higher.
Yes Or No?
Creatine can be a useful supplement for those looking to bulk, or those looking to gain strength without regard to mass. However, for those looking to gain strength while maintaining body weight, creatine is probably not a good choice.
Creatine and glycogen stored in the muscle tissue naturally retain several times their weight in water. Supplementing with creatine can cause you to store 5-15 extra pounds of water. This is enough to move an athlete up an entire weight class, without providing enough benefit to compensate.
It is amazing how so simple a substance could have so many ridiculous myths surrounding it. I have heard people say that protein powders contain "near-steroid" substances in them. I have spoken with athletes who think that simply consuming a protein powder will boost strength, all on its own.
Some seem to think that protein powder is the ultimate source of protein, and that a single post workout shake will meet their protein requirements for the entire day. Protein is a dried form of food, nothing more. Its advantage lies mostly in its convenience. It is much easier to whip up a shake than to cook a whole meal.
Yes Or No?
A protein powder such as whey is a handy supplement to have around. Whey protein is great for a post workout shake; it is easy to make, and is quickly absorbed. However, do not be fooled into thinking that a protein powder is "better" than whole foods, or that using it will somehow make you super strong. It is a convenient substitute, nothing more.
2nd Place - Blink41
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If you're an athlete looking for additional strength without the mass, then you're in the right place. Obviously, strength training and bodybuilding are totally different because strength training is a workout specifically to increase strength while maintaining a certain weight and bodybuilding is simply adding mass on a physique.
What Is The Best Workout For Gaining Strength While Maintaining Weight? Be Specific.
The numbers of repetitions you do in a set are extremely important and should vary between different goals. When training for strength, you should aim for 1-5 reps per set. By doing so, you would not be stimulating maximum hypotrophy and hence not gain much weight. For instance, if you wanted to gain strength on your biceps without gaining much weight, you would do 4 sets of 1-5 reps of curls and 4 sets of preacher curls of 1-5 reps and so on.
Isolation Vs. Compound
If you're looking for raw strength, I suggest you stick with Olympic lifts. If you're looking for strength, I recommend you stick with compound exercises such as deadlift, squats or bench press. When doing compound exercises, aim for one to five repetitions for maximum strength gains.
Avoid isolation exercises because they simply bring out and "define" a certain muscle group. Isolation exercises should mainly be done by bodybuilders looking to win competitions, not strength athletes.
- Monday: Chest / Triceps
- Tuesday: Back / Biceps
- Wednesday: Shoulder / Traps
- Thursday: Legs / Calves
- Friday: Chest / Triceps
- Saturday: Back / Biceps
- Sunday: Shoulder / Traps
Cardio 4-5 times a week for about 30 minutes. Remember to stretch before and after workouts.
Mondays & Fridays:
- 5 sets of Bench Press: 12X (Warm-up), 5X, 5X, 3X, 1X
- 5 sets of Weighted Dips: 12X (Warm-up), 7X, 5X, 5X, 2X
- 4 Sets of Flies: 12X (Warm-up), 6X, 5X, 4X
- 4 Sets of Overhead Tricep Extension: 12X (Warm-up), 7X, 5X, 3X
Tuesdays & Saturdays:
- 5 Sets of Pulldowns: 12X (Warm-up), 7X, 5X, 5X, 2X
- 5 Sets of Weighted Pull-Ups: 12X (Warm-up), 7X, 5X, 5X, 2X
- 4 Sets of Clean: 9X, 7X, 5X, 3X
- 4 Sets of Deadlift: 7X, 5X, 5X, 2X
Wednesdays & Sundays:
- 4 Sets of Military Press: 12X (Warm-up), 6X, 5X, 4X
- 4 Sets of Rear Deltoid Fly: 12X (Warm-up), 6X, 5X, 4X
- 4 Sets of Clean with Overhead Press (explosively): 9X, 7X, 5X, 3X
- 4 Sets of Arnold Press: 6X, 6X, 5X, 4X
- 5 Sets of Full Squat: 12X (Warm-up), 7X, 5X, 5X, 2X
- 4 Sets of Lunges: 9X, 7X, 5X, 3X
- 4 Sets of Hamstring Curls: 9X, 7X, 5X, 3X
- 3 Sets of Jumping Squats: 9X, 7X, 5X, 3X
- 5 Sets of Calf Raises: 12X, 7X, 5X, 3X, 3X
What Else Do These Athletes Do To Help Increase Their Strength Without Gaining Too Much Weight?
Do not consume too much junk food. Even with proper strength training, weight gain is absolutely inevitable with a poor diet. Eat clean foods such as white chicken breast, turkey, steak with the fat trimmed off, pasta, rice, bread...
Get rid of some fat. Hit the treadmill so you can lose some fat weight, and then replace it with some muscle mass. For instance, if you weight 200lbs at 10 percent body fat, which means that you have 20lbs of fat. Cut down to 200lbs with 8 percent body fat.
