What sort of weight lifting exercises help increase my strength?

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This is a loaded question and the answer will be two things that I address in almost all my answers; 1) It Depends - 2) Consult a Qualified NASM Trainer

In general terms the exercises that increase strength the most are the one that incorporate the greatest percentage of muscles during a movement.  So for instance a bicep curl machine that isolates the bicep muscle is not going to be effective for increasing overall body strength as a holding a pair of dumbbells and performing a deadlift to curl to overhead press.  

A bicep curl on a machine uses your biceps.  The exercise I mentioned uses your legs, your back, your biceps, your shoulders and one other major thing.  When you do any machine the machine stabilizes you and therefore there is not much work that has to be done to perform that exercise.  Any functional movement requires stability of the core and there are internal stability muscles at play that are activated whenever you do functional movements.  So in addition to all the muscles I mentioned above, the core stability muscles to maintain proper posture and function are also engaged during the movement I mentioned.

So I guess I would ask the question; which exercise do you think will build more strength?  The isolated exercise or the more dynamic total body exercise?  Stability oriented exercises that use multiple joints are the best for building strength in the body no matter your fitness levels.

It depends and you need to consult a fitness professional because more functional and dynamic exercises are more dangerous and can injure people if not performed right.  Certain exercises can be progressed or regressed depending on the individual, the exercise and the fitness level of that person.  Only a qualified fitness professional can help you with this.

Pick multi-joint exercises and at the bare minimum consult a fitness professional for the best technique for YOU to perform those movements.

Traditional weight lifting typically works muscles one way - the contraction (concentric movement). While this may shorten the muscle tissue, causing 'bulk', it does not necessarily increase strength.

If you really want to increase strength with weights, here are some recommendations.

  1. Start with good posture, feet forward, knees slightly bent and squeeze your core (stomach, sides, and buttocks). Before every exercise rebuild this posture, this is your strong foundation.
  2. Start with a manageable weight. If your weight is too heavy, you'll end up using momentum rather than muscle to lift it. Momentum doesn't build strength, it only causes your 'foundation' to crumble - you might start swinging your hips and exhibit poor posture and technique. This increases your potential for injury. Don't be a hero; lift smart and use good, controlled form.
  3. To really build strength in the entire muscle there is a three-part movement.
  • The contraction (concentric motion) is the shortening of the muscle. For example, a bicep curl. Practice exhaling during the concentric movement.
  • At the top, or end of the contraction, freeze and hold for one to four counts. This is an isometric contraction and will increase the muscle's ability to stabilize itself.
  • Lastly, the muscle lengthens (eccentric contraction), by returning to the beginning. Move very slowly to decelerate the muscle, two to four counts. Practice inhaling during this movement. The eccentric movement increases muscle control and strength.

For upper body exercises, try bicep curls, tricep extensions and shoulder presses.

Strengthening lower body exercises include squats, lunges, and lateral (side-to-side) leg movements.

Remember to include core and back exercises like cable rows, dead lifts, cobras and planks.

Seek a qualified fitness trainer or Sharecare videos to learn about good form and more exercises.

Three main movements are useful to improve overall strength.  The legs need to push against the ground as in performing squats, lunges, step ups & deadlifts.  The upper body needs to push and pull.  Pushes include single & double arm overhead presses, forward presses and dips.  Upper body pulls include chin-ups and various single & double arm rows.

In order to increase your strength, select externally stabilized pieces of equipment or exercises and perform one to 12 repetitions at an intensity level of 70 -100%. You should complete two to six sets of these exercises with a moderate tempo such as 2 seconds decelerating the movement and 2 seconds accelerating the contraction of the movement. Your strength results can be enhanced by first progressing from a stabilization program helping you develop postural stability and muscular endurance (performing more repetitions with lesser intensities). Additionally, proper flexibility will also maximize your strength gains because you will be better able to recruit more muscle fibers when exerting force.

Continue Learning about Types Of Exercise Programs

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.