How strong are you, really?
When we watched Jessica Ennis-Hill in Rio 2016, we witness the performance of a highly-tuned heptathlete – at the very top of her game.
Her training programme is the gold-standard.
For people like me and you — juggling ‘everyday lives’ with gym time — training to her level is near impossible.
But there are better ways to train available to us. And better ways to approach training.
If you want to carve out lean muscles all over your body, develop your fitness and actually get stronger – then what I’m about to share in this post is for you.
If you’re new to working out or returning from a long time off, then this piece is probably not the best place to start. There are definitely things you can take away from here, but the ‘3 Rs Method’ is best adopted by strength exercisers, who are already 6 to 8 months into their training, want to discover their peak performance, and push past it.
It all starts in the bedroom …
Rest: Why We Should Get More Sleep (and how to get it)
A quick question for you:
Do you ever force yourself to stay up late, just because night-time seems to be the only gap in your day that you get to yourself?
If you answered ‘yes’ – welcome to the club.
Adulthood is stuffed with work, responsibilities, chores … and traffic. When the stars come out and the house is quiet, you finally have the opportunity to catch up on Game of Thrones, spend some money online, read a book, play your PlayStation, or just share some time with a loved one.
You can breathe.
But every hour you spend awake here is owed back to your body the following day.
And your body is relentless in chasing that debt.
Some of us are up late for other reasons, like looking after a teething baby, working irregular shifts, or even two jobs.
This is 21st century, first-world life.
Just know that if we all slept right, the snooze button wouldn’t exist and we’d avoid the following dangers:
11 Risks of Sleeplessness
- Poorer short term memory
- Poorer long term memory
- Heightened chance of depression
- Heightened chance of viewing relationships negatively
- Poorer handling of stress
- Weaker immune system
- Hindered athletic performance
- Poorer metabolism
- Poorer coordination
- Greater loss of lean muscle mass
- Reduced ability to gain lean muscle mass
When you list the risks like this, it’s nightmarish stuff – and I haven’t even thrown the science in there.
So, to lighten the mood, let’s take a look at some benefits of healthy sleep:
11 Benefits of Healthy Sleep
- Better memory capability
- Enhanced ability to solve problems
- Improved creativity
- A more positive outlook on relationships and the world
- A better tolerance of stress
- Stronger immune system
- Enhancements in athletic performance
- Healthier appetite
- Heightened awareness and coordination
- Greater levels of energy
- Enhanced level of cell regeneration for building more lean muscle
How to Get More Sleep
It’s easy for me to sit here and say things like ‘cut down on your TV-watching time’.
So, I’m not going to pedal that advice.
Instead, here’s a few things you can try in order to get more quality sleep:
- Try to sleep with no alarms, at least of a weekend
Our ancestors didn’t rely on a smartphone to force their eyes open – wake up naturally, every chance you get
- Nap more
Don’t worry about losing time for output, you’ll make up for it in energy and productivity afterwards
- Relax at the right time
Use calming rituals before bed like reading, bathing, or listening to music – it’s easier to sleep when you’re already relaxed
- Control your exposure to light
It’s natural to experience bright light during the day (awake time) and darkness at night (sleep time) – so take control of that and it helps
- Invest into your bed
You spend about a third of your entire life in bed – well worth making sure it’s the comfiest match for your body
If you want more info on getting better sleep, here’s some bedtime reading (you’re best printing them off so you’re not reading from a screen, which is bad for sleep):
Top 10 Tricks for Getting Better Sleep ~ Whiston Gordon, lifehacker.com
How to Sleep Better ~ HELPGUIDE.org
The Definitive Guide to Sleep ~ Mark Sisson, Mark’s Daily Apple
Once you’re in the routine of giving your body the time it needs to re-energise properly, then you’re primed to push through your peak performance in the gym.
You’ve reached the second ‘R’ …
Reps: Why We Should Test Our True Strength (and how to do it)
If you’re an experienced weight trainer, then you might have heard the term ‘one-rep max’ mentioned before.
Your one-rep max refers to the heaviest weight you can lift, once, with perfect form, on any exercise.
Benefits of Knowing Your One Rep Max (1RM)
- Gives you a true measure of ‘peak performance’
- Helps you define new strength-led fitness goals
- Helps you judge the safety of a lift before even attempting it
- Helps you compare your strength to others
Once you know your 1RM, you can select the correct weight depending on your objective for each strength workout.
For example, if you’re aiming to develop your muscle hypertrophy (muscle-thickening) with the bench press, then you’ll know you need to bench between 70% and 75% of your 1RM figure.
This effectively guarantees strength development. Any lower than 70% will mean you’re less likely to develop more strength, and more likely to develop strength endurance (we’re getting into the science again here, so I’ve listed some more reading on the gritty details beneath this post).
How to Work Out Your One Rep Maximum
There are lots of different ways to work out your 1RM and you can learn more about each method via the links beneath the post.
For now, I’m going to share with you my preferred way of doing it …
- Choose an exercise you’re already comfortable with in regards to form
- Warm-up by performing several reps of that exercise at a low weight
- Gradually progress through the weights, per set
- Rest between each set for at least three minutes
- Once you’re nearing a weight that you know to be heavy, treat this weight as your first 1RM ‘test’
- Make sure you have a spotter with you
- Lift the weight once, with clean form, and rest for three minutes
- If you completed the lift and felt like you could lift it again straight after, move up a weight and repeat (this time, rest for five minutes)
- Repeat step 8 until you reach a weight that you can only lift once
- Take a note of that weight – it’s your current 1RM
If you’re worried this method will only tire you out before you discover your 1RM, take longer resting times between sets. Single lifts like this, with plenty of rest in between, will not sap your energy like a 12-rep set of press-ups.
Keep a spotter nearby at all times and if you feel uncomfortable in any way, stop the workout.
It’s also worth mentioning here that it’s important to consult a physician before starting any new strength training program.
To extend your 1RM, I highly recommend improving your overall functional strength. Full-body workouts enhance your structural integrity and ability to lift heavier things.
However, sometimes, it can seem like you cannot lift any more weight or make any more gains on your functional strength.
And this is where the third ‘R’ can help …
Reinforcement: How to Lift More Weight (and do it safely)
I’m a huge fan of developing functional strength. And I wouldn’t normally recommend you use straps to help you lift because it relegates some of your stabiliser muscles – meaning they don’t develop in synch with your major muscles in the workout.
But the truth is, your grip strength can slow you down if it’s weak and potentially even put you at risk.
So, if you’re struggling to simply hold heavier weights in your hands, then you can use straps to help you lift … but avoid relying on them as a substitute for poor grip. And don’t use them unless you really need to.
In the meantime, it’s recommended you complement your primary training program with some related mobility exercises. These can help improve the suppleness of your joints and muscles, which will lead to a greater capacity to lift heavier weights safely.
Time for an early night …
It all starts with sleep. Get that part right and you’ll notice your boost in energy straightaway.
Then it’s onto your one rep max. Pushing past it. And using reinforcements to get you to the next level safely.
It’s a simple method for improving your peak performance and I hope you’ve found it useful.
Thanks for taking the time to read this (I know it’s a lot).
And please leave a comment if you have any questions or even your own alternative methods for getting strong.
- You can measure your peak performance with your ‘one rep maximum’ (1RM)
- A healthy sleep pattern is the number #1 ingredient to reaching and exceeding your peak performance
- You can also improve your 1RM by improving your functional strength first
Supportive technology can help you lift more weight in the short term, but you should always look to improve your supportive functions (like grip and mobility) alongside your major workouts