Bigger, faster, stronger. These three words are often at the centre of training goals when it comes to athletics.
Something that we continually emphasize at Focus Fitness is the concept of strength as the foundation on which other athletic attributes such as power and speed are built. There are many different aspects to strength when we assess athletes. There is relative strength, maximal strength, bilateral strength, unilateral strength and other terms we can use to categorize it. While they are all important in their own right, here we will focus on bilateral and maximal strength and one of the protocols we use to build these types of strength.
Maximal strength is about moving as much weight as we can for a desired rep range both safely and effectively. Bilateral refers to both sides working together. In training, this usually involves both arms or legs moving at the same time, working together to move the weight. This is usually done using bars or machines that allow both sides to work together in moving the load. This can be beneficial for maximal strength training as it allows a heavier exercise load.
There are many different options for bilateral exercises that can be effective for developing strength. Two that we commonly program with our athletes is the barbell bench press and the trap bar deadlift. The barbell bench press is a good indicator of maximal upper body strength, and the trap bar deadlift does the same for lower body strength.
So now that we know bilateral and maximal strength are important and we have two great exercises picked out, what protocol do we use in the gym to utilize these movements and develop strength? In other words, how many sets and reps are used to be effective?
The good news is, when you’re first starting out, almost any set/rep protocol done consistently will increase your strength. As you improve, you will need to make adjustments to some of your training variables to keep making progress. A smart, safe and effective protocol that we have used over the years is the 5-3-1 protocol.
The 5-3-1 protocol was developed by a strength coach named Jim Wendler and has become a staple in many programs from athletes to power lifters. It is a percentage-based program that works off basic movements and the idea that you can make substantial strength gains with sub-maximal loading if the effort is right. Each week the athlete uses percentages of their training max (three-rep max) for the indicated reps. The percentages take the guess work out of the weight selection and the loads are based off a training max as opposed to a one-rep max, making it a great program choice for novice and intermediate lifters and for in-season training. With the loads being sub-maximal, there’s also less chance of injury. There are plenty of variations or additions to the base program which can include heavier singles for maximal strength and higher volume sets for hypertrophy, which both work well for the off-season.
To find more information on the 5-3-1 protocol go to www.jimwendler.com.
This article was originally published in Game On – Manitoba’s hockey community magazine.