Some train for muscle. Some train for power. Some train for both and some get both without trying to get both. The fact of the matter is that there are definitely tried and true methods to gain muscle and a different set of instructions if you are looking to add serious strength.
Here are ten methods that you can use to grow stronger when you are looking to gain strength over size.
Warm Up Properly
First and foremost, you want to ensure that you are properly warmed up before any weight lifting routine. Warming up and stretching are the keys to avoiding injury and injuries are a major deterrent to any strength training program.
Use Free Weights
Free weights are more readily available so they tend to be what most lifters start out with and that is perfect. Free weights require you to stabilize the load of the weight and allows the weight to move the way that the body is designed to move it. Free weights give the lifter complete control over the entire movement of the weight.
Use Compound Movements
I feel like I write this in almost every post, but the fact of the matter is that compound movements such as the deadlift, squat, bench press, rows and military press should be the core movements used as part of every workout. These movements recruit the largest amount of muscle fibers as part of their movements meaning that more muscles are getting utilized.
Use Proper Technique
Proper technique is something that you should never stop working on. We see it at the gym all of the time. We work on proper technique and newcomers use every muscles but their biceps for a barbell curl. While we just talked about the benefit of compound movements, this does not mean that every exercise should be a compound movement. Proper technique helps avoid injuries and works the muscles intended.
Use Low Reps
Low reps = high strength. For exercises which I like to use for strength increases, I like to do 5X5 training where I perform 5 sets of 5 reps until failure. Sometimes, I even like to go as low as using a 3 rep max weight and performing 3 reps. This is not to say that you will not gain strength by lifting in the 8-12 rep range, but low rep ranges give you more bang for the buck when training specifically for strength.
Increase Resistance Every Workout
Your goal for every workout should be to break your one rep max each and every time out when training for strength. While this will not happen every time, it gives you a goal to strive towards. There are two main ways to do this. Either lift more weight or perform more reps. I like adding more weight myself. It does not have to be a ton of weight, but every little bit helps. Otherwise, your body will adapt to your existing workouts and you are not optimally training your muscles. The caveat to this, of course, is that this jump in weight cannot compromise your form.
More is Not Always Better
This seems like something odd to say after I just told you to do more, but this version of more means that more exercises are not always better. More time in the gym is not always better. More training without proper rest is not always better. Keep it simple and limit the amount of exercises you perform per body part.
Train Weak Body Parts
You will come a time when a body part or muscle group is lagging. Once this is recognized, it needs to be addressed. One of the best ways to resolve this issue is to train your weakest body parts first. This is not always an option though. I would normally not tell people to train their shoulders before their chest. That is not to say that you cannot do it. It is most likely not what you want to do though. Another option is to train a body part twice a week instead of once a week.
It still surprises me that most of the people that I know who lift just do not eat properly. It takes dedication in the gym and the kitchen to make the most out of your workouts. The gym is the easy part. Lifting is just fun. Eating well should not be difficult either. Learn how to cook. Look up some recipes online and follow the instructions to the tee. Use software to log what you eat and track changes to your body to let you know how many calories, protein, fats, carbs you need to take in per day to grow without adding too much fat. Tweak as needed.
Some people swear by supplements. Some refuse to use them. While I do use supplements, I am not as crazy about them as I used to be. I stick to the basics while cycling some. I try not to use proprietary blends as I like to measure how many of each supplement goes into my mix. At the end of the day, supplements can help you with recovery and energy, which are both majors factors of increasing strength.