Weightlifting is a gratifying sport; that is until you don’t feel the burn like you used to. There are only so many times you can lift the same barbell or dumbbell until the challenge dissolves, and you’re just left lifting with no resistance whatsoever. Still, you may not feel like you’re ready to move on to a higher weight limit yet. If this is the case, you’ll need to build more strength to raise your limit.
Building strength to lift more weight can be intimidating, but the process is quite simple. All you need is an honest awareness of your body and physical limitations and some know-how on when to vary your routine’s structure to keep the challenge fresh and your gains flowing in. To get started in building your strength, see the essential tips below.
1. Develop a Strength Training Regimen
Only about 30% of Americans realize that a strength training regimen is crucial to building strength, and eventually, lifting more weight. Such a program will help you build your muscle endurance over time, enabling you to lift more weight during your workouts. Still, the advantages are not exclusive to strength alone. All the potential benefits include (Source: Minnpost; American Cancer Society):
Enhances muscle mass, despite the lost mass that naturally occurs with age
Increased bone density, which will not only help you lift more weight but lowers your chances of experiencing a fracture during your workout
Improves flexibility in your joints, helping you to maintain good form while weightlifting, another factor that can help you to lift more weight for longer periods
Aids your balance, allowing you to distribute the weight equally across your muscles, which again helps to raise your weightlifting capacity both in terms of time and heaviness
With a personalized strength training program that is designed to accommodate your current body and future goals, you can access all these benefits with as few as two 20- or 30-minute sessions per week. You can choose whether you want a professional fitness trainer’s guidance; however, this is not required.
Following the freely-provided guidance of health and fitness experts on your own is enough to get the results you want. Generally, healthcare professionals suggest that your program consists of 12-15 reps per exercise, so choose your weight accordingly. To monitor your progress, write down your starting and desired ending point, so you know what you need to work on throughout your program.
2. Always Warm-up Before You Exercise
Warming up is a widely undervalued part of exercising, even outside of strength training programs. Mayo Clinic health professionals recommend that, before you get into your full session, it’s best to start with some aerobic activity such as (Source: Mayo Clinic; Healthline):
Squats: These engage several muscles in the lower body, including the hamstrings, quads, and glutes. Remember that, in this context, you are using squats, not as an exercise in your training program, but to awaken your muscles for the upcoming workout. So, take it slow. You can start by going down halfway and gradually increase to a full squat by the end of the warm-up.
Planks: These are highly recommended for enhancing your core and back strength while refining your balance. You can use several variations, including a full extension of the arm or leaning on your forearms. For any of your chosen alternatives, hold your position for 30-60 seconds for the best results.
Triceps warm-up: This one is a bit more involved than the two prior. You want to pay slightly more attention to your movements to ensure you don’t pull a muscle during your repetitions. To do this, raise your arms out to your side and moving them in alternating forward and backward circles with your palm up for 20-30 seconds. 1-3 sets is ideal.
Jogging leg lifts: Slowly jog in place or pick a small area to run back and forth between two points, A and B. This will help boost your circulation and invigorate your muscles, getting them ready to be active. After about 30-60 seconds of slow jogging, start lifting your knees high toward your chest for another 30 seconds. Slow down once again before stopping.
Luckily, the warm-up portion of your strength training session is highly flexible. You don’t have to engage in any of the above exercises to activate your muscles. Instead, you can opt for a 10-minute walk or another simple aerobic exercise. As long as the warm-up equates to about 30% of what you predict your workout’s maximum intensity to be, you’re good to go. (Source: U.S. News and World Report, Health)
No matter which you choose, remember that the goal is not to tire yourself out but to prepare your muscles for building upon themselves during the full workout.
3. Emphasize Your Form Over the Amount of Weight Lifted
Another area where newbies tend to go wrong is prioritizing the wrong aspect of their workout routine. Sure, it’s essential to be able to build upon the amount of weight you’re lifting over time. However, this should not be your primary focus whatsoever. To reach your desired strength levels, you’ll need to perfect your technique in lifting weights to maximize your gains and prevent injuries.
This is one reason why some beginners may be interested in consulting the expertise of a fitness trainer or other, more experienced athletes. This is not something you want to be doing guesswork for. Improper form and balance can result in some pretty devastating injuries, especially if you’re bulking up for activities like deadlifting or similar activities.
