Get Stronger With Light Weights

This article shows you how to gain and maintain strength while lifting with lighter weights.

I’m obsessed with strength. Strength is the most important fitness quality other than mobility. Getting stronger will make you better at any physical activity. Getting stronger will help you be a better athlete, build muscle, and burn fat. Being stronger is also useful when you’re moving furniture or have to protect yourself from danger. There’s something empowering about having a body that’s capable. Strength is sexy. I’ve always thought the only way to get stronger is by lifting very heavy weight ( 85- 100 % of your one rep max. You can actually gain significant strength by lifting lighter weights (70- 85 %of your one rep max). Don’t get me wrong, I love lifting heavy weights Strength Vs. Hypertrophy..  Lifting heavy weights for low reps and good form will definitely get you stronger. The only issue is if you’re trying to get stronger, lifting heavy all the time will wear you out. It can be tough on the joints too. It may sound crazy that lighter weights can bring significant strength improvements but it works. The way this works is by focusing on muscular contractions. I recently learned about this method of training. I wish it was covered more online.

When you’re lifting a lighter weight, you need to approach it as if you’re about to lift a weight near your maximum capacity. Focus on contracting/flexing your muscles hard throughout the reps. The reason this works is that when you’re lifting near your one rep max, you automatically activate more muscle fibers. Your muscles contract hard as a survival mechanism to protect you from getting crushed by the weights.By consciously contracting your muscles hard, it sends a message to your brain that you’re lifting a heavy weight. You brain can’t tell if you’re maxing out or using comfortable weight because your muscle contraction is so intense. Some of my fitness idols like Elliot Hulse and Pavel Tsatsouline are supporters of this technique. I also learned that legendary strongman Max Sick (Maxick) used similar methods of training to develop his amazing strength. He would outperform men twice his size in contests of strength.

I love using this approach when doing the back squat. My current max on the back squat is 355 lbs and I weigh 180 lbs. I usually use 285-95 lbs for this approach. I like to keep my reps low at three, the way I’d  if I was lifting closer to my max. I usually do 5-6 sets so I can get enough practice with this technique.Another reason to keep the reps low is because it’s easier to concentrate on each rep to make sure you’re contracting your muscles correctly. With each rep, I contract my muscles as hard as possible.

This approach is also useful for days that you actually do lift heavy. By contracting your muscles hard during your warm-up sets, you allow your body to prepare for the heavier weight. You won’t feel as overwhelmed when you hit a heavier weight. Regardless of what lift you’re doing, focus on squeezing your abs, glutes, and hand muscles. You’ll notice a major difference when you contract these muscles compared to when you don’t contract them. Certain lifts will require you to contract different muscles but the three muscles I mentioned will have the most impact on your lifting performance. This works best with compound lifts like the bench press, deadlift, and squat.

To get better at this approach to lifting, I do total-boy muscle contractions from time to time. The way I do it is to flex every muscle below my neck as hard as possible for six seconds. I also clench my fists as tightly as possible. Do three sets of this with a minute break in between sets.By improving your ability to activate muscles consciously, you’ll also be improving your mind-muscle connection.



This approach shouldn’t be seen as a complete substitute from lifting heavy. You still need to use heavy loads if you want to maximize your strength. I like using this method as a way to complement my heavy lifting. What workout strategies have helped you gain strength?

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2nd Photo

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Squat Replacement

The barbell back squat is known as the king of leg exercises. It’s one of my favorite movements to do.The problem is not everyone can squat or wants to squat for a number of reasons including fear or injuries. I always recommend having  the back squat or front squat in your arsenal. One alternative to these movements is the single-leg Bulgarian split squat. This exercise has helped me tremendously over the years. It helped me recover from a knee injury because it strengthens the VMO muscle that stabilizes your patella tendon. This also means it’s a good exercise for injury prevention. Unlike the leg press and leg extension, the split squat engages many muscles. You’ll feel your glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors when doing split squats. It also engages your core so you can balance on one leg.Split squats have also helped me improve my squats due to the leg work.

Unlike the front and back squats, split squats can give your legs a heavy workout without stressing the spine. I still love doing back squats and would like to do front squats eventually but split squats have their benefits as well. Split squats can be used as an accessory exercise or as the main lift if you want to go heavy. You’ll be surprised how much weight you can push with your one leg.

Split squats are also great for athletes since most sports movements involve using one leg at a time. The stronger you are, the greater your athletic potential. Pushing off with one leg mimics the motion of sprinting and jumping off one leg. The Bulgarian Split Squat will also train your balance, which is important in keeping your body injury free when playing a sport.The movement is very similar to a lunge. The main difference is that your back leg is resting on a bench with the front of your ankle touching the bench. Some people prefer to do it with the front of their toes touching the bench. With your one leg that’s touching the floor, move down like you would do for a lunge. Once your front leg makes a 90 degree angle, push back up. I recommend practicing with your body weight so you can get comfortable with the movement.

I’m a big supporter of more bang for your buck exercises and the Bulgarian split squats passes the test. It builds stability and balance in your legs to prevent injuries as well as recover from injuries. It builds leg strength and muscle that can help with big lifts like squats and deadlifts. Split squats also great for helping athletic performance. I promise you won’t regret adding split squats to your arsenal.


Photo by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. Fifth Fleet on TrendHype / CC BY

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