There are only 2 ways to increase strength

The Secret To Unlocking Herculean Strength

Of all the fancy exercises, equipment, training programs and guru’s that are around. At the end of the day, there are only 2 ways that you are ever going to improve strength.

If your goal is to get faster, stronger, more powerful in your chosen endeavour, then you need to make the right choices when you train. Your choice of exercise, the weight, the reps, etc, are all critical in determining the success of your program. So, what is the only way’s that your body increases strength? And how do you put these principles into your own training?

The 2 ways your body improves strength is simple, by developing Intramuscular and Intermuscular coordination. “Is That It?” you say? Is that your big secret? Well, everything you will ever read on strength training and how to improve strength comes under one of these two umbrella’s.

1) Intermuscular Coordination.

This refers to the timing and coordinated effort of muscular contraction and movement that occurs BETWEEN muscle groups.

No one movement happens in isolation, but involves an integrated effort among many joints and muscles. Look at the Barbell Back Squat for example. The squat is not just about thigh strength but also involves coordinated action of the gluteals and hamstrings, lower back musculature and also upper body strength. As you can see, there are literally hundreds of muscles that are involved when you perform a whole body action such as a heavy squat

A coordinated effort between all of the variables involved in a lift results in an effective, powerful movement with the greatest amount of force being generated with minimal wasted effort.

Have you ever seen a novice trying to perform a lift for the first time? Or even a bodybuilding friend trying to perform a snatch with a 32kg bell for the first time? It may not be that they don’t have the necessary strength to perform the lift, it’s just that they lack to coordinated effort and timing amongst the muscles groups involved in order to perform an efficient lift.

2) Intramuscular Coordination.

Intramuscular coordination now turns our attention to what is happening at the indvidual muscle level. What if you were able to learn how to contract your muscle harder? Do you think this would lead to an increase in strength? You better believe it. You can increase strength at the muscular level 2 ways.

i) The first one is to make the muscle bigger. A no brainer there, make the muscle cross sectional area bigger, more parts that can contract, equals more strength.

ii) The other way, and little known way, is to actually learn HOW to CONTRACT the muscle harder. This is not a function of muscle size, but a function of the neural drive to that muscle. More nerve impulses, faster and more intense rate of firing of a nerve to a mucle, and the muscle will contract harder. Note here that you don’t necessarily have to change the size of the muscle to make it stronger, you can just learn to contract what you already have more efficiently. This is done through the more intense firing of the neural signals, and also through decreasing the inhibitory signals within the muscle itself.

This may be of news to you, but it is physiologically impossible for you to contract all of your muscle fibres at any one time. If you were to do this, you would simply tear the muscle from the bone, or break the bone itself. You body has many in built mechanisms to prevent too much tension from developing in the muscle. With training, you can learn to decrease these inhibitory signals (never to an unsafe level, your body wouldn’t let you) so that you can now contract the muscle harder.

So, let’s say that the average couch potato that never lifts any weight can only contract their muscles with say 30% efficiency. Well, with proper strength training, just say we increase that efficiency up to 50%. All else being equal, we’ve now just increased our strength dramaticlly without having to increase the size of the muscle. This is a huge bonus for people that compete in certain weight restricted events such as weightlifting, boxing, rowing, etc. And it is also a bonus for you out there who want to increase strength, get hard and toned, without necessarily putting on a lot of bulk.

Intermuscular coordination = learning how to use groups of muscles more efficiently.

Intramuscular coordination = learning how to contract individual muscles more efficiently.

Everyone knows that winning a team sport is a team effort. Get all the players on your side to work together and you have a well oiled machine. Think of this as your intermuscular efficiency. Also, what if you built that winning team out of outstanding individual players (muscles). Not only do you have a winning team, but each member performs their position at the highest level.

So, with these 2 concepts under our belt, how do you go about building Herculean strength?

One is that you must use multi joint or compound exercises. These are exercises that involve a lot of muscle groups to perform. Some examples include Deadlifts, Squats, Bench Press, Snatches, Clean and Presses.

The other factor is that you must, even if it’s occasionally, lift heavy weights. How heavy is heavy? Heavy is relative for each person depending on their strength levels. The best way to measure it to use a % of your 1 repetition maximum or 1RM. As this isn’t practical for most people to measure, here’s the easy way.

In order to get most of the neurons firing, you have to lift a weight that is at least 85% of your 1RM. This translates for most people to around your 5RM.

So, you goal then is to find a bell size or a weight that you can lift for no more than 5 reps on that given exercise.