To start, Harvard Health recommends that you start with no weight at all or with the lightest possible amount just to get used to the movements and flow of the routine. While you exercise without the added weight, concentrate on slow, deliberate movements for specific muscle groups. Examples of proper form during two types of workouts are below:
|Exercise Type||Correct Form||Incorrect Form|
|Bicep workouts (horizontal or vertical pulling; Source: Testosterone Nation)||Shoulders back and downChest forward (naturally)Back straight||Shoulders pulled forward, even with the chestBack slouched|
|Squats (either as a warm-up or a full exercise with weights included)||Legs hip-width apartToes pointed forward or only slightly outwardBack straightLower hips until your thighs are parallel to the floorSquat ends when knees are directly above the toes||Distance between feet is greater or lesser than that between your hipsLeaning over, as opposed to lowering hips with a straight backExtending the knees beyond the tips of your toes|
4. Be Smart About the Weight You Use in Your Sessions
How much weight you lift plays a crucial role in whether you will succeed or face unnecessary challenges while building your strength. Starting too heavy can result in serious injuries that may prevent you from making substantial progress for a long time, perhaps even permanently. On the other hand, too light weights offer little to no resistance, which will result in almost no muscle gain.
All this considered, you need to find the perfect weight that matches your body and strength-building goals. To determine what weight is most appropriate for your workouts, follow the recommendations below (Source: Very Well Fit):
- Observe your body’s behavior while lifting the weight. Are you using only a single muscle group, or are you swing your body to build momentum to lift the weight off the ground? If you’re doing the latter, the weight is too heavy, and you aren’t doing anything significant to build strength.
- Lean against a wall or chair while you lift weights. By doing this, you are not allowing your back and other muscles to help lift the weight. This then forces the specific muscle group to work independently, which will improve its strength more reliably than you could otherwise.
- Note: This will also alert you to where you can improve on your form. If it’s suddenly harder to lift the weight while leaning up against something, you’ll know that you haven’t been isolating your muscles appropriately.
- Note the number of reps you can do with your selected weight. Base this on a general 10-exercise workout plan, with each exercise having 10 reps. In this plan, your weight should present a moderate challenge to you throughout those 10 reps. By the end, you should be slightly winded but not struggling.
- Note: If you are shaky and panting by the end of the 10th rep, and are struggling to lift the barbell or other equipment, then you have too much weight and need to lower it. On the other hand, if the entire exercise relatively easy and is not winded by the end, you need to increase the weight.
5. Building Strength with Weightless Workouts
You don’t always need weights to grow your muscles and increase your endurance. If you don’t have the equipment or don’t want to (or can’t) visit the gym to access the right equipment, you can use “bodyweight” workouts instead. Variations of such exercises are described in detail below.
Strengthening Your Torso and Legs with a Crab Walk
There are many different iterations of the crab walk. While some are designed to improve your leg strength, others focus on building endurance in the legs. For example, the crab walk demonstrated by Livestrong Woman will help strengthen your arms and legs, while simultaneously improving coordination and boosting cardiovascular health. To perform this crabwalk, follow these instructions (Source: Livestrong Woman):
- Lay your body in a supine (lying face upward) position.
- Lift up with your arms and legs to achieve a tabletop position.
- Drop your hips low enough to where they are almost touching the floor.
- Walk backward by moving your right foot and right hand in the direction your head is facing, and do the same with your left hand and foot.
Over time, this will help improve your strength in your calves, thighs, forearms, and biceps and sharpen your coordination. However, if you’re looking for less emphasis on coordination and more on muscle strength, especially in the legs, you’ll want to use this second version of the crab walk (Source: Competitive Sports Clinic):
- Put a resistance band on your legs, either above the ankles or knees.
- The resistance band is crucial for building strength in your thighs throughout this simple exercise.
- Lift your arms ahead of you, parallel to the ground.
- Take one shoulder width stride out to the left, lowering into a squat as you do so.
- Lift up and repeat once more to the left.
- Repeat for the right side.
- Integrate weights into your routine if you like. Instead of holding your arms out, hold a weight up against your chest to strengthen your upper body throughout the workout.
6. Improve Your Arm Strength with Triceps Dips
The triceps dip is excellent for strengthening your triceps (of course) and core. Because of the logistics of the workout, you’ll benefit from the improved balance as well. These are much more straightforward than the crabwalk, so you can rely on these widely accepted instructions to get your form right during strength training (Source: Livestrong):
- Sit on a bench with your feet flat on the ground and hands palm-down directly beside either of your hips.