Which Supplements Would Help? Which Supplements Wouldn't?
Nitric Oxide (N.O.) has been proven to increase muscle recovery. Nitric Oxide dilates the blood vessels to allow more blood and oxygen to reach your muscles faster. It also gives you amazing pumps when you are working out in the gym. For a good N.O. product, I recommend BSN NO-Xplode; sometimes I don't want to leave the gym because of all the energy I get when I take it.
Protein is absolutely essential for any type of strength/muscle growth. Proteins and amino acids are the basic building blocks of muscles. I would recommend at least 1-2 grams of protein per bodyweight.
There are two types of protein: whey and casein. Take whey protein before and after your workouts and casein before you go to sleep. For a good whey product, I would recommend Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey. For a good casein protein, nothing beats the delicious CytoSport Muscle Milk. Note: Muscle Milk contains lots of calories but they claim to be "good" lipids.
Creatine is very beneficial for strength training but can cause you to gain water weight. Creatine helps short bursts of energy when you are at the gym so you could pick up those heavy weights. Creatine usually helps an additional ten seconds during intense short bursts such as attempting a one rep max.
The down side to creatine is that it will cause the body to retain water, increasing your overall weight. However, if you wish to avoid the water weight, simply get off creatine for about one month prior to your matches/competitions.
Multivitamins are often neglected by many athletes. Multivitamins are absolutely essential for the body. Protein cannot be absorbed by the body without sufficient Vitamin D. I would strongly recommend Animal Pak or simply Centrum Performance for a multi. Note: If taking Centrum, take two tablets, one in the morning and one before you go to sleep.
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There's an infinite number of reasons why someone would want to increase strength but not size. Maybe you're a boxer or a wrestler, trying to make a certain weight. Maybe you're a wide receiver or a runner who is wanting minimal mass in order to keep top speed.
Well let me be the first to say, it is very feasible to increase strength without increasing weight. It all bogs down to the diet. If you take in more calories than you burn (a caloric surplus), you will gain weight. If you take in less than you burn (caloric deficit), you will loose weight. If you're goal is to maintain, you would eat around maintenance for your weight.
The best off-season program for gaining strength would (IMO) be your basic Westside program, an upper/lower split. It would not incorporate any running or sport-specific training. If you must incorporate running you may take out Friday's lower body day and work in 2-3 other running days. If you want to incorporate some type of high-intensity boxing, etc., then take out Thursday's upper body day. Just use your brain here.
Here is a basic outline of the program:
Monday - Upper Body:
- Bench Press - 5x5 (35%, 70%, 80%, 90%, then 100% of your target 5 rep max)
- DB Bench Press - 3-4x8-12
- Barbell Rows - 3x5-8
- Bent Over DB Flyes - 2-3x10-15
- Weighted Ab Work
Tuesday - Lower Body:
- Squat - 5x5 (35%, 70%, 80%, 90%, then 100% of your target 5 rep max)
- Lunges - 3-4x8-12
- Leg Curls or Glute-Ham Raises - 2-3x6-10
- Grip Training
Thursday - Upper Body:
- Overhead Press - 5x5 (35%, 70%, 80%, 90%, then 100% of your target 5 rep max)
- Skull Crushers or Rope Pushdowns - 3-4x8-12
- Chin-ups - 4x8-12
- Curls - 3x8-12
- Weighted Ab Work
Friday - Lower Body:
- Deadlift - 5x5 (35%, 70%, 80%, 90%, then 100% of your target 5 rep max)
- Good Mornings - 2x8-12
- Leg Curls or Glute-Ham Raises - 2-3x6-10
- Grip Training
Focus on increasing on everything, every session. And remember, this is Westside training. Nothing is written in stone - you can make adjustments to this program. Just use your brain, people. There are many substitutions for these exercises that you can do instead if you wish.
If you make an adjustment in exercises, make sure you stay true to this adjustment. Don't go changing it every 2 weeks or else the entire point of your training will go down the drain. The point here is linear progression. If you change it too much, you won't progress.
Like I said, gaining, loosing, and maintaining weight is all about what you eat, and how much you eat it. The 40/40/20 scheme is a great one. Don't be afraid of fats or even saturated fats for that matter. They are very important in maintaining joint health, testosterone levels, and many, many other things.
Don't be afraid of carbs either. If you want to get on a Keto diet, that's fine, but this would not be the program for you. As it is too intense for someone with no carbs in their system. You would burn out in a matter of minutes.
Which Supplements Would Help? Which Supplements Wouldn't?
Don't over think this. Supplements are extremely overrated and will not do the wonders they claim. There is no miracle supplement. Whey and creatine are good post workout. EFA's will do you no harm. And multivitamins are said to be beneficial.
Obviously a weight gainer would not the be the best idea in this situation. So don't go crazy freaking out about supplements or else you'll end up getting way off track. Nothing is going to do you better than proper training and dieting.