You may be doing Snatches to develop strength, and this may be developing that Intermuscular efficiency, but if you’re doing your 16kg bell for 100 reps, this is hardly enough tension in the muscles to ellicit a strength reponse for Intramuscular efficiency. Your choice of exercise is good, but the intensity is poor.

One thing to remember though, is that the nervous system takes longer to recover than the muscular system. So you can’t lift as heavy as you can all the time. Cycle the heavy lifts in your training so that you don’t burn out. But, don’t use that as an excuse to never lift heavy at all!

Time Under Tension Repetition Speed The Forgotten Secret

Time Under Tension Repetition Speed The Forgotten Secret

Talk to 10 different strength coaches about which is the best way to train and I’ll guarantee you, you’ll get 10 different answers. So, who is right???

The truth is, everything works, just not forever. Most people get results when trying a new program created by the latest ‘guru’ simply because it is a stimulus that their body was previously not exposed to. Expose your body to something new and different = new and different results. Simple.

What does this mean for you? Firstly, and obviously, do not stick to the same program for too long or your results will be mediocre at best.

Secondly, you can find change and improvement in the simplest ways. So, before you go overhauling your whole training routine, read on for one of the simplest and quickest ways to change your training stimulus and accelerate your results to a whole new level.

Repetiton speed is one of those variables that receives little if any consideration when people are designing their program. The truth of the matter is, lifting speed is extremely important.

Let’s say for example that I got you to perform a Standing Military Press with a 16kg Kettlebell. On the first set I got you to pump out 10 reps by going as fast as you can, pumping the arm up and down as if it was a piston. The second set I got you to slow the pace down so you performed a steady slow contraction on the way up for 3 sec, a controlled descent for 4 sec, and then a 2 sec pause at the bottom. Do you think the training effect of these two sets would be different? You better believe it!

The reason for this is that in the slower lift, more time is available for tension to be developed and muscle cross bridges to form, and also, the muscle has a greater “Time Under Tension”.

Of course with Time Under Tension, I am mainly referring specifically to your Grind’s, as Ballistics are explosive in nature, there is no real way of performing a slow and steady 4sec concentric phase on a Snatch. So, the following principles apply to Grinds only.

Depending on your goals, Time Under Tension can be extremely important. If your desire is to gain mass for example, the optimal time a muscle should contract during a set should fall between 20-70sec. This doesn’t mean that if you desire muscle gain that your sets can’t fall above and below this figure, but generally speaking, most of your sets should fall in this range.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can pick up an 8kg bell, do a set of presses that lasts 30sec and sit back and weight for explosive growth to take place. You still need to provide the muscle with a minimum threshold to generate ENOUGH tension in the muscle, then you need to expose that muscle to sufficient TIME under that tension. But that’s a topic for another article.

Back to Grinds…So, one of the obvious ways you can spice up your old program and introduce your body to a new and interesting stimulus is to vary the “Time Under Tension” that the muscle is exposed to. This can be done in successive sets or successive workouts. The key here is planned variation to elicit a specific training response.

When talking about the Temp of each lift, you need to get used to the idea of the written code.


May look like someones post code, but is actually telling you the time of each phase during each lift.

The first number signifies the eccentric, or lowering portion of the lift. In the above case, that would mean that the weight is lowered over a 4sec period.

The second number refers to the pause in the bottom position.

The third number is the concentric, or up phase of the lift.

The fourth number is the pause in the contracted position.

Let’s take the Kettlebell Front Squat as an example. If you are using the above annotation, this would mean that you would descend into the squat over a 4sec count, no pause in the bottom position and drive back to upright over 2sec. You would then start your descent into the squat again without a pause at the top.

You can see how this would be a completely different set to a:


This set involves a 6sec lowering phase, a 2sec pause in the “hole”, a 4sec drive up, and then a 1sec pause at the top before lowering into your next rep.

In this last example, each rep would take you a whopping 13sec to complete, compared to the 6sec from the previous example. So, if you time under tension goal was say 40sec. Using the first example, you would complete around 7reps:

6sec x 7 = 42sec Time Under Tension

Under the second examply, you would only need around 3 reps:

13sec x 3 = 39sec Time Under Tension

An interesting thing occurs when you come across the following


The X here denotes “as fast as possible”. So the rep is 2sec to lower, no pause at the bottom, explode as fast as possible to return, no rest in the contracted position.

As well as the above examples, why don’t you experiment and try a few different tempo’s of your own?

What’s the moral here? Don’t get tied down into doing the same workout, same routine, same exercises at the same pace day in day out.