- Lift your bottom off the bench and hover directly in front of it. Your legs should be bent at just about a 90֯ angle, again with your feet flat, about hip-width apart.
- Using your arms only, lower your body toward the ground. Stop when your upper arms are parallel with the floor.
- Lift yourself up and squeeze your triceps.
- Repeat for 10 reps at least.
There are a few different levels to this workout. By extending your feet outward, you can increase the difficulty and challenge your triceps even more. To achieve the maximum difficulty, straighten your legs out completely and lean them on your heel. This way, your legs are not helping in any way, and all the lifting is on your triceps.
7. Using Lunges to Increase Your Leg Strength
Lunges are a great, multipurpose exercise that can be used to warm you up for a more intense routine, or as a staple exercise in your program to boost your legs’ strength. Your technique is of crucial importance in how much strength you gain from this exercise. So, you need to be mindful about your goals and intentions when going into a lunge and choosing what type you want to execute.
Healthline recommends the side (or lateral) lungs as a primary method of sharpening your balance and strength. Follow the steps below to correctly perform this exercise (Source: Healthline; Livestrong):
- Stand up straight with your hands on your hips. You should not be using your arms for balance, as this will take away from the tension in your core.
- Take a large step out to the side with your right leg, keeping your left leg in place.
- Drive all your weight down until your right thigh is parallel to the ground.
- Using your right foot, push yourself back up into your standing position, feet together again.
- Repeat with the left side.
This exercise will strengthen your glutes, quads, and thighs while also improving your balance and stability. If you’re looking to increase the intensity, don’t place your foot down when you return to a standing position. Instead, hold it up with your knee at about a 90֯ angle, which will challenge your balance and strength even more.
8. Vary the Amount of Weight You Lift
Don’t get comfortable with one set of weights during your strength training program. To see some real gains and work toward lifting heavier barbells and dumbbells, you’ll need to vary the amount of weight you use over time. This way, you keep the challenge fresh and prevent your muscles from acclimating to a single level of resistance.
There are two different techniques you can use to determine how you’ll vary your weight. These are:
- Percentage-based training (PBT): Take the maximum amount of weight you can lift and calculate a specific percentage of that. You can either calculate a single percentage and alternate between that and your maximum or assign a different percentage to each day.
- Velocity-based training (VBT): This is perhaps the best way to vary your weight, as it is based on your daily performance. Your trainer or exercise buddy should measure the amount of time it takes to lift a certain amount of weight and then tailor the appropriate limit based on your performance.
- So, if it takes you longer to lift a certain amount of weight or you are struggling through your reps, you should lower your limit for that day.
Scientists did not see a notable difference between these two methods, as differences ranged from only 1-6%. However, study participants who used VBT to vary their weight throughout their strength training program improved their performance slightly more than their counterparts. (Source: Medical News Today)
9. Gradually Increase Your Weight or Resistance
In the same vein as varying your weight throughout your workout regimen, you’ll need to increase the weight you lift over time. As you workout, the improved balance, joint flexibility, and perfected form will all come together and enable you to gradually raise the limit on your lifting as you progress. Yet, it can be tricky to pin down the specifics on when and how to up the ante.
Tips on knowing when to increase your weight lifted (and by how much) are listed below (Source: Body Building.com):
Don’t worry if you find yourself struggling a bit more with the new weight than you were with your previous limit. You didn’t do anything wrong – that’s the goal! Give yourself time to build up to a new maximum, and continue to grow from there.
Increasing your strength to lift more weights is a multifaceted task that involves quite a bit of work and dedication on multiple levels. You won’t always need to focus on the weight itself to build your muscles, but your workout’s logistics and structure instead. Some of the best things you can do to get your strength up for heavier weightlifting include:
- Develop a strength-training regimen
- Warm-up before you exercise
- Focus on your form over the amount of weight lifted
- Be mindful about the amount of weight you use in your workouts
- Use weightless exercises
- Improve Your Arm Strength with Triceps Dips
- Using Lunges to Increase Your Leg Strength
- Vary the amount of weight you lift
- Gradually increase your weight over time
With these tips and guidelines, you’ll be on your way to greater gains and heavier weights in no time!