Training Without a Gym – Getting Started with Strength

Part one of this little three-part series will be tackling the matter of strength. I’m young, I’m brash; when given a trio of physical attributes to amplify in training (strength, endurance, and movement) I’ll obviously start off with strength, discussing the best options for strength training at home and getting more power behind your lifts or strikes. Duh.

Jokes aside, I’m starting the series with strength because it’s what I’m most knowledgeable in. Most of this is off the top of my head, but it’s meant to offer a little bit for both the beginners and the more advanced looking for a challenge. My personal favorite in the series is movement, but I’ve got a lot to study up on in that area.

For reference sake, here’s my current training program, bar any complications/work-related emergencies.

A Primer: How Does Strength Training Work?

Strength training involves teaching your body how to most efficiently recruit its available musculature for certain movements, while simultaneously building stronger, bigger muscles. The emphasis here, however, is on stronger rather than bigger — that’s what differs strength gains from the hypertrophy gains most bodybuilders seek.

Exercise Phases

When you perform an exercise, you go through an eccentric, isometric and concentric phase.

Eccentric phases are also known as negatives — they’re where you lower down into an isometric position.

Isometric phase entails the part of the exercise that is hardest to maintain — keeping your chin over the bar during a pull-up, staying close to the ground during a pushup, staying in a full squat.

The concentric phase is where your muscles contract to perform the movement — that’s when your pectorals and triceps pull together to get yourself back into a plank in a pushup, or when your biceps and lats squeeze to get your head above the bar in a pull-up.

The exact formula for the best strength results vary, but a good rule is to spend 2 seconds in the concentric and eccentric phases, and one second in the isometric phase of an exercise.

On Rep Ranges

Your rep range matters when training. Bodybuilders typically work with 8-12 repetitions in order to focus on hypertrophy or the growth of muscle. Weightlifters and powerlifters go for a higher number of sets, but keep their reps at about 4-6, or even down to 1-3. It’s a good idea to find a balance between both by starting off with a 4 repetition range and having days where you take an easier exercise but go for 10-15 repetitions.

Sets matter as well. Bodybuilders use three sets as the gold standard, but you can increase that to 4-6 sets, depending on how long your program is and how many exercises you’re dedicating to a certain section of your body.

What Does “Teaching” A Muscle Mean

We all know that muscle memory exists, but it goes deeper than that. When you perform a certain movement over and over again, it becomes natural to you — like a kick, or playing a piece on the piano, or a dance sequence. But the same can be said for exercises that require lots and lots of muscle. Power lifters are so incredibly strong not just because their muscles are biologically better through training: it also has to do with the relationship between their muscles, motor neurons, and the central nervous system. By, for example, squatting heavy for a very long time, you teach your muscles to immediately use most of your available fast twitch fibers to push as much weight as possible, rather than recruiting them sequentially as your body adjusts to the difficulty of the squat.

Strength isn’t everything in martial arts — but it’s still pretty damn important if you want to be both elegant and effective. Strength doesn’t just mean faster, harder punches — it means being able to push and pull above your own weight, carry and control an opponent, move in unorthodox ways (from crawling to tumbling and leaping) and more. Tomorrow, I’ll start off with the upper body.


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