If you find that you’re getting stuck on a particular repetition range with a certain bell size, find new and interesting ways to measure your improvement. You might only be able to press the 24kg bell for a max of 5 reps. But at what speed? What if you sped your rep speed up on the concentric (up) phase? What if you performed that same 5 reps but the total Time Under Tension was 5sec longer for the set? Do you think this is an improvement? You bet it is!

Why don’t you try progressing the tempo from workout to workout, week to week. Have one week as an “explosive week”. Another as a “strength” or slow week. Keep the stimulus changing and your body guessing.

Nutrient Timing – The Future of Sports Nutrition

Nutrient Timing – The Future of Sports Nutrition

In this series of nutrition articles I will be covering such topics as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, supplements, etc.

Before I do, however, it is essential that you understand a few key concepts. The first one being that it’s not only what you eat, but WHEN YOU EAT IT that’s important.

High GI foods, low GI foods, fast acting proteins, slow acting proteins…one is not better than the other in a strict sense. But one definitely serves a better function dependent upon what phase you muscles are in at that specific time.

There are 3 important phases in nutrition, and your understanding of them is crucial if you’re seeking to gain lean hard muscle and / or strip some unwanted body fat.

The 3 phases of muscle growth:

  1. Energy Phase
  2. Anabolic Phase
  3. Recovery Phase

1) Energy Phase

This phase is the one that is active while you are working out. Just think about, during this phase you’re working hard, straining under a heavy load, digging deep to bust out those few extra reps or finish your sprints. What do you think your muscles are concerned with here? Recuperating?! No way! There focus at the moment is contracting, producing energy, force, etc in order to do your workout. The bottom line, during the energy phase of muscle growth, your priority is on providing the mechanical work for the workout. If you’re doing at least a half decent workout at a high enough intensity, this means that your muscles are dipping into your stored intra muscular glycogen stores and liver glycogen stores. That simply means that during high intensity workouts, your body supplies fuel predominantly in the form of carbohydrate. Carbohydrate that is stored in the muscles and liver. High intensity exercise also involves the breakdown and depletion of stored amino pools in the muscles (something we want to decrease if lean mass is our aim).

So what does this mean for you? In order to fuel your workouts and to prevent the catabolic (breakdown) nature of your workouts, your goal during this phase of muscle growth is to supply the right nutrients to blunt these effects.

What works? Sipping on a carb drink (such as gatorade) and be sure to mix in some Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s) and Glutamine.

2) Anabolic Phase

So, you’ve just finished your gruelling workout. You pushed it hard, lifted heavy and have just depleted your muscles glycogen stores. Where to now? The Anabolic Phase is the most critical phase and this becomes the time for your most important meal of the whole day.

During this phase, think of your muscles as sponges. Sponges that are ready to soak up any bit of carbohydrate that you can get into your system fast enough.

You have a 30-45min window of opportunity to kickstart your muscle building effects into overdrive and stop your body from eating into itself. During this window, your muscles are highly sensitive to insulin and are calling out for fuel to replenish lost stores.

So what does this mean for you? Your amino pools and carb pools are depleted, your body’s priority is to replenish these. Yes, even if this means breaking down muscle in order to try and replenish lost carb stores.

What works? Immediately post workout get yourself a nice fast acting protein, for example whey protein in the form of a shake so that it is absorbed quickly. Within that 30-45min window, you’ll also need to get some high GI carbs. That’s right. Get some high GI carbs into your system to elevate insulin levels and take advantage of the fact that your muscles are highly insulin sensitive and your muscles are screaming for carbs.

If you miss out on this window, over the next few hours, your muscles actually become insulin resistant!! So make sure you get this meal in there.

3) Growth Phase

This is in between workouts. This is where your body is continuing to refuel and repair itself in readiness for the next workout.

What does this mean for you? During this phase you want a slow trickle of nutrients into your system to provide a nice steady and stable environment. A constant flow of nutrients keeps your body in a positive nitrogen balance crucial for muscle building. You need to keep supplying raw materials at a constant rate to optimise growth and recovery.

What works? Eat every 2-3 hours with a mixture of both slow acting proteins and carbohydrates. This is where low GI carbs are extremely important, but also slow absorbing proteins. A slow acting protein is one that takes a little longer to digest, a whey protein shake for example is absorbed quickly while a chicken breast takes a little longer to digest.

From the above, you can see that what you eat and at what time can be critical for your results from training. As we go over the macronutrients in the coming articles, keep in mind the critical aspect of timing in determining where they fit into the success of your personal nutrition plan.

If you have any questions regarding the content above or are interested in getting your diet plan looked at, The Courage Corner is also available for these services.