11. GET FOCUSED
What’s going through your head on a given set could make the difference between building some serious muscle and strength and simply maintaining what you’ve got. A recent study in the United Kingdom had lifters do one-arm curls with three different states of mind: (1) as they normally would, (2) while focusing on the contraction of the biceps, and (3) while focusing on moving the weight through the range of motion. Focusing on the contraction increased their muscle activity by more than 20%, while focusing on moving the weight increased strength by 10%. If size is your goal, focus on the muscle contraction; for strength, concentrate on moving the weight.
12. STAGGER YOUR GRIP
Want to deadlift more weight immediately? Change your grip. An in-house Weider research study presented at the 2007 National Strength and Conditioning Association annual meeting found that trained lifters using a staggered grip (one side overhand, the other underhand) completed an average of two more reps with their six-rep max than when using a standard grip (both hands taking an overhand grip) — that’s a 52% difference in strength. The staggered grip offers the mechanical advantage of reverse torsion that prevents the bar from slipping out of the hands. To promote balance, alternate which hand is overhand and which is underhand either every other workout or every other set.
13. TRAIN UNILATERALLY
Granted, you can lift more weight with two arms or legs than with one, but unilateral training (doing an exercise one arm or leg at a time) can actually lead to more weight lifted and more strength gained in the bigger picture. Iowa State University (Ames) researchers found that when subjects did biceps curls one arm at a time, 18% more force was generated than when training both sides simultaneously. More force generated means more muscle fibers being used and more strength and size. Here’s a good rule of thumb: use at least one unilateral exercise per bodypart per workout. Such moves can include anything from singleleg presses to one-arm overhead extensions to one-arm dumbbell rows.
14. USE A SMITH MACHINE
Free-weight exercises are great, but so is using a Smith machine. A Drake University (Des Moines, Iowa) study found that subjects were roughly 5% stronger on Smith machine squats than on barbell squats, likely due to the fact that stabilizer muscles aren’t needed as much to provide balance on the Smith version. This extra strength will allow you to overload the muscles with that much more weight for better immediate, as well as long-term, results. Start every other leg workout with Smith machine squats and you should reap the strength benefits of this great piece of equipment in no time.
15. DON'T FORGET YOUR IPOD
The benefits of listening to music while engaging in endurance/ aerobic activity have been well documented, but the research on the effect music has on getting stronger in the gym is pretty skimpy, so we performed our own study with trained subjects who completed the same workout twice — one session while listening to the music of their choice over headphones, the other with no music. As we expected, the lifters completed more reps with the same weight (an average of one more rep per set) while listening to music than they did with no tunes. One extra rep on every set can add up to considerable strength gains over time.