3 Training Secrets That Will Make You Instantly Stronger
In life, you have to follow the rules—pay your taxes by April 15, follow the speed limit. But in the weight room, a little cheating can go a long way. A slight tweak to the way you perform an exercise can help you power through more reps and maximize your results, says Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., author of The M.A.X. Muscle Plan. During your next workout, put down the rulebook and give these three form tricks a try. You'll be surprised at how easy it is to pump out another rep or two.
Switch your stance.
If your legs are beginning to feel like jelly during your last couple squat reps, try taking a wider stance. This shortens the distance between your glutes and the floor, decreasing the distance you have to move the weight, according to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. "You don't have as far to go before your thighs are parallel to the floor," says Shoenfeld, who authored the study.
You're doing less work, but don't worry: You're still gaining strength. "A wider stance recruits more of your glute and hip muscles," he says. The stronger they are, the more you'll be able to squat in the long run.
Adjust your elbows.
Think you can't do one more rep of the bench press? Increase your range, suggest Shoenfeld. Instead of tucking your elbows in at 45 degrees like you normally do, hold them at a 50- to 60-degree angle. "By altering your elbows, you activate the larger area of your pectoral muscles near your sternum rather than your upper pec," he says. You're still keeping your elbows close enough to your sides to protect your joints, but slightly flaring them recruits more muscle so you can push heavier loads for longer.
In order to recruit more upper-body muscle during an exercise, grab equipment with thinner handles. San Francisco State University researchers discovered that athletes performing the bench press with a thin barbell activated the muscles in their wrists and forearms more than if they used a standard barbell. Plus, they didn't tax their grip. Doing this allowed the athletes to transfer energy from their lower arms into their upper bodies, amplifying the strength in their working muscles and enhancing their performance by 20 percent. "You can achieve a similar effect with almost any free-weight exercise, says Shoenfeld.